In a season that’s been plagued by injuries, losing streaks, uneven offensive performances, shoddy pitching, and getting curb-stomped by most of the AL West, Mariners fans had one bright spot: our shining ace, James Paxton. Big Nasty, The Nasty Canadian, Big Maple—we had fun, didn’t we? Now Paxton is headed to the 10-day DL with an ominous-sounding “forearm strain” and Mariners fans are left to resume their class at the Learning Annex titled “At Least We’ll All Die Soon Anyway.”
How good has James Paxton been? He’s been the second-most valuable pitcher in all of baseball by fWAR. On a M’s staff that ranks 21st in baseball on Fangraphs with a 1.9 fWAR, Pax has accounted for 1.7 of that total. No matter how poorly the season was going, we could count on tuning in every fifth day to see a pitching performance worth watching. In a season that’s early but still feels like it’s on life support, Paxton was the steady beeping letting Mariners fans know there’s still a chance. Now, he joins Félix Hernandez and Drew Smyly on the DL, and the Mariners will have to get beyond creative in finding solutions.
Paxton’s DL stint is retroactive to May 3, so if it’s not serious, there’s a possibility he only misses a start or two. Greg Johns speaks these words of comfort to us:
Should know more soon, but early indications are Paxton's situation isn't too serious. But he'll obviously miss a start or two at least.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) May 5, 2017
But obviously, there’s no upside in rushing Paxton back when 3/5 of the original rotation is on the DL, so expect the Mariners to be cautious. As for replacing Pax, there are three options for the Mariners: sign someone, trade for someone, or promote someone. Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider recently did a piece on possible trade candidates for the Mariners. We know Jerry loves trading, but we also know that trades can take a while to pull off, and the Mariners are desperate for help now.
In the short term, I’d expect to see them try to scrape by with help from inside the organization. Christian Bergman’s acquisition (signed as a FA from the Rockies) before spring training really flew under the radar but he’s quietly become Tacoma’s best pitcher. In AAA he’s running a 7.45 K/9 which would obviously depress in the majors somewhat, but he doesn’t walk anyone and has benefited from getting away from Coors, with his HR/9 rate dropping to a career-low .31. This is even more impressive when one considers the hitter-friendly PCL league and the homer-prone ballparks he’s pitched in like El Paso and Albuquerque. Bergman isn’t going to blow anyone away—his fastball tops out around 88—but he should be a serviceable starter. I wouldn’t expect them to promote top prospects Andrew Moore or Max Povse, both of whom have had some rough starts for AA-Arkansas lately. Oregon State product Sam Gaviglio is another possibility, although I would slot him behind Bergman in order of preference because he has no MLB experience. The former Cardinals prospect doesn’t strike out a ton of people, but he also doesn’t walk anyone and his 3.91 FIP is his lowest-ever at the AAA level. Rob Whalen is also a candidate for the rotation, but as he’s only pitched a little over four innings since returning from injury I wouldn’t expect them to bump him up immediately. There’s also the possibility that Chris Heston or Dillon Overton get another chance at being starters, with bullpen help in the form of a much sharper-looking Dan Altavilla returning. Overton might have an edge here because, like Pax, he’s a lefty, but his performance as a starter has been very uneven.
Mariners will call up Christian Bergman from Tacoma this weekend and either he or DIllon Overton will start Sunday.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) May 5, 2017
If Paxton’s injury is serious, there’s a possibility Jerry signs someone—you can see the list of who’s available here—but I consider this the unlikeliest of the possibilities because of Dipoto’s track record combined with the difficulty of getting a guy who’s been out of baseball this year into fighting shape. No offense, Doug Fister. What Jerry does to replace Pax will probably give us our best clues about how serious his injury is. Let’s all clap really hard at the stage and hope we see a spot start from Bergman and that’s it.
Other transactions announced today along with the injury news: Boog Powell is headed back to Tacoma and Mike Freeman is coming back to the big club. Freeman has been on fire in Tacoma lately and almost hit for the cycle last night (just a homer shy, love playing in Vegas), so hopefully he brings his hot bat with him. Evan Marshall, aka Papa Butters, is also on his way back.