Why Yankees Manager Aaron Boone Isn’t Concerned About James Paxton’s Back Surgery

The Yankees were besieged by injuries last season, but they were able to take advantage of the injury replacements to win 103 games. Entering this season, they know they’re already going to be without a key piece of their starting rotation for at least the first couple of months of the season. James Paxton, who the Yankees acquired in a trade with the Mariners in November 2018, has undergone spinal surgery and is expected to miss three to four months as he recovers from the procedure. But manager Aaron Boone isn’t too concerned about the surgery. Here’s why.

James Paxton’s career so far

The February 2020 surgery is just the latest of several injuries that Paxton has dealt with throughout his career, dating back to his time with the Mariners. He has never appeared in more than 29 games in his seven seasons in the majors, and he didn’t pitch in more than 20 games any year from 2014-2016. But he puts up pretty good numbers when he takes the mound. 

He’s 56-32 in 131 starts, with a 3.50 career ERA, and he has recorded 803 strikeouts in 733 innings. In his first season with the Yankees last year, Paxton threw 150-2/3 innings, striking out 186 batters and recording a 3.82 ERA while going 15-6 in a career-high 29 starts.

Paxton’s injury and Aaron Boone’s comments

Having back surgery, like the kind Yankees' pitcher James Paxton had, isn't good, but manager Aaron Boone sees a silver lining.
James Paxton (center) hands the ball over to Yankees manager Aaron Boone in 2019. | Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Paxton underwent spinal surgery to remove a peridiscal cyst from his back. The surgery, which was performed in early February, has an estimated timetable for recovery of three to four months, which means Paxton could be out until sometime in June if his recovery requires him to be out until the latter end of that range. But Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone isn’t too worried about the situation with Paxton. 

Regarding the injury, Boone is hopeful that “this is what knocks it out for good and put[s] this past” Paxton. As for Paxton’s availability for the season, Boone was putting a positive spin on the pitcher’s early absence, saying that the Yankees “end up saving some bullets for the end. We feel good about the surgery and look forward to him being back.” 

The interpretation of Boone’s comments is that the Yankees would rather have Paxton available down the stretch toward the end of the season rather than having him in April and May if they had to make that choice. Even if the rotation takes a bit of a hit in James Paxton’s absence, the Yankees still like their chances in the American League East, especially after the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

What the Yankees have left on the pitching staff 

Even without James Paxton, the Yankees are going to break camp with one of the best teams in the majors. They signed the biggest free agent of the offseason, giving Gerrit Cole a nine-year contract. Cole will serve as the anchor of the rotation that also includes Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, in addition to Paxton when he is healthy. However, Severino could miss time after experiencing forearm soreness in spring training. 

In the bullpen, the Yankees have Aroldis Chapman, one of the sport’s best closers, to finish games. They also have a potent offense, led by Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Gary Sanchez gives the Yankees some power out of the catcher position, and a young star in Gleyber Torres. Torres is coming off of a 38-homer season, and he still isn’t necessarily in his prime yet at just 23 years old. The Yankees also have the advantage of being in the same division as the Orioles, who lost 108 games in 2019 and don’t project to be much better in 2020. The Yankees play 19 games against the Orioles, which should give them a leg up on other teams in the AL for either a wild card spot or the top seed in the playoffs.