Double Down? Red Sox Face Tricky Offseason Decision With James Paxton

The Big Maple is coming off another lost season


Nov 7, 2022

One of the trickier decisions facing the Boston Red Sox this offseason involves a player who didn’t even pitch in 2022: James Paxton.

The Red Sox must decide in the coming days whether to exercise their two-year, $26 million club option on the 34-year-old left-hander. It’s important to note the option covers both 2023 and 2024 ($13 million annually), so Boston can’t simply pick up one year of the deal. It’s both or bust.

If the Red Sox decline the option, Paxton then must decide whether to exercise his one-year, $4 million player option for 2023 or test free agency. Basically, that decision would entail Paxton determining whether or not he’d land a more lucrative deal on the open market. And the gap between his ceiling (front-end starter) and floor (not pitching at all) makes for a fascinating dilemma.

On its surface, the Red Sox’s decision doesn’t seem all that complicated. Paxton has logged just 21 2/3 innings over the last three seasons. He made only one start with the Seattle Mariners in 2021 before requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery, then suffered a Grade 2 lat tear during a rehab outing in August that derailed his hopes of pitching for Boston down the stretch in 2022. Injuries long have been an issue for Paxton, dating back to his first stint with the Mariners, so committing another $26 million to the veteran southpaw requires significant risk tolerance. It’d be understandable if Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom had trepidation about potentially compounding an otherwise relatively small problem. Paxton earned a $6 million salary in 2022.

Yet, walking away from the table is never easy. And that’s especially true when you’re talking about a pitcher with Paxton’s ability, at a time when the Red Sox are trying to rebuild a rotation that could lose three starters to free agency (Nathan Eovaldi, Michael Wacha and Rich Hill). Bringing back Paxton is an obvious gamble. But so, too, is letting him sign elsewhere after overseeing his extensive rehab. What a kick in the pants it’d be if Paxton’s one-year stop in Boston proved a stepping stone toward success with another organization.

Thus, the best-case scenario for Boston — and maybe Paxton, as well — would be to work out a new contract that lands somewhere in the middle of the aforementioned club and player options, assuming the Red Sox are comfortable (enough) with his health moving forward. The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier last week pointed to Corey Kluber’s one-year, $11 million deal with the New York Yankees in 2021 and one-year, $7 million pact with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2022 as possible comparables on the buy-low market for pitchers coming off injuries or poor performances.

Maybe the Red Sox and Paxton sprinkle in an option (or two) to sweeten the pot on either side. But the general point is that $13 million probably is too high given Paxton’s injury history, whereas $4 million might be too low based on his upside and earning potential in free agency. And while it’d be understandable for the Red Sox to cut their 2022 losses, or for Paxton to prioritize a fresh start, there’s also a strong argument to be made in favor of seeing things through, in some capacity.

Thumbnail photo via Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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