BY Art Thiel 06:08PM 11/19/2018

Thiel: Paxton trade says tear-down is on. Good

In six seasons, James Paxton managed 41 wins, which explains a little about why the Mariners received modest returns from the Yanks for a No. 1 starting pitcher.

James Paxton takes his 41 career wins to New York. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

It seems as if James Paxton has been a Mariner a long time. Not Felix Hernandez long (since 2005) but long enough (2013) that he is a fixture. Which is why I’ve been amazed at his total accumulation in the simplest measurement of a starting pitcher’s contribution.


His career total is 41. For most of six seasons at the MLB level.

So if you are a little disappointed in the return the Mariners received from the Yankees for their No. 1 starter — three prospects, led by 22-year-old LHP Justus Sheffield, ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the organization — in a deal announced Monday, keep in mind that Paxton, who turned 30 last week, has a maple leaf tattoo on his arm that is far more indelible than the mark he left on the Mariners.

That is not a disparagement of him as a person, nor his competence as an MLB starting pitcher. But largely because of the breadth and depth of his injuries, Paxton has 52 fewer career wins than rotation mate Mike Leake, also 30.

Wins as a measure of value is under attack by data mavens as increasingly irrelevant. The pitch-by-committee-from-the-first-inning trend may indeed be here to stay, but that is not point. The point is that Paxton was outfitted to start 30-plus games and get to the seventh inning most games. You know, like, showing up.

He hit his career high this season with 28 starts and 160 innings pitched. His 11 wins missed tying his career high by one.

Yes, he was burdened by a Mariners offense apparently convinced that contacting the baseball was better done perhaps by text or call rather than tree parts. Nevertheless, his value was seen as insufficient for the Yankees to surrender a proven young MLB talent such as rookie infielder Gleybar Torres, 21, who hit .271 in 123 games.

Which means that the Mariners, in accepting three players virtually bereft of MLB experience, are in tear-down mode.

In a conference call Monday with local reporters, Dipoto admitted the Mariners were going to take a “step back” next season “with the hope we can take two steps forward,” he said.

Following the trade of C Mike Zunino, the Mariners are “re-imagining” — the word general manager Jerry Dipoto used after the season — the roster for 2020 and beyond.

Given that they are stuck with having to burn through the contracts of Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, it’s the only way.

The dithering with incremental moves, hoping to grab a wild-card spot for a one-and-done appearance in the playoffs, lost its charm quickly when they won 89 games and were smoked in the stretch by the raggedy-ass Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays.

So Dipoto is moving his few attractive assets to re-stock the prospects bin while he waits for his draftees to go through the high-performance system directed by Dr. Lor . . . uh, never mind.

In a release, here’s what Dipoto said about his acquisitions:

“To add three dynamic athletes who are entering the prime of their respective careers, while also maintaining six seasons of club control for each, is very exciting.”

Justus Sheffield, LHP, 6-0, 200, 22, Tullahoma, TN: “An unquestionable prospect pedigree. With a combination of high-end velocity to go along with an advanced slider and a developing change-up, we think Justus has a chance to pitch at the upper portion of our rotation soon.”

Erik Swanson, RHP, 6-3, 235, 25, Cincinnati: “Has performed at every level, combining a mid-90s fastball as well as two effective secondary pitches. At 25, 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, CF, 6-0, 190, 23, Sioux City, IA:  “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.”

For what it’s worth, Sheffield was a first-round draftee (Cleveland, 2014), Swanson an eighth-rounder (Texas, 2014), and Thompson-Williams a fifth-rounder (Yankees, 2016). Since the Yankees’ lavish scouting system saw value in all three at one point, that may build a little cred for Dipoto, who in three Seattle drafts has yet to produce much in the way of even mid-term possibilities for the major league roster.

Given the seasonal results, the trades of Paxton and Zunino weren’t big surprises, but they were likely small shocks to those Mariners fans who enjoy getting familiar with players, however lame has been their collective productivity.

But sentiment is the first casualty in a baseball franchise tear-down. The second casualty is patience, with long-suffering fans giving up season tickets along with their expectations of success. The third casualty is usually the baseball bosses, but Dipoto and manager Scott Servais were given contract extensions the past summer when owners, media and fans went for the pump-fake provided by the season’s first half.

We’re all back on the baseball ground now. Where we shall be. For a long time.


  • Seattle Psycho

    Great trade. Get something for someone who likely was not going to be around much longer anyway. Hopefully the rebuild doesn’t take long.

    • art thiel

      As long as you define “hopefully” as three years, you’re OK.

