Mariners pitcher James Paxton (65) throws against the Minnesota Twins on May 25, 2018, at Safeco Field in Seattle.


Keidel: Paxton Trade A Potentially Big Step Toward Yankees Catching Red Sox

Bombers Address Major Need By Dealing For Lefty Starter

Jason Keidel
November 20, 2018 - 11:08 am

So the Yankees are the first team to warm their hands over the hot stove, shipping three prospects to Seattle for fireballer James Paxton. In order to get a coveted southpaw starter, the Yanks had to deal one in Justus Sheffield, their top pitching prospect, along with two less heralded players in outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams and pitcher Erik Swanson.

As an old friend and baseball geek often told me, a prospect is exactly that until he proves otherwise. Sheffield may turn into a high-end starter, but we know Paxton is one. Considering how Luis Severino faltered at the end of the season, Paxton could enter the season as the Yankees' ace. In just 161 innings, Paxton fanned an astonishing 208 batters last season. The lefty also notched the most starts of his career in 2018, with 28, chief among them a no-hitter against Toronto on May 8.

And Brian Cashman isn't done. If anyone knows the Yankees need more muscle in their rotation, it's the Yankees' GM. It doesn't take Leo Mazzone to realize the Yankees lacked the requisite arms to beat the Red Sox, who not only won the World Series but also thumbed their noses at the Bombers, crooning "New York, New York" in their clubhouse in the clinching game of the Fall Classic.  

It's hard for a New Yorker to say this, but Boston has become the gold standard in sports. The Celtics are better than the Knicks and Nets combined. The Patriots will play in their 150th straight AFC title game -- only a slight exaggeration -- and could play in their ninth Super Bowl since Tom Brady became their quarterback. And like it or not, the Red Sox have slipped past the Yankees, both in the standings and in stature since that bloody series with the bloody sock in 2004. 

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Since Aaron Boone belted that iconic homer in the 2003 ALCS, Boston has won four World Series championships. So whatever moves Cashman makes are with one eye on the market and the other on his northern tormentors. The Yankees can no longer view other MLB clubs as their de facto farm system, can no longer flex their wallets and poach the most prized free agents every winter. Between the hardened salary cap and fertile regional cable contracts sprouting like weeds across the baseball map, teams can finally compete with the Yankees to keep players, and even steal a few. 

Cynics can't bash the Bombers for this move. This isn't Evil Empire fodder. This is a prudent deal to fill holes in a leaky rotation. Paxton is a risk. With all his talent comes an injury-addled career, which has yet to include 30 starts at 30 years of age. For his part, Paxton is publicly giddy and geared up to wear some pinstripes, assuring us that his inner hunger to win matches the eternal, stratospheric standard that comes with being a Yankee.

Sadly, greedy fans see this is as a prelude to Manny Machado, which would have Darth Vader's footprints all over. It's not enough the Yankees had the best offense in baseball and set the all-time record for homers (267) in a season. It's not enough the Yankees have murderous bats up and down the lineup. They have to do something to replace Didi Gregorius, as though he were Stan Musial. Between their bats and bullpen, they can win 100 games again without Machado.

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Cashman has matured over the years. He still speaks in his sleepy cadence, his big blue bloodhound eyes sad as ever. But there's a sneaky, silent rage to win inside him. It's what led him to fire a great manager and roll the dice on a neophyte. It's what makes him pinball across the nation in search for another blessed arm for the Bronx Bombers. 

This is not only a good move on paper, it has heft in the standings and in symbolism. Cashman, who mentioned the Red Sox during his Paxton presser, blasted this cannon within earshot of Fenway Park, a battle cry to echo up I-95. Let someone else overpay for Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. The Yanks need arms, not an arms race. One more ace could give the Yankees the winning hand in October, the only month that matters on River Avenue. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.