Red Sox left-hander James Paxton has been diagnosed with a Grade 2 tear in his left lat muscle and will be shut down for the season, manager Alex Cora informed reporters (including Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe). It’ll go down as a completely lost season for the left-hander, who hasn’t pitched in a big league game since April 2021.
Paxton has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career. He’s spent time on the IL in every year since 2014, including an extended absence for a left lat strain that season. Paxton has also been plagued by hand, forearm, chest, knee and elbow concerns. The arm injuries, in particular, have proven problematic over the past few years. The southpaw missed most of the shortened 2020 campaign trying to rehab from a flexor strain in his forearm. While he avoided undergoing surgery at the time, he blew out in the second inning of his first start the following year and required Tommy John surgery.
That procedure ended Paxton’s reunion tour with the Mariners last year before it got far off the ground, but the Red Sox nevertheless signed him to a $10MM guarantee this past offseason. That rather complex arrangement paid him a $6MM salary for this season and contained a pair of successive $13MM club options — essentially a two-year, $26MM deal — for the Sox to decide upon in conjunction this winter. If the team declines the options, Paxton would receive a $4MM player option for 2023 alone.
On the heels of a third straight injury-wrecked season, there’s essentially no chance the Red Sox commit $13MM salaries for the upcoming two years. It seems likely that Paxton will accept his $4MM option, although there’s at least a small possibility he foregoes that figure in search of an incentive-laden pact on the open market. If Paxton declines the player option, the Sox would’ve committed him $6MM for no return on their investment.
That’s not to say it was an entirely illogical bet for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and his staff to take last winter. At the time of Paxton’s signing in December, the club anticipated he’d contribute for the second half and a possible playoff push. Despite a minor delay as he dealt with elbow soreness in May, he indeed seemed on track to get on the mound for the season’s final month. Paxton had ramped up a throwing program and begun a rehab assignment last Thursday, but he faced just two batters before suffering the lat injury.
It has now been three years since Paxton was healthy, but he was an effective starter for the Yankees during his last extended stretch of action. He made 29 appearances in 2019, tossing 150 2/3 frames with a 3.82 ERA and an excellent 29.4% strikeout rate. A trio of teams (New York, Seattle and Boston) have taken successive shots to see if he can replicate that well above-average production in the years since then, but the series of injuries has unfortunately kept that from happening.
Boston is facing a fair bit of potential turnover in the rotation this offseason. Paxton has the aforementioned dual team/player options, while Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill will all be free agents. Chris Sale is under contract through 2024 but coming off another injury-plagued season of his own. Aside from Nick Pivetta — whose 4.24 ERA this season is a career-low — there isn’t much rotation certainty moving forward. Bloom and his staff will have their work cut out for them in overhauling much of that group, regardless of whether Paxton elects to return.