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Dodgers Sign James Paxton

Jan. 31: The guarantee on Paxton’s deal is actually just $7MM, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. That comes in the form of the previously reported $3MM signing bonus and a $4MM salary. Additionally, Paxton will receive a $2MM bonus for being on the roster for either (but not both) the roster for the Dodgers’ season opener in South Korea against the Padres on March 20 or their domestic opener against the Cardinals on March 28. If not, he’d earn a $1MM bonus if added to the roster before April 15.

Paxton will also earn a $600K bonus for making his sixth, eighth, tenth, 12th and 16th starts of the season, plus a $1MM bonus for reaching 18 starts. In all, there’s an additional $6MM available in incentives. Essentially, if he’s healthy enough for to make the Opening Day roster and make 18 starts, he’ll earn $13MM on the one-year arrangement.

Jan. 23: An active offseason continues, as the Dodgers announced they have signed left-hander James Paxton to a one-year deal. The Boras Corporation client is reportedly guaranteed $11MM, taking the form of a $3MM signing bonus and an $8MM salary. He’d also receive a $1MM roster bonus if he’s healthy enough to be active on Opening Day (or $500K if he starts the year on the injured list but returns by April 15).

The deal also contains up to $1MM in performance bonuses. He’d lock in an extra $250K for making 16 and 18 starts apiece and would max out the deal with another $500K for reaching 20 starts. Los Angeles has yet to formally announce the contract, but they already have a vacancy on the 40-man roster.

Los Angeles has been MLB’s most aggressive team. While they’ve committed upwards of a billion dollars in free agency, the rotation depth still stands as a bit of a question mark. Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch in 2024 as he works back from elbow surgery. The Dodgers signed Yoshinobu Yamamoto and acquired Tyler Glasnow to join Walker Buehler  and Bobby Miller atop the starting staff.

There’s huge upside with that quartet, but it’s also a group that carries some risk. Excellent as Yamamoto has been in Japan, he has yet to pitch in the majors. Glasnow’s career high in innings at the MLB level, established last season, is only 120 frames. Buehler missed all of last season recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. Miller had a very good rookie season but only has 22 MLB starts to his name.

L.A. had a few notable departures from the rotation. Julio Urías is a free agent and unlikely to return as MLB investigates domestic violence allegations against him. Clayton Kershaw is still unsigned. While the Dodgers would surely welcome him back, he wouldn’t be an option until at least midseason as he rehabs from shoulder surgery. Ryan Pepiot was dealt to Tampa Bay in the Glasnow deal.

Tony Gonsolin could miss all of next season after undergoing his own TJS procedure in late August. Dustin May will be sidelined into the season after a flexor tendon surgery in early July. With both pitchers starting the season on the injured list, Los Angeles may have had to turn the fifth starter role to one of Emmet Sheehan, Michael GroveRyan Yarbrough or Gavin Stone.

Should they finalize a deal with Paxton, he’d take the final spot in the Opening Day staff. He’s certainly not a bankable source of innings either. The 35-year-old has battled myriad injuries throughout his career, particularly over the last four years. He was limited to five starts during the shortened 2020 season. His elbow gave out during his first start of the ’21 campaign, necessitating Tommy John surgery. His efforts to make a comeback late in the ’22 season were derailed when he tore his lat on a minor league rehab stint.

A right hamstring strain forced the 6’4″ southpaw to open last year on the IL as well. He finally made it back on the mound in the second week of May. Despite the long layoff, Paxton brandished the 95 MPH fastball he’d owned before the surgery. For a while, that was translating into excellent results. The Canadian hurler worked to a 2.73 ERA while striking out more than 29% of opposing hitters in 56 innings through the All-Star Break.

He couldn’t maintain that form. Paxton allowed nearly seven earned runs per nine over 40 innings after the Midsummer Classic. His strikeouts plummeted to a modest 19.4% clip, while his walks jumped a few percentage points relative to the first half. Right knee inflammation sent him back to the IL in early September and ended his season a few weeks early. He finished the year with a 4.50 ERA in 96 innings covering 19 starts. His 24.6% strikeout rate was slightly above par, while he walked an average 8% of batters faced.

Given the volatility associated with the Dodgers’ collection of in-house arms, there’s an argument they should’ve pursued a more stable source of volume innings. That’s generally not how they’ve preferred to construct pitching staffs, however. The L.A. front office has shown a willingness to roll the dice on upside plays while accepting health risks. Paxton would be another acquisition of that ilk.

Of course, the Dodgers have the freedom to place those kinds of bets thanks to their spending capacity. Roster Resource projects the organization’s luxury tax commitments for the upcoming season at a staggering $301MM. Signing Paxton would push that number around $313MM, moving ahead of the Yankees and alongside the Mets for the highest payroll in the sport. That comes with a hefty tax bill.

The Dodgers are in the final tier of luxury penalization and have exceeded the threshold in each of the last two years. As a result, they’re taxed at a 110% rate on any spending at this point. Paxton’s deal would come with a $13.2MM fee, bringing their total expenditure to $25.2MM for one year of his services.

That’s a mark that few teams, if any, would come close to matching. Yet it’s the latest reflection of their all-in approach. Paxton would join Ohtani, Yamamoto, Glasnow, Teoscar HernándezManuel Margot and returnees Jason Heyward and Joe Kelly as notable offseason pickups as the Dodgers push for an 11th NL West title in the last 12 years.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported the Dodgers and Paxton were working on an agreement. Alden González of ESPN reported the approximate $11MM guarantee. Fabian Ardaya of the Athletic reported the presence of performance bonuses. Heyman was first to confirm the deal was done and the presence of the Opening Day roster bonus, while The Associated Press specified the performance bonus terms and the contract breakdown.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.


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