James Paxton returned to a big league mound for the first time since 2021, when he pitched just 1 1/3 innings with the Mariners, and remained healthy enough to make 19 starts for the Red Sox. Playing out the second season of a two-year, $10MM contract — Paxton exercised a $4MM player option at the end of the 2022 season — the 34-year-old lefty is slated to head back to the open market once the 2023 campaign concludes. Paxton tells Alex Speier of the Boston Globe that he’d love to return to the Sox next year but hasn’t yet had any discussions on the matter with team officials.
Any such conversations figure to be delayed now, of course, with the Red Sox seeking a new baseball operations leader following yesterday’s dismissal of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. General manager Brian O’Halloran remains with the team and is pairing with assistant GMs Eddie Romero, Raquel Ferreira and Michael Groopman to oversee matters in the short term, but the Sox also announced yesterday that O’Halloran would be offered a new role within the baseball operations department.
Paxton’s season officially drew to a close earlier this month when Boston put him on the 15-day injured list due to inflammation in his right knee. While there are more than 15 days remaining on the schedule, it was announced at the time of that IL placement that Nick Pivetta will be replacing Paxton in the rotation for the remainder of the year. There’s no indication that Paxton’s knee is a major issue, but he apparently needed more than a minimal absence and won’t make it back to the bump this year.
As such, Paxton’s season drew to a close with 96 innings of 4.50 ERA ball. That’s hardly a dominant showing, but much of the damage against him came in the three short starts preceding his placement on the injured list. Paxton carried a 3.34 ERA, 26.3% strikeout rate and 6.5% walk rate through his first 16 starts (86 1/3 innings) before being tagged for 16 earned runs on 18 hits (four of them home runs) and 10 walks in a span of just 9 2/3 innings.
Paxton’s injury history is about as extensive as you’ll find among established, active pitchers. He’s had both back surgery and Tommy John surgery in the past three years alone, also missing varying lengths of time due to a forearm strain, a hamstring strain, knee inflammation and a flexor strain — all just since the 2020 season alone. That said, his upside is notable as well. A healthy Paxton misses bats at a high level, limits walks and home runs, and induces grounders at a least a league-average clip. From 2016-19, he tallied 568 innings of 3.60 ERA ball — highlighted by a 2.98 ERA in 24 starts during the 2017 season with Seattle.
Whoever takes over baseball operations in Boston will need to address the rotation in some capacity this winter. Returning to the fold in 2024 will be oft-injured Chris Sale and a slew of less-experienced arms like Brayan Bello, Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford. Of the bunch, Bello is the only one who’s had a full, productive season in the rotation. Pivetta remains under club control as well, though he’ll be due a raise on this year’s $5.35MM salary and could be non-tendered or moved in a change-of-scenery swap. Keeping Paxton would maintain some continuity and add upside to the group, but his injury history has always made him feel like a bit of a tough fit with a Boston rotation mix that features so many other question marks. That’s not to say he can’t or won’t be brought back in the end, but the Sox will need to add additional stability even if Paxton is re-signed.