Left-hander James Paxton made just five starts in 2020, posting a 6.64 ERA over 20 1/3 innings for the Yankees before a Grade 1 flexor strain ended his season in August. This came on the heels of a back surgery in February that, as agent Scott Boras told Brendan Kuty of NJ Advanced Media (subscription required) earlier this month, Paxton wasn’t entirely recovered from when he began the season in New York’s rotation.
“He made every effort to try to contribute this year, but the back rehab just wasn’t there yet and he just needed more time to where he could really go through his normal mechanics of 2019,” Boras said.
Paxton was initially given a recovery timeline of 3-4 months at the time of his procedure in early February, though it could be that this was something of an optimistic projection given that Paxton also missed all of Spring Training (and normal rehab procedures were surely hampered to some extent by the league shutdown). Paxton described himself as “totally healthy” in May, though Boras said his client was motivated by a desire to be “a real team guy” and return to the mound in short order.
“The truth of the matter was, his ability to be James Paxton, it just needed a few months more of rehab on his back and his strength,” Boras said. “Getting the velocity, getting the balance and being able to torque his back the way it was, just after the surgery, he just needed time. That’s all. We’re seeing him back to normal now in his throwing. You can really see the difference.”
Naturally, Boras’ comments can be viewed as an agent being as positive as possible about his client’s health status considering Paxton is heading into free agency this offseason. 2020 was far from an ideal platform year for Paxton, and it added to a rather long list of injury concerns that have bothered the southpaw throughout his eight-year career.
When Paxton has been healthy, he has been an effective pitcher — Paxton had a career 3.50 ERA, 3.60 K/BB rate, and 9.9 K/9 over 733 innings for the Mariners and Yankees coming into the 2020 campaign. While his 2018-19 seasons weren’t entirely injury-free, Paxton still amassed career highs of 160 1/3 innings and 150 2/3 innings in those two years, seemingly indicating that his major health woes were behind him.
This is the version of Paxton that Boras will surely be marketing to other teams this offseason, though it remains to be seen what type of contract the lefty will land during a winter where free agent dollars are expected to be scarce. Paxton’s track record will surely land him some type of guaranteed deal, but he could see offers in the range of only one guaranteed year (or perhaps two years at a lower annual average value) given his lack of production in 2020.