Newly-signed Dodgers southpaw James Paxton spoke to reporters (including Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times) today regarding his recent one-year deal with the club and the physical he underwent that led to the lefty’s guarantee dropping from $11MM to just $7MM on the deal. Paxton noted during the scrum that the reduction in the contract’s guarantee wasn’t due to any one specific injury concern the Dodgers had but instead was due to the combination of his history with Tommy John surgery, which kept him away from a big league mound for almost two entire seasons, and the knee issue that ended his 2023 campaign in early September.
“I’m an older player now, and I’m not perfect anymore,” Paxton told reporters, as relayed by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register. “…So there’s things that have kind of built up over the years.”
In spite of the concerns that stemmed from his physical, Paxton indicated that he has “no doubt” that he’ll be ready for the start of the 2024 campaign, adding that he feels “strong and ready” as he enters camp. Per his revised, incentive-laden deal, Paxton will receive a $2MM bonus for being on the roster for either the start of the Korea series against the Padres, which begins on March 20, or the club’s stateside opener against the Cardinals the following week.
Paxton, 35, has been held back by injuries frequently throughout his career. Drafted by the Blue Jays with the 37th overall selection in the 2009 draft, the southpaw made his big league debut as a member of the Mariners back in 2013 and immediately impressed with a 1.50 ERA in a four-start cup of coffee. Through his age-30 season, Paxton regularly impressed when he was on the mound, showing the quality results of a #2 starter with a 3.50 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and 26.5% strikeout rate. Unfortunately, Paxton was limited to just 733 innings of work across those seven seasons by injury woes, which would only intensify as the calendar flipped to 2020. From 2020-22, Paxton managed just six appearances and 21 2/3 innings due to injuries.
The big lefty returned to the mound as a member of the Red Sox in May of last year and early in the season appeared to have made a triumphant return to the dominant form of his younger days. Through his first ten starts of the season, Paxton posted an impressive 2.73 ERA over 56 innings of work with a whopping 29% strikeout rate. Unfortunately, the wheels came off for the veteran southpaw after the All Star break as he struggled to a 6.98 ERA and 6.16 FIP in 40 innings of work across his final nine starts of the season before he was shut down for the season with the aforementioned bout of knee inflammation following a start where Paxton allowed six runs while recording just four outs.
After that brutal series of struggles down the stretch, Paxton finished the 2023 campaign with a 4.50 ERA that was almost exactly league average by measure of ERA+. While the form the lefty flashed early in the season with Boston last year would make him a playoff-caliber arm, Paxton need only repeat his full-season performance from 2023 to be a useful piece for a Dodgers club looking to add veteran innings to a rotation that figures to be dominated by young starters with little to no big league experience like Bobby Miller and Yoshinobu Yamamoto as well as players with substantial injury histories of their own like Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Glasnow, and Walker Buehler.
That rotation mix offers little in the way of certainty, but young arms like Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone, and Michael Grove appear well-positioned to help out as needed throughout the season. An opportunity seems likely to be immediately available for those youngsters as both Buehler and Kershaw are expected to open the season on the injured list, though club officials have indicated that Buehler’s stay on the shelf could be a relatively short one.