Usually upon hearing about a major MLB transaction (trade, free agent signing, etc), I have a habit of doing the following: 1) read the notification of the the transaction on my phone, 2) check Twitter for all of the details of the transaction, 3) go to /r/baseball and read the comments there on the transaction, 4a) go to Fangraphs and read the reaction piece to come on the transaction, 4b) look at the stats for the player(s) involved in transaction, 5) go about my life until the next transaction of interest occurs. Today I decided to do something different. When I got notice that a James Paxton trade occurred, I decided to only do step 1, skip to step 4b, and write a piece with my own reaction to the trade.
In the case of this transaction, the Yankees and Mariners engaged in a trade. Based on my title and my opening paragraph, if you were not already aware, James Paxton was involved. Here are the details.
Based on the the state of their team, the Yankees are currently expecting to compete for a World Series in 2019 and probably in 2020. Starting pitcher James Paxton just so happens to now be under contract by the Yankees for both of those seasons. Paxton, who will be age 30 and 31 in the next two seasons, just pitched a career high 160 1/3 innings and put up 3.8 which was good for 20th overall among pitchers. Assuming health (something that really is impossible to assume), Paxton will definitely be an impactful addition to the Yankees.
The Mariners, most recently a team looking to contend for the World Series, have decided to retool their roster rather than go for a full rebuild, trading away expiring contracts for players with more control (see the Mike Zunino trade as example A). By trading away James Paxton for starting pitcher Justus Sheffield, pitcher Erik Swanson, and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams, they turned two seasons of Paxton into six seasons from Sheffield and possibly twelve more from Swanson and Thompson-Williams. According to Fangraphs mid season prospect update, Sheffield, a 50 Future Value (FV), was ranked as the Yankees #1 prospect and #54 on the overall top 131 list. Erik Swanson, who had a breakout this year between AA and AAA, and Thompson-Williams, who I never heard of before this trade, but had an interesting stat line this year, were not on that list. That is not to say neither are good or will be good, it’s just that they are not perceived to be as good as other players in the Yankees system at the time the list was updated.
Currently the 2019 Steamer projections have Paxton projected for 4.4 WAR which makes him the Yankees second best pitcher (Severino is projected for 4.5 WAR). This will be an immediate help to the Yankees. The three players going back to Seattle are projected for a 2019 total WAR of 0.4, all of which is from Sheffield. While the 22 year old Sheffield is slotted to be in the Mariners rotation for 2019, the odds of him being as valuable as Paxton over the next two years are slim. Even assuming a decline from Paxton next year, he would most likely produce more WAR than the trio in 2020 as well.
One aspect of this deal that I have not touched on yet is the 40 man roster constraints by both teams. The date to add players to the 40 man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft is today. The Yankees, prior to the trade, were at 38 players, with Sheffield being one of them. Swanson is eligible for the draft so he needed to be protected because I am fairly certain he would be taken if left available due to his age and recent success in the upper minors this year. That would have put them at 39 players at least and there may be other players they want to protect or free agents to sign. Thompson-Williams is eligible for the Rule 5 draft next year so he is a non factor in this roster decision in the present. The Mariners, prior to the trade, were at 34 players. Swapping Paxton and Sheffield keeps both teams at the same number of players and allows the Mariners, who have more space, to protect Swanson and still have plenty of flexibility to make other moves. When a team is ready to compete like the Yankees, consolidating depth, especially if you believe in your farm system and player development, into a currently above average player makes a lot of sense.
This analysis is not very advanced, but I believe to be pretty succinct. James Paxton is currently the best player involved in this transaction and with certain will help the Yankees attempt to win it all now. The Mariners are no longer looking to win it all now and traded for assets that could help them win it all in future seasons (2021-~2024). If the Yankees win the World Series, within the next two years, this trade will definitely be considered a success for them. If the Mariners win the World Series during their future window (or prior), this trade will definitely be considered a success for them. Obviously this trade could be a loss for either team, but really only time will tell.