Thoughts on the James Paxton trade and how it affects the Astros

In response to a friend’s email, I wrote up my thoughts on the trade in which the Marinerssent starting LHP James Paxton to the Yankees in exchange for LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson, and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams. Here they are, pretty much unedited, along with a short blurb about the potential impacts to the Astros.

It is an interesting trade. I’m not sure if one team overpaid or not, so it’s probably a fair swap.

Paxton

Like everybody says, if he can stay healthy, it’s a good addition for the Yankees. But dude throws HARD, and well, he’s never been healthy, ever. So that’s really risky. Fangraphs is only projecting 172 innings next season, which frankly seems optimistic given that he’s only pitched more than 136 innings in a season once in his career.
The other thing I wonder about is how he’ll transition to Yankee Stadium, moving from one of the most pitcher-friendly parks to one that is pretty unfriendly to left-handers (short right-field), and also how he’ll adjust to the AL East where Baltimore, Boston, and Toronto are also all batter-friendly. (The AL West included Seattle, LAA, OAK, and HOU, four of the pitcher friendliest parks in the majors). For his career, he has a 2.98 ERA at home (in what has been a very weak division during his tenure) and a 3.87 ERA on the road. If he’s “road Paxton“, then the Yankees lose this trade, and they haven’t acquired somebody special. If he’s miraculously “home Paxton” then he’s awesome.
The truth is probably in the middle – I don’t think he can possibly be as good in the AL East as he was in the AL West, but he won’t be a 4.00-ERA pitcher either. If he’s healthy.

Sheffield

I dunno. He fits the category of pitching prospect that I always take a “We’ll see…” approach to. I know scouts love his stuff, but he’s a lot like Glasnow and other recent hard throwing pitchers in that his command is pretty stinking bad.
Fangraphs projects him for a 4.61 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 24 starts, and I think that’s probably spot on.
Pitchers that carry 10%+ walk rates in AAA and AA usually struggle in the majors, especially in the first couple of years. Mike Foltynewicz is a classic case. He was a Top 50 prospect, threw 100, but had command problems, and his seasonal ERA didn’t drop lower than 4.31 until his fifth season in the majors. I think Sheffield is that guy.
For comparison,qualified major leaguers who had an over 10% walk rate this year were Giolito, Teheran, Newcomb, Gio, and Godley. All of them struggled and had ERAs over 4.00. Newcomb isn’t a bad comp for Sheffield, but Newcomb was a higher-ranked prospect, and carried higher strikeout rates through the minors.

Swanson

If somebody asked me to bet on which guy is more likely to stick in a major league rotation between Sheffield and Swanson, i might pick Swanson. His ceiling isn’t as high as Sheffield, which is why scouts like him less, but his walk rates indicate he actually knows how to pitch, not just throw.
My bet is that he’s a solid #4/5 starting pitcher for a while. Steamer already thinks he’s better than Sheffield, and projects 4.46 ERA next season, split between rotation and bullpen. I think the M’s were smart to include him in the deal. Even if Sheffield flames out in the rotation and becomes a very good reliever, Swanson should still give them a decent innings-eater.
Both Sheffield and Swanson should play up slightly in Seattle and the AL West, though. But I don’t think either guy is an impact player, unless Sheffield learns command, which will probably take several years. Or else he’ll be moved into the pen.
DTW
Thompason-Williams doesn’t do much for me, though the jury is out. He was kinda old to be a true “prospect” at A+, but as a college guy, he’s not THAT old. His strikeouts jumped at A+ and his walk rate has steadily dropped. He looks like the type of guy that might make the majors as a 4th outfielder or 2nd division starter at best, starting at like age 25 or 26 when a guy in front of him gets injured. Like Luke Scott, maybe. Nothing wrong with adding depth as the 3rd piece taken in trade, though.

Impact on this trade to the Astros

Though this trade definitely makes the Yankees tougher to face in the postseason (if Paxton stays healthy), I believe there is some minor tangential benefit to the Houston Astros.

First, by trading away a couple of very good prospects, this trade puts the Yankees in a worse bargaining position if bidding wars commence on Corey KluberCarlos CarrascoTrevor BauerRobbie Ray, or Jacob deGrom. All five of those pitchers are arguably better than Paxton (if only for health reasons), a few have more team control, and all have been mentioned as potentially being on the trade block.

Second, sources have indicated that the Astros were involved on discussions over Paxton, but balked at the asking price of #1 national pitching prospect Forrest Whitley (who afterwards thanked Astros GM via Twitter for not dealing him). If the Astros’ only avenue to acquiring Paxton was parting with Whitley, walking away from a potential deal ensures that the Astros will only face Paxton a couple times a season, including maybe once in the playoffs, instead of facing Whitley a handful of times during each of the next six.

That in itself is encouraging, as it should indicate to fans as to what type of pitcher the Astros realistically think Whitley can be.

So while there’s not immediate benefit to the Astros from this non-deal, there are a lot Top of Rotation starters reportedly available, and so it’s hard to see this as a missed opportunity.