Has James Paxton Thrown His Final Pitch in a Yankees Uniform?

Max Goodman

NEW YORK — For the final two months of the regular season last year, James Paxton was one of the best starting pitchers in all of baseball. 

The left-hander rattled off 10 wins in a row from the beginning of August through the final days of the season, posting a 2.25 ERA in that span.

Paxton was pitching like an ace, exactly what New York had hoped to get out of the southpaw when they traded for him the previous offseason. 

One year later, however, that veteran presence atop the Bombers' rotation won't come from Paxton. In fact, New York would be lucky to have the lanky left-hander toe the rubber again in 2020.

Chances of the 31-year-old returning before the end of the season are slim to none after Paxton was placed on the 45-day injured list last week following a setback in his recovery from a Grade 1 strain of the left forearm flexor.

Paxton was first placed on the IL back on Aug. 24, retroactive to three days prior, after feeling soreness in his throwing arm after his outing against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium. 

The eight-year veteran felt he was "lucky" with the initial diagnosis of his injury, avoiding surgery, and expected to return to the starting staff before the conclusion of the regular season. In his first few days back on his throwing program after two weeks of rest, however, Paxton began to feel soreness once again and has been shut down ever since.

"I've been talking to him everyday. He's getting better and just keeping his nose down and working through," Yankees' manager Aaron Boone said after Paxton's IL status was extended. "Trying to get right and get healthy to where he can potentially be an option when it allows."

READ: After Celebrating a Playoff Berth, Yankees Recognize 'The Job's Not Finished'

As much as Boone would love for a healthy Paxton to be available before the end of the year, time is of the essence. Retroactive to Aug. 21, Paxton won't be eligible to come off the injured list until after the regular season comes to a close.

Before his injury, Paxton was having, all things considered, a decent season. Yes, his ERA is a bit of an eye sore—sitting at 6.64—but the lefty had settled into a bit of a groove over his previous three outings.

"I don't think anything's changed for him from a work standpoint and how he's going about his business, but certainly feel for him and know how hard he's worked through this to try and get right and get back," Boone said on Paxton's recovery and rehab. "Hurting for him, especially when I see how he's been working behind the scenes."

With his injury in mind, the question that remains is whether or not Paxton will ever toe the rubber in a Yankees uniform again. Paxton's contract with the Bombers, a one-year deal worth $12.5 million, is up at the end of the season.

There's no doubt Paxton, when healthy, can be a valuable contributor to New York's staff beyond 2020. He's proven that in the past, even in the postseason. Remember his performance in Game 5 of the ALCS last fall, keeping the Yankees' season alive with a win over Houston?

That said, there are multiple reasons why The Big Maple may be pitching for another team next spring. 

Financially, with Gerrit Cole's massive contract and potentially re-signing fellow soon-to-be free agents Masahiro Tanaka and DJ LeMahieu, New York may deem Paxton's services out of budget. 

Factor in the return of right-handers Luis Severino from Tommy John surgery and Domingo Germán from his lengthy suspension—as well as the emergence of rookies Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt—and there's a chance the Yankees will decide that they don't even need Paxton.

READ: Clarke Schmidt Is the Future of the Yankees' Rotation

Regardless of what's to come next spring, and at the negotiation table this offseason, Boone confirmed that Paxton will continue working to get back in time to help his team win a championship. 

In the meantime, a rotation consisting of Cole, Tanaka, García, as well as lefties J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery, will be tasked with pitching the Bombers to the highest possible playoff seed and eventually, a deep run in the postseason. 

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For more from Max Goodman, follow him on Twitter @MaxTGoodman. Follow ITP on Twitter @SI_Yankees and Facebook @SIYankees