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Send James Paxton to Atlanta, Sigh

MLB: New York Yankees at Seattle Mariners
im sorry james im trying to delete it
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all sitting here waiting for the James Paxton trade. Sad as it may make us—James Paxton, after all, has been ours and you can’t have him—there’s no denying, from a baseball sense, it makes sense, given the market, and the end of last week and the weekend brought repeated assurance from #SOURCES that he will be on the move as soon as the Mariners find a deal to their liking. That deal should be to the Atlanta Braves.

The Deal

Braves receive: LHP James Paxton

Mariners receive: RHP Kyle Wright, 3B Austin Riley, RHP Patrick Weigel

The Braves accelerated their competitive window in 2018 and their farm system is amply loaded to supplement their major league roster, thanks largely to the explosive breakouts of Ozzie Albies and Ronald Acuna. Even before that, though, this is a system that is completely stacked with pitching talent and one that the Mariners should absolutely try to raid given their own dearth of upper-minors starting pitching talent, especially after Paxton leaves town.

The headliner is the same one I wanted in my proposed Edwin Diaz deal a couple months ago: RHP Kyle Wright. A 2017 5th overall pick, Wright has skyrocketed through the minors and is knocking on the door of Atlanta’s rotation. He has four excellent pitches (two breaking balls!) and the frame to withstand the rigors of an MLB season as a starting pitcher. His pro results—although barely even reaching 150 innings total—have been across the board excellent except for a whopping six poor innings in the majors in September. So why would Atlanta give him up? The short answer is depth. Depending on who you ask, Wright isn’t even their best pitching prospect—that title may go to Michael Soroka, a still-21 RHP who has dominated every level of the Braves minor leagues and threw 25.2 outstanding innings in the majors. The Braves’ pitching talent induces a Pavlovian response in me when I open their prospect page—their top four pitchers would each be the Mariners’ top prospect, and I don’t think it would be all that close. Given that reality—and the fact that their actual MLB rotation is very good, very young, and very controlled—they can afford to part with an elite talent like Wright, especially if it means supplementing that very good rotation with an ace-level arm.

I came very close to including Austin Riley in the proposed Edwin trade and I don’t think I can resist him here. Yes, the Mariners have a rather stolid, equine presence locking down the hot corner, but (1) those things don’t last forever and (2) Riley arguably has the athleticism to play the OF. Another young talent on the cusp of the majors, the 21-year-old Riley spent most of 2018 in AAA, where he OPS’d .810 with a wRC+ of 127. There’s ample room for improvement for Riley, too—the K% of 29.3% is cause for some slight concern and dampens his shine just a little bit. As a secondary piece, he’s an outstanding acquisition and could well lock down a spot in the Mariners’ lineup for years to come.

As throw-ins go, Patrick Weigel would be a highly intriguing one and could look a lot like another pitching trade acquisition of recent vintage that’s worked out marvelously. Weigel had Tommy John surgery in 2017 after 41 bad innings in AAA, but he’s posted a lot of very good results at every other level. Weigel has returned to pitching and should benefit from a season in Tacoma to get his pitching legs under him again, and that aligns well with the Mariners’ newly planned window. Pre-injury, Weigel had a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sat in the mid-90s but could touch Paxtonian levels when needed. His injury understandably sent him plummeting down Braves’ prospect lists, but if he can return he would be an excellent addition—still just 24 years old.

It’s hard to do 1:1 comparisons of proposed trades, but this sets up a little differently than Ben’s proposed Dodgers deal. I think I’ve identified higher-ceiling frontline talent—it’s hard not to dream on Wright reaching heights not seen by a Mariner starter since The King’s 2014—and thus overall, the back end of the deal is a little lighter, as Keibert Ruiz is a miles-better prospect than Patrick Weigel. I prefer this structure because the Mariners need to replenish their pitching depth so badly. By getting Wright and Weigel, they do just that, and can bank on their track record with TJ recovery to get Weigel back to full strength and talent for 2020. For the Braves, they add an ace-level arm and can absorb Paxton’s spotty health history much as the Dodgers could, because they have so much starting pitching they’ll be able to phantom DL or replace pitchers as needed from their abundant collection of young arms. The big losers here? James Paxton and his wife, who have to spend six months in Atlanta. Sorry, guys. Maybe take a walk to the sea, or something. Savannah is lovely in December.