Posted on February 5, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine

New York Yankees James Paxton
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Injuries were a major theme for the New York Yankees during the 2019 season. Unfortunately, the injury bug has hit them even before the start of spring training in 2020. The club announced Wednesday that starter James Paxton has undergone surgery to remove a peridiscal cyst from his spine. The Yankees estimate that Paxton will return to the majors in three to four months, meaning he won’t make his season debut until at least May, possibly June.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman says that Paxton felt discomfort in his back toward the end of the 2019 season. He was able to manage the pain and pitch for the Yankees during the postseason. However, Paxton continued to feel pain in his back during the offseason, prompting him to get the surgery before the start of spring training.

The 31-year-old southpaw had a successful first season with the Yankees after being traded to New York from the Mariners last offseason. In 29 starts, he went 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA. He also took the ball three times during the playoffs, going 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA. The Yankees were once again relying on Paxton to be an important part of their rotation in 2020. But it appears they’ll have to find a way to get by without him for at least a month or two.

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The silver lining for the Yankees is that they weren’t banking on Paxton to be their ace. New York spent a small fortune to sign Gerrit Cole earlier this winter. He will lead the rotation alongside Luis Severino, who the Yankees hope can stay healthy after missing most of last season due to injury. Veteran Masahiro Tanaka will give the Yankees a third reliable starter while Paxton begins the season on the IL.

Of course, the injury to Paxton will create some questions about the back-end of the New York rotation. The Yankees kicked the tires this offseason on trading away JA Happ after his disappointing season in 2019. Cashman admitted that uncertainty with Paxton’s health played a role in the Yankees keeping Happ, who will be all but assured of a job in the starting rotation when the season gets underway. It’s also worth noting that Domingo German, another rotation candidate, will miss the first 63 games of the season due to a domestic violence suspension.

Cashman also indicated that the final spot in the team’s rotation will become an open competition during spring training. Lefty Jordan Montgomery would appear to be the early favorite. He returned late last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery but only pitched four innings. However, if Montgomery can regain the form he had in 2017 when he posted a 3.88 ERA over 29 starts, the Yankees should feel comfortable about surviving a month or two without Paxton. In addition to Montgomery, the likes of Deivi Garcia, Michael King, Luis Cessa, and Jonathan Loaisiga could also state their case for opening the season as the no. 5 starer.

Obviously, the Yankees are not thrilled to be starting the season without Paxton in the rotation. But with the addition of Cole and Severino presumably healthy, their rotation is still in better shape than it was a year ago. The team should have enough depth to survive a month or more without him. Assuming Paxton has no setbacks, he will eventually provide a nice boost to the New York rotation in either May or June and could still end up making a meaningful impact for the Yankees in 2020.

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