The Dodgers signed left-hander James Paxton to a one-year deal this week, though the financial details of the contract changed from the initial reporting. Per a report today from Fabian Ardaya and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, an unknown health issue led to a lesser guarantee, though it wasn’t serious enough to scuttle the deal completely.
As details of the agreement were initially trickling out last week, it was reported as an $11MM guarantee for the lefty. But Rosenthal reported this morning that the guarantee was actually just $7MM. It appears some sort of health concern popped up, which was enough to knock $4MM off the guarantee but not so serious as to cause the Dodgers to walk away. Paxton can still earn a total of $13MM via bonuses* as long as he makes the Opening Day roster and eventually makes at least 18 starts. Neither the club nor Paxton’s agent Scott Boras provided details for the report from The Athletic, citing HIPAA.
Health or the lack thereof has frequently been an issue for Paxton throughout his career. Now 35 and about to enter his 11th major league season, he has never reached 30 starts or 161 innings pitched in a big league campaign. He hardly pitched at all in the 2020-2022 period, with a left flexor strain keeping him to just five starts in the shortened 2020 season. Then Tommy John surgery wiped out most of the next two years, with a torn lat preventing him from returning late in 2022.
Last year saw some encouraging progress from those significant injury issues but it wasn’t totally smooth sailing. A hamstring strain in the spring pushed his season debut until May. He was able to stay healthy from there until September, finishing the season on the injured list due to right knee inflammation. His 19 starts and 96 innings pitched were more than he logged in the previous three years combined, but he also seemed to run out of gas. He had a 2.73 ERA through his first 10 starts but then a 6.98 mark in the final nine.
It seems he’s still not 100% but the Dodgers will take a shot on him regardless. He has a 3.69 ERA in his career, pairing a 26.3% strikeout rate with a 7.5% walk rate. The club is generally unafraid to bank on talented players even if they have injury concerns, having signed guys like Blake Treinen, Daniel Hudson, Jimmy Nelson, J.P. Feyereisen and Alex Reyes in recent years.
They are now set to go into 2024 with a rotation featuring plenty of talent but also a decent amount of uncertainty. Yoshinobu Yamamoto has loads of success in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball but has no MLB track record yet. Walker Buehler missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. Tyler Glasnow has never topped 120 innings in a major league season due to his own injury history. Bobby Miller was good last year but still doesn’t have a full year of big league experience. Options like Emmet Sheehan, Michael Grove and Gavin Stone are similarly unproven. Paxton would have already come with concerns just based on his track record but those will only be enhanced now that he’s known to be dealing with some kind of ailment.
It’s also possible that the club could re-sign Clayton Kershaw, as it has in each of the past two offseasons. But he is also a question mark, having undergone shoulder surgery in November that will keep him out of action until midseason.
* Paxton can get a $2MM bonus either for being on the roster for the Dodgers’ season opener in South Korea against the Padres on March 20 or their domestic opener against the Cardinals on March 28. Otherwise, he can earn a $1MM bonus if added to the roster before April 15. Paxton will also earn a $600K bonus for making his sixth, eighth, tenth, 12th and 16th starts of the season, plus a $1MM bonus for reaching 18 starts. With $4MM in bonuses based on starts and the $2MM early-season roster bonus, he could add $6MM to his $7MM guarantee, bringing his total earnings for the year to $13MM.