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James Paxton returns to Mariners on one-year deal

Big Maple is back where he belongs

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

As recently as, well, this morning, I was concerned that the Mariners were done making major moves, or that nothing they did this offseason would help the 2021 team approach respectability.

On this snowy Saturday, however, those fears were quickly diminished with a couple tweets:

James Paxton, of course, was drafted by the Mariners back in 2010. (If you’re reading this, I probably don’t need to tell you this, but indulge me — this is the most exciting thing we’ve written up in months.) He was part of the Mariners’ touted BIg Three, and he excelled over six seasons with the M’s.

His most famous moment, of course, was his no-hitter in Toronto in May of 2018. He hasn’t reached similar heights since then, with a solid 2019 campaign for the Yankees (3.5 fWAR, 3.86 FIP) before just four starts in 2020 and hitting free agency with no qualifying offer.

Given the injuries that Big Maple faced last season — not sure about you, but I don’t like the words “spinal surgery” being bandied about — and the rumors that his velocity has been down in offseason workouts, there are obvious worried about his long-term health and ability. Therefore, it was likely in both parties’ best interests to agree to a one-year deal: Paxton could hit free agency yet again in the winter of 2021 with a great season under his belt, while the Mariners are relatively insulated from long-term risk.

Paxton also figures to add a veteran presence to a relatively inexperienced Seattle rotation, and if he succeeds, there’s every reason to imagine the Mariners would bring him back in 2022 and beyond. His deal compares favorably to Jake Arrieta’s, a fellow ace who’s struggled with injuries and, well, being not very good in the last few years. Arrieta returned to the Cubs earlier today for $6m guaranteed, while Paxton managed to snag $8.5m.

All this said, it’s great to have the Big Maple back in teal & blue, and this feels like a great way to make the Mariners’ 2021 floor higher while also bringing back a fan favorite. If Pax struggles, it’s no skin off the Mariners’ nose, given that they were already slated to be among the lowest payrolls in MLB. But if he excels, then they’ve secured the upper hand to strengthen the team as Jerry Dipoto aims to contend in 2022 and beyond.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this means the return of the Maple Grove. Perhaps we can figure out how to celebrate Paxton’s starts even if no fans are allowed in the stadium, or perhaps we can all agree to eat maple bars every sixth day. Paxton formed a special bond with all Mariners fans during his six-season run in Seattle, but especially with the Grove, whom he welcomed with open arms...and, yes, maple bars.

No matter what, I can’t wait to root for my favorite Canadian Mariner in 2021, and I can’t wait to hear Stick Rizzs chant “eh, eh, eh” again this year. Welcome back, Pax. Welcome back.