The Big Maple is coming home to the Maple Grove in Seattle.
After spending the last two seasons in New York, James Paxton is coming back to the organization that drafted, developed and traded him to the Yankees after the 2018 season.
Paxton confirmed that he was signing a one-year contract with the Mariners.
“Excited to be back,” Paxton said in a text message.
Paxton, 32, will make a base salary of $8.5 million with performance bonuses that could push it up to $10 million.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, assistant general manager Justin Hollander and manager Scott Servais attended Paxton’s open bullpen session at the Athletic Training Institute in Bellevue in late November.
After having back surgery just before spring training and spending much of the 2020 season on the injured list due to elbow issues, teams were reluctant to give Paxton a multiyear deal without proof he was healthy. The bullpen session was scheduled to alleviate some of those fears. Sources indicated that Paxton threw so well in the session that he might be priced out of the Mariners’ salary range.
But Paxton’s desire to return to Seattle, a place where he had his best success and felt the most comfortable, was also a driving factor in his decision.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB draft, Paxton was a hard-throwing lefty with a fastball that could touch the high 90s. But his path to success wasn’t direct or quick. He battled a myriad frustrating and bizarre injuries, mechanical problems and pitch inefficiency. But he blossomed in the 2017 season, posting a 12-5 record with a 2.98 ERA in 24 starts. In 136 innings, he struck out 156 batters with 37 walks. In 2018, he posted an 11-6 record with a 3.76 ERA but threw a pair of complete games, including a no-hitter, while striking out 208 batters in 160 1/3 innings.
With the Mariners opting to take a rebuilding route after the 2018 season, they dealt Paxton, who was going into his second year of arbitration eligibility, to the Yankees in a trade that featured lefty Justus Sheffield. In his first year in New York, Paxton posted a 15-6 record with a 3.82 ERA in 29 starts with 186 strikeouts in 150 2/3 innings.
But the injury issues disrupted his 2020 season. He underwent a lumbar discectomy to remove a cyst before spring training. He made just five starts in the 2020 season before being shutdown with a flexor strain in his left elbow.