Back on November 7, the Red Sox elected to decline James Paxton’s two-year, $26 million team option. Two days later, the left-hander somewhat surprisingly exercised his $4 million player option to return to the club for the 2023 season.
As MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith wrote on Thursday, Paxton might have received more than $4 million in free agency if he chose to hit the open market this winter. Fellow southpaw Matthew Boyd, for instance, got $10 million from the Tigers in December after pitching just 13 1/3 innings of relief for the Mariners in 2022.
Paxton, like Boyd, has been hindered by injury issues in recent years. Rather than taking his chances as a free agent, though, the 34-year-old opted for familiarity by remaining with Boston.
“I haven’t pitched healthy in like three years,” Paxton told reporters (including Smith) at JetBlue Park on Thursday. “I’m comfortable here. They know me. I know them. And I’m trying to establish myself back in the big-leagues and I felt like this was the place for me to do it.”
The Red Sox originally signed Paxton to a one-year, $6 million contract in December 2021. The deal came with a two-year, $26 million club option ($13 million per year) as well as a one-year, $4 million player option if the former was rejected.
Having undergone Tommy John surgery while with the Mariners in April 2021, Paxton was initially optimistic that he would be able to return to the mound before the All-Star break last season. He was shut down from throwing for a few weeks in early May due to posterior elbow soreness, but he was able to begin a rehab assignment in the Florida Complex League on August 18.
Just two batters into his start for the FCL Red Sox, however, Paxton was forced to exit due to left lat (latissimus dorsi muscle on the back) tightness. He was later diagnosed with a Grade 2 lat tear, which ended his 2022 season before it really even started.
“It was hard,” said Paxton. “I really wanted to make it out there last year. I had just started feeling really good with the elbow and started letting it rip a little bit and the lat wasn’t quite ready for that so it gave out on me. But I got myself in the best shape I could this year and ready to compete.”
Paxton threw eight bullpen sessions this offseason and threw his first of the spring before speaking with the media on Thursday. The Red Sox came into camp with seven different starters (Paxton, Chris Sale, Nick Pivetta, Corey Kluber, Garrett Whitlock, Brayan Bello, and Tanner Houck) vying for five rotation spots, so Paxton certainly has his work cut out for him these next few weeks.
“I’m going to do what I do,” he said. “Then we’ll see where it all shakes out in the end. But I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just going to go out there and pitch and have a good time and get ready to compete.”
Since debuting for the Mariners in 2013, Paxton has started all 137 games he has pitched in. The Red Sox have not yet approached the lefty about coming out of the bullpen, but it does not seem as though he is totally against that idea.
“I like starting. I’ve made starts my whole career,” Paxton said. “Obviously if that’s the conversation they want to have, we’ll have it.”
(Picture of James Paxton: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)