Boston Red Sox Free Agency Grades: Sox overpay again for Paxton

James Paxton #44 of the Seattle Mariners (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
James Paxton #44 of the Seattle Mariners (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have maintained a relatively quiet persona so far in free agency, despite the fact that have some money to spend and are coming off a season where they were two wins away from making the World Series. Prior to yesterday, their only signing of note was starting pitcher Michael Wacha, who isn’t exactly going to move the needle in terms of title contention. Beyond that, they almost certainly overpaid for the former St. Louis Cardinals star.

Boston’s front office dipped back into the starting pitcher market late last night, signing James Paxton to a one year, $10 million deal. The deal also has a two year club option, which if activated would essentially turn this into a 3 year, $35 million deal. Whichever way you want to cut it, the Sox once again overpaid for a pitcher who did virtually nothing last season, and he may not even be healthy to start the season.

The Boston Red Sox had no reason to pay James Paxton this much money

Paxton has spent most of his career with the Seattle Mariners, and eventually turned himself into a very reliable left hander for them. Prior to the 2020 season, Paxton had never posted a season where his ERA eclipsed the four run mark. Admittedly, he has never made 30 starts in a season, showcasing some durability concerns, but when he was out on the mound, he was hard to hit.

Paxton was traded to the New York Yankees after the 2018 season, and while he was still generally solid for the 2019 season, his 3.82 ERA was the second highest of his career up to that point. The wheels fell off in 2020, as he only made five starts and finished the season with a 6.64 ERA.

Paxton returned to the Mariners for the 2021 season, but he only managed to pitch 1.1 innings before his season was ended due to Tommy John surgery. So depending on where he is in his recovery process, Paxton may not be ready to start the season. The front office is probably banking on the two final years of his contract to come in handy, but that’s a very big risk that may not pan out.

There are a lot of issues that can be taken up with this deal. Banking on Paxton to pitch like his old self once he returns to the mound isn’t really reasonable. We saw how Chris Sale struggled at times once he returned from Tommy John last season, and he basically turned into a two pitch pitcher in the postseason.

Beyond that, Paxton has been incredibly ineffective over the past two seasons even when he’s been on the mound. He lost his feel for his curveball, and he became very hittable very quickly. There’s no guarantee he’s going to pick that back up whenever he finds his way back to the mound.

And then there’s the issue with the $10 million being handed to Paxton. Paxton made $8.5 million last season, and ended up only throwing 24 pitches on the season. Despite that, he’s now getting a raise from the Boston Red Sox with this new deal. And even if the team picks up his two year option after the season ends, he would average $12.5 million for his age 34 and 35 seasons.

In a deep starting pitcher market, Paxton is easily one of the riskiest options available. It would be OK if the Boston Red Sox weren’t shelling out an inordinate amount of money for a pitcher who hasn’t really pitched over the past two seasons, but that’s pretty much exactly what they did here. Maybe he comes back and pitches like his old self, but you would be a fool to count on that sort of production from a 33 year old pitcher coming back from a major arm surgery.

Final Grade: D

On the surface there really isn’t much to like about this deal at all. Paxton will almost certainly be billed as Eduardo Rodriguez’s replacement, which is scary thought. Rodriguez struggled with consistency last season, but you could always count on him to be able to give it his all on the mound. That is pretty much the exact opposite with the injury prone Paxton.

Both the initial deal and the ensuing option are an extreme overpay for Paxton. He’s coming off a major injury, hasn’t been good in the previous two seasons, and is already probably past his peak. There was virtually no reason to give Paxton a raise.

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At this point we have to be very concerned with the Boston Red Sox free agency strategy. We have seen other teams go out and spend big on de facto stars, while the Sox sit on the sidelines and try to find the next diamond in the rough.

Unless Paxton and Wacha massively over exceed their expectations next season, there will be no real differences from the 2021 Red Sox and the 2022 Red Sox. These two have basically replaced Garrett Richards and Martin Perez, and if that was the front office’s top goal heading into the offseason, we have to be concerned about the state of this team moving forward. There’s still time for them to make some bigger moves, but the initial returns aren’t very inspiring.