      • Dbldave

        Most of us Mariners fans define “Hopefully” as 17 years and counting!

  • Steve Buckholdt

    Art, could you or maybe some other readers please explain what is “re-imagining”. I know Dipoto is loathe to use the despised term “rebuild” but I am not clear at all what

    re-imagining means. I can see why Dipoto does not use “rebuild”, since that word
    implies that the Mariners were “built” at some point. But their record of no WS appearances, 17 years of absence from the playoffs, and recurring personnel scandals suggests they have never been a fully constructed (built) team.

    Good luck to Paxton and Zunino. They deserve more than to be part of a re-imagining, whatever that is.

    • Guy K. Browne

      Re-imagining, from the GMs thesaurus “call it anything, just don’t call it a rebuild”. Re-tooling had likely already been over flogged with the euphemism whip.

      • art thiel

        Can’t fully tear down until Hernandez, Seager and Cano are on the roster and they are immovable. But we do know now the direction.

      • Husky73

        To imagine again or anew; to form a new conception. It’s part of the new baseball metrics including wOBA, OPST, BAPiP and XFip. Long ago, Mad Magazine defined it as, “It’s crackers to slip a rozzer the dropsy in snide.” It has replaced the outdated, first pitch strikes, hit the cutoff man, keep the runners at the corners and go with the pitch.

    • Tian Biao

      re-imagining is part two of the ‘chart of serendipity’ that was unveiled last spring. having DiPoto around has really improved my vocabulary. the new Ms are dynamic electric pedigree prime and powerful. very exciting! all those adjectives!! until I read this sentence: “DiPoto, who in three Seattle drafts has yet to produce much in the way of even mid-term possibilities for the major league roster.” uh oh.

      • art thiel

        Anything is possible. Remember, the M’s made room the past season for Ichiro.

    • art thiel

      Dipoto, like John Schneider, deals in euphemism when speaking of near-death potential events. They teach it in med school.

  • Tman

    The Mariners are the Yankees AAA farm team.

    • art thiel

      Ah, but Seattle still has the Buhner trade.

      • Alan Harrison

        “Ken Phelps? You traded Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps?!?!” Ah, Seinfeld.

  • Alan Harrison

    Good article and a good trade. I read that the last team in the running was the Astros, who wouldn’t give up Forrest Whitley (who should really be a Ranger, right Yogi and Boo-Boo?). So this is a good start. I understand the rhetoric of “re-imagining” because “rebuilding” lowers ticket sales before the season begins, while “re-imagining” keeps it vague. That’s okay – I’d rather win in 3 years than not win forever. Next up: Seager to the Cardinals (who need a 3B badly) with some cash in return for Andrew Knizner or Carson Kelly and more prospects. Or maybe an enticing Rule 5 catcher on the 13th (we have the roster room to take a chance) like Garrett Stubbs, Keibert Ruiz, or Austin Allen, none of whom are currently protected. And high speed, good OBP, high walk, low K guys to model the big-park best teams: mid-80s Cardinals, Dodgers, and even the A’s. That would be exciting to watch, even if they finish with 70 wins next year.

    • art thiel

      Well, Mr. GM, if you can get the Cardinals to take Seager in return for anything, I will lead the campaign to have you replace Dipoto.

      I thought the M’s got their top-o-lineup guy in the Zunino trade, yes?

      • Alan Harrison

        I want more than one high-speed, high OBP guy. Call me greedy. We’d have to throw in cash with Seager and maybe someone like Kyle Lewis to get a nice catcher candidate. Actually, Segura might be the one they move to the Cards if he’ll waive the no-trade. I think he has the capacity to play 3rd, doesn’t he?

        • art thiel

          I think Segura might be best at middle infield.

          Lewis is probably their only prospect that’s close to MLB ready, and he really isn’t.

  • Kevin Lynch

    They had to move him based on what he would be earning in the next few years. The dollar they would be paying per Paxton inning delivered would be untenable. He was overdue for a Big Maple meltdown. No offense. But the starting staff next year may wind up with a Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy pitching to a Bill Buckwheat behind the plate. Hope he can frame pitches.

    • art thiel

      You’ll have to show for the Yankees series, right? Ceremonial first pitch: Jesus Montero.

  • Guy K. Browne

    Uggh… If now, why not 3 years ago? I know it’s necessary, but it feels like after 17 years of prison food, we got a taste of steak last spring, but just as we put the steak knife down to take a delicious first bite, they ripped away the sirloin and put another bowl of gruel in front of us… so tired of gruel… at rib eye prices.

    • art thiel

      Prison food.

