“Time is on my side” goes the classic song, written by Norman Meade, and performed in its best-known iteration by The Rolling Stones in 1964. It is a hopeful song. It’s a song of longing, and goodbyes, where the singer is letting go of someone they care about, hopeful that someday, that person will return.
Time often is on our side. When springtime comes, the sunshine returns, and baseball stretches out to the edge of the horizon. When you sit on a park bench with a person you love, hoping the day lasts forever.
The moments come quickly. The ones that we wish we could savor, slip through our fingers like trying to grab a fistful of sand. The moments that we hope don’t come, arrive all the same. One of those moments arrived for Mariners fans on Monday. James Paxton, The Big Maple, ace of the Mariners staff, destroyer of Blue Jays, and tamer of eagles, was traded to the New York Yankees.
At the stage the Mariners find themselves in, it makes sense to trade the pieces that could get the most value in return. Paxton, though he has struggled with fluky injuries over the past several seasons, was one of the Mariners most attractive pieces to other teams. He is a hard-throwing southpaw, a top of the rotation pitcher, a player that any team in baseball would be lucky to have. He is a piece most teams want to build around, but the Mariners, stuck in limbo between contention and mediocrity, forced their own hand.
It’s become clear that the Mariners needed to make a change. Baseball America rated their farm system as the worst in baseball, not a promising sign for a team that exists on the cusp of relevance. The approach of spending just enough money to win to go for the wild card, but not enough money to contend for a division title, was getting stale. This trade was like cough medicine. It’s unpleasant, painful, and for some reason leaves your mouth tasting like cherries. But like taking your medicine, this trade is one of the first steps in the Mariners building a healthier franchise.
The trade of Mike Zunino two weeks ago signaled that the M’s were looking to the future. Mallex Smith might have more of an immediate impact in 2019, but the trio of players the Mariners received from the Yankees is nothing to chortle, scoff, or even guffaw at.
The centerpiece of the deal, Justus Sheffield, is the 22nd ranked prospect in baseball by Baseball America, and is a 5’ 10’ lefty with a fastball/sinker that reaches 97 mph. He also throws a plus slider, and a developing changeup, and is projected, by scouts, to be a number three starter. His changeup is apparently not far off from his fastball, velocity-wise, but his slider is known to have good movement, and is a very promising pitch. Though some scouts project him as a late-inning reliever, Sheffield will begin the 2019 season with a chance to earn a spot in the Mariners rotation, most likely as the number four starter, as he gets used to major-league hitters.
The other pitcher in the deal, 25-year-old Erik Swanson, split time between AA and AAA last season, with a 2.66 ERA in 22 starts, with a 1.03 whip in 121.2 innings pitched. He is generally regarded as the least exciting prospect in the deal. One writer for Fangraphs, Kiley McDaniel, when asked if Swanson was an MLB pitcher, responded ““he might start a big-league game, but no”, according to John Trupin of Lookout Landing, though Swanson’s SO/9 in 2018 was 10.9, so he does have some upside. Most scouts project him as a back-end starter to swing reliever.
The final piece of the trade is Dom Thompson-Williams, who is referred to as DTW. DTW is a 23-year-old outfielder, who spent last year splitting time between High-A and Low-A. His slash was .378/.425/.811 with an OPS of 1.236, and an OPS+ of 244 in Low, and 147 in High-A. He is 23 years old, with good power, but also a strikeout rate that jumped from 17.5 percent to 25.3 percent in 2018.
Jerry Dipoto seems excited about his prospect haul.
“Justus Sheffield has an unquestionable prospect pedigree,” Dipoto said. “With a combination of high-end velocity to go along with an advanced slider and a developing changeup, we think Justus has a chance to pitch at the upper portion of our rotation soon. Erik Swanson has performed at every level, combining a mid-90s fastball as well as two effective secondary pitches. At 25 years old, he is just entering the prime years of his career, and we think he will impact our Major League club in the near future. Dom Thompson-Williams is an electric athlete, who we think will move quickly through our minor league system. He brings a powerful left-handed bat, speed on the bases and athleticism in the outfield.”
And so, we come to the end of James Paxton’s time in a Mariner uniform. He leaves the Mariners, having created many special moments for the team and fans. From his 16-strikeout performance last May against the A’s, to his no-hitter, and the weekly chants by the group of Maple Grove weirdos in the left-field bleachers, Paxton holds a special place in the hearts of Mariners fans. But he will most likely not be the final painful departure. Jean Segura, Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager and Edwin Diaz could all be on their way out, as the Mariners “reimagine” their roster. According to Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners are going to take a step back in 2019, “hoping to take two steps forward”.
It’s time to take that medicine, Mariners fans. It’s going to be bitter, and you won’t like it while it’s happening, but in two to three years, it could all be worth it if the Mariners and their new prospects are playing in the MLB postseason. Paxton is a free agent after 2020. Who knows? This chapter may be closed, but we have yet to see what the rest of the book reads on Paxton’s career.
Summer always comes. Baseball will return. But the summer, like all things, eventually ends. The chill rains come, and we know that all things have their season. Their beginning, their end. And finally, their renewal.