Why James Paxton is the perfect piece for the Seattle Mariners process

I like to give my wife intermittent updates on the state of the Seattle Mariners. I don’t know if she likes hearing them, but I figure it’s nice for her to know what I’m focusing my attention on instead of stopping the baby crying.

When you support a team managed by Jerry Dipoto, these updates focus a lot on players leaving or arriving. This week, I had the pleasure of making an announcement during the early morning feed.

“Guess what happened while we were sleeping?!,” I said far too loudly for 4.15am. “James Paxton came back!”.

She knows Paxton, because an eagle once landed on him and Big Maple is a very stupid nickname that makes her laugh.

“Is this part of the process?” she asked. “We’re in year two of that now, is that right?”

She understands “the process” because of an infatuation with Joel Embiid. She inexplicably trusts it because Joel told her to. Joel is revered as some sort of God in this house because my wife thinks he might once have met Gritty at a party in Philadelphia.

Paxton arriving back “home” made me happy. I like him. Mariners fans like him. His no-hitter against Toronto a couple of years ago is something I genuinely watched back last year to ease some of those early Lockdown blues.

His one year “prove it” deal is good for Seattle and good for him, in my mind. If he comes back, stays fit (the big one), and pitches like we all know he can, then hopefully he’ll want to stay for the next stage of the process, and help pitch this young side into the playoffs. For a few dollars more, obviously. If it doesn’t work, then so be it. Nothing lost. But is it part of the process?

I was thinking about this deal with the words of Jeffrey Paternostro, lead prospect writer at Baseball Prospectus, in my mind. In the last Batflips & Nerds pod, Paternostro was asked whether, given the fact they’ve got six players in the BP Top 101 prospects, including two in the top ten, the Mariners are going to make the playoffs in the next few years.

“They’re not going to sign Manny Machado, that’s the problem,” he said. “They’re not going to commit to a $70M Yu Darvish contract.

“The spirit of the question is can they be a 90+ win team in the next few years. They have the pieces there to create a good young core. But, I don’t have the confidence that they’ll make those last two or three moves. I’m not confident they will do that.”

“They have a smart front office, but they just don’t want to spend money.”

But what if they don’t actually need to do that? What if objective one is, simply, get in the goddamn playoffs for the first time in 20 years? What if assembling a side that is good enough to beat Oakland two times out of three is all that matters? What if the process doesn’t need a “big name”? What if all it needs is a couple of “medium” names? What if Paxton is the perfect addition to that good young core?

Sorry, I’ve what-iffed all over the place there. But play it out.

The Mariners currently have the AL Rookie of the Year in centrefield, and two actual genuine real-life gold glovers in Evan White and J.P. Crawford in the infield. They’ve proven on some level that they can do it in the big leagues. (Ignore Evan White‘s batting average for now. Please, ignore Evan White’s batting average for now).

To add to this they have two consensus top ten prospects in Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic. If they don’t live up to the hype it will be beyond shocking.

In Marco Gonzales and James Paxton we’ve a passable one-two punch at the top of the order. An improved Yusei Kikuchi and an ever-improving Justus Sheffield will help the rotation. In 2022 (pending a physical) they will have a man with 115 Major League saves coming out of the bullpen, in Ken Giles.

I will never not love the name Ken Giles by the way. Sounds like the kind of fella who used to run the local village Post Office, and in retirement now makes it his business to know your business. The old fellas at the bar in the local would call Ken Giles a ‘busy old bugger’.

To add to that, there are three top 100 starting pitching prospects waiting in the wings, led by 2018 first-rounder Logan Gilbert and last year’s sixth overall pick, Emerson Hancock.

So top prospects, and a relatively solid young core with high upside. If they hit those upsides, what’s missing? A cynic will say almost an entire infield, at least three starters, and a bullpen that doesn’t contain four men recovering from Tommy John. But screw the cynics. I’m about positivity here.

There’s a hole at third base after this year, when Kyle Seager leaves. There might be a hole at second, and Dipoto has already said that Kolten Wong would have been ideal before he toddled off to Milwaukee. So that might be where the investment comes. But, with respect to Mr Wong – and relating this back to Paternostro’s comments – he isn’t Machado or Darvish. He’s a two-year, $18 million star. The Brewers showing you don’t need superduperstars – you need Kolten Wong. And that’s who Dipoto is looking for. Rightly, in my mind.

It’s only two years ago, at the start of this current process, that actual superstars Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz left T-Mobile Park. At the time of Cano’s signing, it was the third-largest deal in MLB history. Cruz was worth $14M a year. You can understand why the Mariners, having just finally shipped Cano’s extraordinary contact out to New York, would be wary of getting laden down again.

Fans loved them (Cruz in particular), but if they were the two moves designed to get a talented core in 2013 and 2014 (a prime Felix Hernandez, the first year of Paxton, relative youngsters Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak) over the top, they were failures.

Paxton isn’t a superstar. His two years in New York were underwhelming. But he’s perfect for Seattle at this stage of their journey, and could easily become a father figure that brings this clubhouse together. And all being well, he’ll prove he’s the right kind of superstar for this team, and this process.

Bamos is covering the Seattle Mariners during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @applebamos

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