      Well, they do serve grasshoppers.

      • Reminds me of my favorite joke from Bob Hope, the one time I saw him in person: Grasshopper goes into a bar, and the bartender says, “Hey, we have a drink named after you.” The grasshopper respondes, “Irving?”
        Sorry, trying to laugh to avoid the crying that comes with being a long-time Mariners fan.

        • Husky73

          A 3-legged dog walks into a bar in the Old West. The patrons are a seedy bunch of gunslingers and rustlers. The dog announces, “I’m here to kill the sum-bitch who shot my paw.”

        • art thiel

          Jokes permitted here. Even bad ones. See below.

      • Guy K. Browne

        Metaphorical prison food was where I was going with that, but now that you mention it… grasshoppers, protein supplement for your gruel… and a $12 craft beer.

        • art thiel

          See? There are reasons to attend T-Mobile Field next year.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    What a train wreck of a franchise . I “re-imagine” it’ll be another 17 years before the next playoff appearance . Just … Wow .

    • art thiel

      I think today is Vent Day among the dwindling cabal of Mariners fans.

  • Theyfinallyfiredcable

    And I just bought a new Mariners hat this year …

    I emailed a buddy who knows waay more about baseball than me ( not hard to do ) , thought I’d pass along his reply :

    “As to the trade itself, Sheffield has potential to be just as good as Paxton. I love Big Maple but he is getting to his arbitration years and is going to be getting expensive. Thompson Williams is still developing but is young, cost controlled. Swanson is a rotation ready #3- #4 starter so overall this is a $$ dump with a decent return. Don’t forget Big Maple has been hurt a lot. Some of the injuries have been freakish but others not so much. I’m not sure Dipoto survives the fallout from the Dr. Martin episode.”

    • art thiel

      I’ve read similar things about the three prospects, and only Sheffield is seen as likely to help in 2019.

      Even if Dipoto is found innocent, he was in charge of hiring Martin and being unable to kept the hire from jumping the rails.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Here’s a thought to frustrated fans, ignore the Mariners until they deserve your attention. I, like many, have years of watching them lose sports karma in the tank to bandwagon them without guilt if they ever win. Life is too short to waste it on this franchise. Those few weeks were fun last year, so was turning them off and enjoying my summer once the inevitable happened.

    • Steve Buckholdt

      You’re right on target. I spend my few baseball dollars on Tacoma Rainiers. At least they are not trying to deceive anyone that they are something other than a AAA team.

      • art thiel

        Contempt is a powerful force in the fan experience, and the Mariners have invited it.

      • Mike

        Agree! Minor League baseball is just laid back and fun. No lines, no traffic, and the lower quality of play is entertaining on its own. I’ll never go to a MLB game again.

        For me, I’m really waiting for the Seattle NHL team to come in. I wish I could afford lower-bowl seats, but I’d be happy with decent upper-bowl season tickets. Dipoto and crew had better get their “reimagining” done before the new NHL team starts play. I think they could lose a huge chunk of their fan base forever to hockey….in my opinion, there is almost nothing better than going to a live NHL game. Spend your sports $$$ in the winter and then go enjoy the summers baseball-free.

  • Husky73

    Excellent column, Art. A+

    • art thiel


  • The last real baseball man to grace the Mariners was Lou Pinella. And he left when they told him no more baseball players. Since that day, that’s what we got… No more baseball players.

    The real sin here, Felix never sniffing a playoff game or getting a trade to let him chase a title. Kept for putting butts in seats and no other reason.

    • art thiel

      Piniella left for several reasons, but even he was surprised he last lasted 10 years.

      Squandering Hernandez’s entire career is one of the great sadnesses in Mariners history.

      • jafabian

        One of many.

  • jafabian

    With the recent personnel moves by Dipoto the message is loud and clear: this team should have made the playoffs. And since they didn’t management doesn’t believe the 2018 roster can so they’re taking the Seahawks and Sounders approach of getting younger talent who are hungry to compete. If anyone is comfortable with their job don’t be. And that goes beyond just the players. As far as the trade with the Yankees goes since they historically have a top five farm system hopefully it’s the Mark Langston trade all over again. I just hope the M’s get the equivalent of a Jay Buhner type of player and not Jesus Montero.

    • art thiel

      I don’t think Paxton and Zunino weren’t hungry to compete, but I do think the system desperately needs replenishment. The prospect drought is crippling.

      • jafabian

        Agreed but I question if there are players on the roster who are a bit more comfortable than they have a right to be. But as you know if you’re going to trade for value you have to give up value.