When the Yankees take on the Mariners in the final game of this three-game series, they’ll have a bit of a fun matchup on their hands. James Paxton and Justus Sheffield, who were traded for each other back in November (along with the Yankees sending right-hander Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams), will both be toeing the rubber this afternoon. While neither team has quite received what they were hoping for when they made the trade, you have to think so far that the Yankees have come out way on top. But that’s not to say Seattle couldn’t end up winning this trade down the line, especially given Sheffield’s age and controllability.
It’s probably safe to say that Paxton has been somewhat of a disappointment so far this season. He was excellent in his first few starts before hitting the IL with a knee issue, and it’s taken a while for him to get back towards his ceiling. Most of his numbers, aside from SO9, are below his career averages. His ERA and FIP this year are nearly a point higher than his career numbers of 3.59 and 3.22. The good news is he’s looked a lot better in the month of August, and he’s shown flashes of dominance this season. When looking at this trade though, the most important part of Paxton’s performance this season may be his availability. Aside from the few starts he missed on the IL early in the year, he’s pitched on a regular basis making 23 starts leading into today.
Sheffield, on the other hand, has the opposite story. After pitching three innings on April 26th, Sheffield was sent back down the minors and only recently returned to make a start on August 23rd. His numbers between the two starts have been a bit unsightly, albeit in just a two-game sample size. So with regards to immediate MLB impact, the Yankees have come out on top so far. For those saying that Sheffield could have been a key contributor to the major league rotation for the Yankees this year, that argument is probably moot at this point. He clearly wasn’t ready.
So let’s look at his minor league numbers from this season to better understand how he’s doing. His results have been mixed — he dominated Double-A to the tune of a 2.19 ERA, 1.026 WHIP, and 85 strikeouts across 78 innings. But when he headed to Triple-A, things got hairy. Across 55 innings there, he pitched to an unsightly 6.87 ERA, 1.818 WHIP, and just 48 strikeouts. In more basic terms, he hasn’t been good. Scouts have argued whether Sheffield has the stuff to be a starter or whether he should move to the bullpen. These results won’t do anything to quell those arguments.
Looking at his career minor league statistics, it just doesn’t seem like Sheffield is ready to move out of Triple-A, given his 4.22 ERA and 1.413 WHIP, but perhaps the Mariners are hoping he’s just bored down there. He certainly has the prospect pedigree to succeed, though to be fair it’s taken a bit of a hit lately (he now ranks 9th in their system and outside the top 100 overall according to MLB.com). At this point, however, it doesn’t look like he’s managed to take that next step towards prolonged success, and for that reason, it’s clear that the Yankees came out on top in this trade…at least for the time being.