The Yankees announced Wednesday that left-hander James Paxton will be sidelined for an expected three to four months after undergoing a microscopic lumbar discectomy operation with the removal of a peridiscal cyst.
It’s a tough blow for the Yankees before their spring camp even opens, as Paxton will now be sidelined until at least early May and possibly into June. That represents something of a best-case scenario and assumes no substantial setbacks along the way for the 31-year-old lefty.
Paxton was perhaps the Yankees’ most effective starter in 2019, tossing 150 2/3 innings of 3.82 ERA ball over the life of 29 starts in his first season with the club. The longtime Mariners starter averaged 11.1 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and 1.37 HR/9 after being acquired in the trade that sent lefty Justus Sheffield, right-hander Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams to Seattle in the preceding offseason.
The Yankees spent a good portion of the offseason exploring trade scenarios involving fellow left-hander J.A. Happ, but they’re now surely glad that no deal materialized. Happ now figures to be locked into a rotation spot behind Gerrit Cole, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. Paxton’s injury could also pave the way for left-hander Jordan Montgomery to break camp with the Yankees as a member of the starting staff in what will be his first full season back from 2018 Tommy John surgery.
The timing of the surgery is poor not only for the Yankees but for Paxton himself, as he’ll now miss a substantial portion of what will be his platform season for free agency. The left-hander avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $12.5MM salary earlier this winter and is slated to hit free agency next winter, where he’ll search for the first lucrative multi-year deal of his big league career. Today’s surgery doesn’t rule out the possibility of him cashing in, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’ll significantly alter his earning power on the open market.