When Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais walked out of the training facility in suburban Seattle last fall he was impressed by what James Paxton showed.
He was also uncertain about Seattle’s chances of landing Paxton based on the 15 to 20 other teams represented at the event.
“It was the ‘Big Maple,’” Servais said Thursday from the Mariners’ spring training facility in Peoria, Arizona, referencing Paxton’s nickname. “I mean, it was coming out hard, he threw all of his pitches. He probably threw, I would say 45ish pitches that day. I think after the first 10 or 12 I said, ‘This guy’s ready to roll.’”
The Mariners brought back their one-time ace last weekend on a one-year deal worth $8.5 million. Paxton can earn an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses for starts: $150,000 each for six to 10 and $750,000 more over starts 11-22.
It was a smart move by both parties and reunites Paxton with the club he broke into the majors with and with whom he became one of the top left-handers in the American League.
The one-year deal provides Paxton the opportunity to prove he’s healthy after an injury-filled 2020 season with the New York Yankees. For the Mariners, it bolstered a starting staff that needed at least one more proven arm because of their plans to use a six-man rotation.
“This season, where we’re at, where Pax is that, I think it’s a great fit,” Servais said. “He’s got a chance to kind of reestablish himself as maybe one of the top 10 starters in our league. He’s certainly got the stuff to do that and now we’ve got to keep him healthy and allow him to do it.”
Paxton was traded by Seattle to the Yankees following the 2018 season. He struggled in the first half of his first season in New York, rediscovered his breaking ball in the second half and going 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA. He won a career-best 10 straight starts before leaving his final regular-season start after one inning on Sept. 27. He returned to go 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in three postseason starts, allowing five runs in 13 innings.
But he needed surgery in February 2020, when Dr. Andrew Dossett in Dallas performed a microscopic lumbar discectomy to repair a herniated disk and remove a peridiscal cyst.
Paxton was able to start the season on time when the pandemic caused a delay until late July, but he went just 2-3 with a 6.64 ERA in five starts. He did not pitch after Aug. 20 after sustaining what the Yankees said was a low-grade strain in his left forearm flexor.
Paxton said he rushed his return from the back injury, his mechanics were not what they needed to be, and the overcompensation led to the arm troubles.
“It actually put my arm in a dangerous position and that’s what I think caused the injury to my flexor, was just my mechanics being off and not having my strength back to 100%,” Paxton said. “So I really focused this offseason on getting my strength back in my core and my back, and did a lot of work on my mechanics and I’m back to feeling really good right now.”
General manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t shy away from admitting the club was fortunate to land Paxton so late in the offseason and benefited from Paxton’s desire to play for the Mariners.
“The fact that he landed in a space, from a contract perspective, that we felt comfortable with, I think we were fortuitous,” Dipoto said.
NOTES: Seattle placed RHP Andrés Muñoz on the 60-day injured list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Paxton. Muñoz is recovering from Tommy John surgery. … Servais said a handful of pitchers have yet to report either due to visa issues or travel problems due to weather in other parts of the country. Dipoto said most of those should be resolved by this weekend.
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