Dodgers reportedly set to sign James Paxton to 1-year, $12MM deal to bolster rotation

In an effort to further bolster the rotation, and perhaps to take care of a potential handedness issue, the Dodgers will reportedly sign left-handed starter James Paxton to a 1-year deal worth $12 million plus incentives.

Paxton is a 35-year-old veteran who once seemed to be settling in as a potential front of the rotation type of arm, posting a 3.60 ERA/3.16 FIP in 568 innings from 2016-19 with the Mariners and Yankees. He touted gaudy strikeout totals (28.5%) that ranked 8th in the majors, while controlling walks enough to have a K-BB% that ranked 10th (21.7%) during that span.

While he always had a problem staying healthy, in 2020 things started to snowball a bit. Paxton had spinal surgery to start that year and barely pitched, then at the start of 2021 he underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2022 after tearing his lat working on coming back, then started 2023 with a hamstring injury and struggled after the All-Star break before injuring his knee to end his season. In the last four seasons, he has just 25 games started and 117.2 innings, struggling to a 4.90 ERA and 4.60 FIP in those starts. Paxton’s previous elite strikeout totals fell off a bit (25.5%) and so did his K-BB% (17.4%), but the main problem was the missed time.

So why do this?

Well, aside from adding a lefty to the rotation with the aforementioned upside, the results in 2023 were close to matching his best years before his struggles started due to his knee.

David Laurila: You obviously had some really good outings this year. What tended to be the issue when you weren’t going well?
James Paxton: “Honestly, just the execution of my breaking stuff. And then toward the end, my last few games, I was having trouble with my front leg. I wasn’t able to brace on my front leg, so I was kind of falling off and not being able to finish my pitches. That was nothing too serious, though. It’s already feeling better.”

Paxton’s knee started acting up on June 24th. Before the injury he had a 3.29 ERA (3.13 xFIP), 12.0 K/9, and 1.07 WHIP. After the inury, he posted a 5.31 ERA, 7.8 K/9, and 1.47 WHIP. His performance decline can be seen with a drop in his fastball velocity.

While it wasn’t a precipitous decline in terms of data, that can be objectively backed as well, especially with the effectiveness of his fastball.

Before June 24, his fastball velocity was 95.7 MPH, and it fell off more as the season went on. After that date it was 94.9 MPH overall, but was down to 94 MPH in his last appearance of 2023.

He also acknowledged that his cutter hasn’t been the same since he returned and, as you can see above, it was by far his worst pitch.

Laurila: You came back from Tommy John surgery. What has that experience been like in terms of your pitch quality?
Paxton: “It’s definitely interesting coming back from it, the stuff differences [and] trying to figure out my arm again. I feel like the fastball came back, it felt really good, but the breaking stuff took some time. The cutter wasn’t the same pitch it was before Tommy John. I’m still kind of figuring that pitch out. I got to a place where it was good enough. I could use it, it just wasn’t the same as it was.”
Laurila: How has it been different?
Paxton: “I used to throw it harder. It was a shorter, harder slider, basically, and now it’s not quite as hard. I used to throw it 88–91 [mph] and now it’s like 85–87. It still has decent movement to it, but again, it’s just not quite the same pitch that it was before I got hurt. Maybe that’s something that will come back in year two. People say that your stuff isn’t really 100% back until the year after your first year back from Tommy John.”

Josh pre-empted me on this, but Paxton’s release point has been all over the place since returning, and he’s admittedly still trying to find it again. With the arm strength still there, he should hypothetically be able to get that back with adjustments, and it’s probably something the Dodgers could look to fix in order to really unlock him.


Regardless, even if the changes don’t take, Paxton doesn’t need to be fixed as much as he just needs to be healthy at the right time (October).

A one-year deal for a team with the Dodgers’ financial situation for a player with this profile is an ideal one, as Paxton adds another quality arm to further prop up the starting depth, and he also has playoff starter type of upside if he can get right (and a lefty might be preferable at some point as well). The only downside is potentially blocking the development of a better pitcher (like Emmet Sheehan) if he struggles but continues to be able to pitch. However, it’s a chance well worth taking for a team that is pushing its chips in now.

Oh yeah, and now they have freedom on their side as well.

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