The Orioles have shown some interest in free agent left-hander James Paxton, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Paxton is the latest of many pitchers linked to the O’s on the rumor mill this offseason, largely in the middle tier of the free agent market — as Heyman phrases it, “every starter from Marcus Stroman on down.”
Paxton is theoretically a familiar AL East opponent for the Orioles given his recent time with the Red Sox and Yankees, though Paxton hasn’t faced Baltimore since 2019 when he was part of New York’s pitching staff. This speaks to both a quirk of the schedule and the simple fact that injuries have largely kept the southpaw on the shelf for most of the last four seasons. After pitching just 21 2/3 innings total from 2020-22, Paxton was healthy enough to toss 96 innings for the Red Sox last year, posting a 4.50 ERA, 24.6% strikeout rate, and an eight percent walk rate.
This 2023 work was bookended by two stints on the injured list. A hamstring strain delayed Paxton’s season debut until May 12, and his last outing came on September 1 before right knee inflammation shut him down for the remainder of the campaign. It is worth noting that Paxton had a 3.34 ERA over his first 86 1/3 innings and 16 starts, before getting tagged for a 14.90 ERA in 9 2/3 frames in his last three outings.
If the sour ending can be attributed to his knee problem or perhaps just fatigue from his first significant workload in years, Paxton’s 2023 results indicate that he can still find success against big-league batters. Naturally, injuries are always going to be a lingering concern for Paxton and he won’t be counted on as an innings-eater, but he could be an interesting fit on a young Orioles team.
Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Dean Kremer, and John Means seem locked in as the top four members of the Orioles rotation, and Paxton would therefore be the primary fifth starter. To preserve Paxton’s health, the O’s could manage his innings and usage by having any of Cole Irvin, Tyler Wells, Bruce Zimmermann, DL Hall, or Jonathan Heasley either take spot starts or work in some kind of non-“starting” capacity (i.e. as piggyback starters or opener/bulk pitcher combinations) to cover innings.
Signing Paxton wouldn’t necessarily raise the ceiling of the rotation, yet if a frontline ace isn’t available in the Orioles’ price range (whether financially or in trade costs), a relatively smaller outlay for Paxton might at least help raise the floor of what the O’s could expect from their pitching. It would also leave some flexibility for Baltimore to perhaps pursue another starting option closer to the trade deadline.
Baltimore has seemed unwilling to make a splashy move in the free agent pitching market, as a source tells Heyman that such top available hurlers as Jordan Montgomery or Blake Snell aren’t realistic options on the Orioles’ radar “unless the market collapsed.” However, the O’s did at least check in on Aaron Nola before he re-signed with the Phillies, and they have reportedly had interest in such trade targets as Dylan Cease and Corbin Burnes. The team also looked into such upper-tier relievers as Josh Hader, Jordan Hicks, and Robert Stephenson before inking Craig Kimbrel to a one-year, $13M deal.