The Red Sox announced that left-hander James Paxton has been place on the 15-day injured list (retroactive to September 7) due to right knee inflammation. In other transactions, Boston called up right-hander Nick Robertson from Triple-A Worcester and activated righty Garrett Whitlock from the bereavement list, while left-hander Joe Jacques has been optioned to Triple-A.
The timing of the IL move means that Paxton’s 2023 campaign is over, as Red Sox manager Alex Cora told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier and other reporters that Nick Pivetta will take Paxton’s place in the rotation for the remainder of the season. Paxton will finish the year with a 4.50 ERA over 96 innings, as well as a 24.6% strikeout rate and 8.0% walk rate that were both above the league average.
Considering that injuries (including a Tommy John surgery) limited Paxton to only six games and 21 2/3 total innings between the 2020-22 seasons, just getting onto a mound and making it almost the entire way through the 2023 season counts as a significant achievement for the southpaw. A Spring Training hamstring injury delayed Paxton’s debut until May 12, but he pitched well over his first four months before seemingly starting to wear down during August. Paxton was tagged for 16 earned runs over his last three starts and 9 2/3 innings, putting a sour end on what had been a solid year.
The Sox had already planned to push Paxton’s next start back a few days, but since Cora implied that Paxton’s knee had been bothering him, the team has opted to shut the lefty down rather than risk any further injury. While Paxton hadn’t been contributing much in his last few outings anyway, the IL decision also seems to hint how the Red Sox might be slowly turning to look towards 2024 rather than the wild card race, as Cora implied in today’s meeting with reporters. Boston is seven games back of the last AL wild card slot, and with just a 72-70 record, finishing above .500 is no guarantee for the Sox, let alone a playoff berth.
The outcome might lead to some hindsight about Boston’s decision to keep Paxton at the trade deadline, as the Rangers (and likely several other teams) had interest in the left-hander prior to August 1. For the second straight season, Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom opted to both buy and sell at the deadline, though this year’s Red Sox club was closer in the race than the 2022 edition. The very streaky nature of this year’s club also makes it understandable why Bloom didn’t swing too hard in either transactional direction at the deadline, and since the Sox were already hurting for pitching, it makes sense why the team would’ve wanted to keep Paxton as a key piece of whatever late-season push might have been in store.
With Paxton’s 2023 now over, it is possible he has also thrown his last pitch in a Red Sox uniform. He is set to hit free agency this winter, and it will be interesting to see what kind of deal Paxton could land as he enters his age-35 season and on the back of a year that saw mostly good results when healthy. Assuming this knee problem doesn’t develop into anything serious, Paxton could have a case for a multi-year agreement, though teams will likely prefer a one-year deal with vesting/club options (maybe similar to his previous deal with the Red Sox) given his lengthy health history.