30
Aug 18




PAXTON AND WICK

            A Tale of Two Trades

James Paxton traded to the Yankees on November 19.

Rowan Wick traded to the Cubs on November 20.

If I was into Astrology or UFOlogy or Tarot Cards or Ouija Boards or Big Foot Sightings or JFK Conspiracies or Fate or Everything Happens For a Reason Horsebleep I would know this is a heavenly lightning streak from Zeus Himself.  The World is Coming to an End!  Save Yourselves!  Sell your Stocks and Bonds!  Leave Your Homes!  Gather Bread and Water!  Dig a Trench!  Build a Barricade!  The End is Near! 

But I’m an Existentialist so I just accept it as a Bleeping Coincidence.  No message.  Zeus is having a beer. 

Still, how often do a pair of big league guys you’ve worked with get traded not just in the same week, but only hours apart?  And to two of the best baseball cities ever.  C'mon you Analytics, WAR, FIP, OPS gurus, give me the odds on that one.

          What a Long, Strange Trip it's Been

Paxton’s road to the Yankees has been a roller coaster ride peppered with speed bumps that would have ejected the weak at heart.

Twelve years ago Ari Mellios and Mike Kelly hired me to be the pitching coach with the North Delta Blue Jays.  We had a blue chip crew on a team that went 39 and three at one point and James was the gun, the ace, the Chief of Staff.  He had some residual elbow soreness from the previous season so we went easy in the spring and he started slowly.  No problem.  By mid-summer James was as unhittable as a hurricane.

I spent a lot of time with him in the bull pen, talking pitching.  To me he had a big league arm.  He was smart.  He was creative. He invented grips.  He listened.  He competed hard.  He worked and he was dedicated.

I was sure he’d go in the top 10 rounds of the draft, maybe the top five.  I told every scout I saw that James was the real deal, a certified MLB pitcher.  No question.

But James wasn’t top 10.  Or 20.  Or 30.  In fact, he wasn’t drafted at all.

And I was amazed.  They could have waited until the 40th round and then offered him seventh round money.  It would have been the biggest steal since Dillinger.

There’d been talk that Paxton wasn’t very athletic, which made no sense at all.  Compared to David Wells he was Five Tools.  Maybe that brief arm problem skewered the mix or maybe it was the full ride at the U of Kentucky that scared them off.  I dunno.  But it was an enigma as big as the Milky Way.

After his freshman year James returned to Mackie Park for a session. The Wildcat coaches were paranoid about stolen bases, something a lot of college guys obsess over as compared to Greg Maddux, who never shortened his delivery and somehow wound up in the Hall of Fame.  If they steal a bag, they steal a bag, was his mantra.

At any rate for some reason James has never been able to develop a good pick-off move and the Kentucky coaches wanted him to slide step.   I’ve tried to get James to emulate Andy Pettitte’s devastating move but he seems to have a block, similar to Jon Lester of the Cubs, who can’t even throw over.  At any rate, I just told James to go back to where he was with North Delta and he looked good.

       Pettitte had the best move ever

When you enroll at a four-year school you aren’t eligible to be drafted until after your junior season so James waited until 2009 when Toronto scooped him in the first round.  To celebrate, his parents threw a party and I spent an hour with him dissecting pro baseball in the minor leagues--the prep, the bus travel, the fast food, the boredom, the homesick days, all that good bleep.  He was ready.  He was on his way.

But it was really No Way.

James hooked up with notorious agent Scott Boras, on board as his “adviser.”  To say MLB owners and GM’s hate Boras would be like pointing out that left wing liberals aren’t fond of some guy named Trump.  Mention Boras the Virus and GM’s break out with a body rash that never stops itching.  Boras is the Vito Corleone of Baseball.

The Blue Jays offered Paxton a million big ones or so but there were rumours they reneged on a pre-draft offer they made to Boras for even more.    Whatever the reason, Team Paxton and Boras turned down the Toronto offer and James headed back to Kentucky for his senior year.

Except he didn’t.  NCAA rules are pretty strict about college players hiring reps and, as far as they’re concerned, “adviser” is spelled “A.G.E.N.T.”  James was as welcome in Kentucky as a serial killer.

Muscling up his grit and determination Paxton survived the traumas of doubt and independent baseball before signing with the Mariners.  This time he really was on his way.  Yes, really.

But, sticking to the script, the speed bumps kept jumping up disguised as nagging injuries.  Paxton has been on the DL as often as Meghan Markle appears on the IE home page.  He’s been sore in so many places the Mariners had to send out for another MRI machine.

        The Maple Grove will become the Weeping Willows

But he perseveres.

Two years ago James started the season in AAA in Tacoma.  When I asked him why he said he was fine tuning his arm slot, which had gotten too much over the top.  When that correction locked in he became one of the most feared hurlers in the game.  When he no-hit the Blue Jays it was both a modicum of revenge and an exclamation point.

The Mariner fans will miss The Big Maple.  His cheering section will be morose as they retire their EH signs.  Do Canadians really say that?

If James stays healthy he’ll go shoulder to shoulder with Luis Severino as the Duo Aces of the Bronx Bombers.  And the Yankees will balance on the edge of being the best team in baseball.

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.  And James will undoubtedly hear a lot of Sinatra spreading the news.

          The Windy City with the Big Shoulders

It came as a bit of a surprise when San Diego traded Wick to the Cubs because they seemed to like him a lot.  But it shouldn’t have been.  The Padres have a massive logjam on their 40-man and they seem to think their minor league system is stacked, which is a bit optimistic from what I've seen.  Rowan would certainly have been corralled if they'd put him on waivers.  So they traded him.  Good move.

The Chicago blogs are more or less neutral on Wick’s arrival but not impressed by the 6.48 ERA he posted over 10 MLB games in September.  They expect him to be demoted to AAA in Iowa.

And that’s where they’re wrong.

As usual these gurus are Obsessed with Stats.  Yes, Rowan gave up six runs in 8 and a third.  But five of those markers came in one suspicious inning against the Reds when he was brushed by two groundball singles and two bunt singles.  One of those was a bunt and run and the coaches told him the second baseman blew it, which makes no sense at all and truly makes me wonder about the Padres.  (See “One Bad Pitch” and “The Lethal Weapon No One Uses.”)

Otherwise Wick was virtually lights out, including a brilliant debut where he blew away the Rockies with a sparkling heater and a razor blade slider.

I think Rowan has a great shot at starting the season on the Cubs roster.  He should make a couple of mechanical adjustments—more load and more knee coil—but his velocity is solid, that slider is as filthy as a toddler in a mudhole, and his command keeps locking in.

The Cubs coaching staff is in the Bermuda Triangle right now with abdications left, right, center and off the grid, which makes you wonder about manager Joe Maddon.  The latest resignation came from pitching mentor Jim Hickey so they’re scrambling to find a replacement.  Hopefully, the new guy has heard of the bunt and run.

Meanwhile, Rowan can dream about “Cubs Win!  Cubs Win!”  Chicago, Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town…