The Baltimore Orioles are reported to have shown interest in free agent pitcher James Paxton. While they have solid starters already in place for this coming season, pitching has been seen as the area that needs the most improvement. The Orioles have already addressed the primary need in the bullpen with the signing of Craig Kimbrel, and they are now looking to bolster the starting rotation.
I briefly discussed the Birds signing Paxton back in early November when free agency first opened up. Three of the five pitchers from that article have been signed by other teams but Paxton was number two on my list. He is a big left handed power pitcher that would probably love to play in Camden Yards with the big left field.
Should the Orioles try to sign James Paxton?
Paxton is a four pitch pitcher that relies heavily on his fastball that averages mid 90's. He keeps hitters off balance with a low 80's curveball and mid 80's cutter while mixing in the occasional changeup. Paxton has strikeout stuff but also induces a lot of groundballs that the very athletic Orioles infield can take care of. Batters do put almost a quarter of the balls in play off of Paxton in the air and the vast left field along with the gold glove caliber play of Austin Hays should take care of many of those.
Paxton spent the first six seasons of his major league career with the Seattle Mariners and established himself as one of the better pitchers in the game at the time. In those six seasons, he pitched to a 3.42 ERA with 41 wins in 103 starts and 9.5 K/9 opposed to 2.6 BB/9. Paxton was traded to the New York Yankees following the 2018 season and spent the next two years in New York.
After staying healthy for almost the entire time he was in Seattle, the injury bug began to nibble away at Paxton. He had some minor aches and pains in 2019 but had a very good season for the Yankees, winning 15 games with a 3.82 ERA and 11.1 K/9 and required only one brief trip to the IL. The bug took its first full bite of him in 2020. A left flexor strain sent Paxton to the 60 day IL, limiting him to only five starts that year, in a shortened season, ending his stint in the Big Apple.
Paxton resigned with the Mariners in 2021, hoping a return to his starting place would bring a return to his success. Unfortunately for him, Paxton made only one start and was forced out after just 1.1 innings with what was called a left forearm strain. That injury required Tommy John surgery and Paxton missed the remainder of the 2021 season and all of the 2022 season, which he spent with the Boston Red Sox.
Paxton started the 2023 season in the minors on a rehab assignment but made his first major league start in over two years in May. Finally healthy again, Paxton was a solid contributor to the Red Sox rotation and made 19 starts for them and threw 96.0 innings. His K/BB ratio was consistent with his career numbers and he looked good for the majority of the season but right knee inflammation ended his season prematurely.
Another pitcher the Orioles have been linked to this off-season is Dylan Cease. When you compare the numbers of both pitchers from 2023, you could argue that Paxton pitched better when healthy. They both had seven wins but Cease needed 33 starts to get them and Paxton needed just 19. Paxton's ERA (4.50) and ERA+(101) were slightly better than Cease's (4.58 and 97). Cease had a slightly higher K% (27.3 to 24.6, but Paxton had a better BB% (8.0 to 10.1).
If Paxton can remain healthy, he could turn into a steal for the Orioles if they sign him. He would probably take a lower one year contract to prove he can still pitch at a high level, and those types of contracts are right up the Orioles alley. The Birds have plenty of other starting pitchers that could help his load management. He is certainly worth a shot.