The Boston Red Sox rolled the dice on pitcher James Paxton. It came up snake eyes.
Paxton’s 2022 season is over — before it ever really began — thanks to a Grade 2 lat tear suffered last week during a rehab outing in the Florida Complex League. The 33-year-old left-hander has yet to make a start for Boston since signing over the offseason, — he had been recovering from Tommy John surgery — and now it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll ever pitch for the Red Sox.
So, where do Paxton and the Red Sox go from here?
Well, the door certainly is open for Paxton to remain with the organization in 2023. It’ll just be under less-than-ideal circumstances given the continued uncertainty surrounding his status.
Paxton made only one start with the Seattle Mariners in 2021, lasting 1 1/3 innings until he suffered an injury that required him to go under the knife. He also made just five starts (20 1/3 innings) with the New York Yankees in 2020 and has battled various ailments throughout his Major League Baseball career.
Of course, the Red Sox were cognizant of the risks associated with Paxton when they signed him back in December. Hence the structure of his contract, which paid him a $6 million salary for this season despite the likelihood he wouldn’t return until August or September after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2021.
The Red Sox must decide this offseason whether to exercise a two-year, $26 million club option ($13 million per season for 2023 and 2024) on Paxton. The thinking, it seemed, was they’d at least get a glimpse of him at some point this season, after which they could make a determination on his long-term outlook. Now, with Paxton suffering another setback, it seems highly unlikely they’ll pick up the option.
If that’s the case, the ball then is in Paxton’s court: He either can exercise a $4 million player option for 2023 or test free agency.
Paxton exercising the option makes sense, all things considered unless he wants to leave Boston and/or feels strongly about the possibility of landing a more lucrative contract on the open market. And it’s a scenario that could benefit both parties in the long run — if Paxton returns next season, pitches well for the Red Sox, and reestablishes his value before reentering free agency ahead of the 2024 campaign.
The other plausible path would be for Paxton to decline his player option and negotiate a new contract with the Red Sox, perhaps with some availability- or performance-based incentives baked in to boost its potential overall value.
Paxton turns 34 in November. He’s totaled six starts (21 2/3 innings) in three seasons and has an extensive track record of injuries that dates back to his first go-round in Seattle, which began in 2013. The Red Sox absolutely can’t assume anything with him for next season. And it’s definitely worth wondering whether Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has some buyer’s remorse on an investment that actually looked quite shrewd at the time given Paxton’s upside when healthy.
Nevertheless, this is how the gamble has played out so far. Although 2022 has been a lost season, for Paxton and perhaps the Red Sox collectively, they still could remain at the same table for at least another year, with an eye toward some better luck.