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The Battle of the 240-Million-Dollar Men

Albert Pujols and Robinson Cano have a lot in common. They both play in the AL West. They both will one day have a plaque in Cooperstown. They’ve both played on World Series-winning teams. And they both signed 10-year, $240-million mega-contracts with their current teams.

In my office, we had a short debate about which player has come closer to justifying the cost of their deal, and it wasn’t hard to sell even the most ardent defenders of home runs and RBI that the answer was Robinson Cano. Still, one co-worker encouraged me to do a year-by-year comparison of these two players. Mostly to see just how badly Cano has outclassed Pujols since signing said mega-deals. Still, I was quite surprised at just how stark the difference has been.

So let us embark, then, on to the battle of $240-million men! For the players’ dollar-value figure, I’m using FanGraphs valuations. We’ll start off by comparing Pujols’ first four years with the Angels to Robbie’s first four with the Mariners.

Pujols year 1: .285 AVG/.343 OBP/.516 SLG, 133 wRC+, 30 HR, 3.6 WAR, $23.4m
Cano year 1: .314 AVG/.382 OBP/.454 SLG, 137 wRC+ 14 HR, 5.2 WAR, $39.3m

Pujols year 2: .258/.330/.437, 112 wRC+, 17 HR, 0.6 WAR, $4.1m
Cano year 2: .287/.334/.446, 116 wRC+ 21 HR, 2.1 WAR, $16.7m

Pujols year 3: .272/.324/.466, 123 wRC+, 28 HR, 2.8 WAR, $21.4m
Cano year 3: .298/.350/.533, 137 wRC+ 39 HR, 5.9 WAR, $47.5m

Pujols year 4: .244/.307/.480, 114 wRC+, 40 HR, 1.8 WAR, $14.7m
Cano year 4: .282/.341/.455, 113 wRC+ 22 HR, 3.3 WAR, $26.0m

Of course, Pujols came to the division two years before Cano. With just a few days left in the season, each player’s 2017 numbers are unlikely to change much — their total season numbers will be pretty close to where they are today on September 26th.

Pujols 2014: .272/.324/.466, 123 wRC+, 28 HR, 2.8 WAR, $21.2m
Cano 2014: .314/.382/.454, 137 wRC+ 14 HR, 5.2 WAR, $39.3m

Pujols 2015: .244/.307/.480, 114 wRC+, 40 HR, 1.8 WAR, $14.7m
Cano 2015: .287/.334/.446, 116 wRC+ 21 HR, 2.1 WAR, $16.7m

Pujols 2016: .268/.323/.457, 110 wRC+, 31 HR, 0.8 WAR $6.3m
Cano 2016: .298/.350/.533, 137 wRC+ 39 HR, 5.9 WAR, $47.5m

Pujols 2017: .240/.287/.388, 79 wRC+ 23 HR, -1.8 WAR, $-14.3m
Cano 2017: .282/.341/.455, 113 wRC+ 22 HR, 3.3 WAR, $26.0m

Basically, Cano has won in almost every category except for home runs every single year. Even without doing the math (which I’m going to do in a second, don’t worry), it’s pretty obvious that no matter which way you compare these contacts, Cano’s looks better.

However, even though both players are making $240 million over 10 years, they’re making it differently. I wondered if that might tip the scales a little more in Pujols’ favor. Cot’s Contracts shows Cano making exactly $24 million annually, while Pujols has a backloaded deal. According to Cot’s, after this season Pujols is owed $114 million over four seasons ($28.5m per season). At $24 million a pop over six seasons, Cano is still owed $144 million.

Using these numbers, I compared their total value since signing with their new teams against how much they’ve actually been paid:

Pujols: $55.6m (actually paid $126m, -$73.6m in surplus value)
Cano: $129.5m (actually paid $96m, $33.5m in surplus value)

Since we’re comparing two guys who are currently division rivals, it’s also fun to look at their value compared to their pay just since Cano signed with the Mariners:

Pujols: $28.1m (actually paid $98m, -$69.9 in surplus value)
Cano: $129.5m (actually paid $96m, $33.5m in surplus value)

So pretty much any way you slice it, Cano has totally dominated Pujols in the battle of 10-year, $240-million men. For the most part, even, Cano has been better even if you limit your criteria to just offensive production. The fact he plays second base while Pujols has spent about half of that contract DHing is just gravy for the Mariners, even if Cano is just average or a little worse than that at second now.

The Angels do have one advantage, though: Pujols has four years left on his deal after this season, and Cano has six. Cano would probably still be lucky to break even on the $240 million he’s actually being paid, considering his second-half slump and his age (he will be 35 in 2018). Still, largely because he had a huge head start, Cano could end up actually earning the total value of his contract.

It’s probably likely that Cano will have some negative-value seasons in his future, though. If he’s moved off of second base, his bat becomes less valuable; if he doesn’t, his defense may erode much of his offensive value at second base. But by then, he will have likely come close to putting up $240 million in value. It would take a miracle for Pujols to end up being worth even half of his contract.

Whenever a team signs a player to that big of a deal, they know they’re likely going to suffer at the end of it — most people assumed the instant they were signed that both of these contracts would look bad at the end. Unfortunately for the Angels, Pujols’ has looked pretty bad from the beginning. Cano, on the other hand, has given the Mariners perhaps even a little more than what they expected at the time.

So, the Mariners finally won something! They won the battle of $240-million men! Now, if only that translated to winning games…

Guillermo Heredia, Starting Center Fielder

With Jarrod Dyson set to be a free agent, and Leonys Martin both ineffective and DFA’d twice, there has been some uncertainty among Seattle Mariners fans regarding who will patrol center field for the team in 2018. Luckily for Mariners fans, they have an internal option who is potentially an above-average player already playing for their favorite team: Guillermo Heredia.

At 26, Heredia is a bit old to just be emerging. Though unlike other players his age, his late arrival to the major leagues has nothing to do with his ability. Heredia defected from Cuba in January of 2015, just a few weeks before his 24th birthday. Before defecting, Baseball America ranked Heredia as the 11th best prospect in Cuba. He was signed by the Mariners in February 2016, after sitting out the entire 2015 season.

Heredia, considered by most to be a glove-first prospect, started the year hot with the bat in AA Jackson, hitting .293/.405/.376 in 260 plate appearances while living up to his defensive reputation. Heredia walked more times (36) than he struck out (32) and earned a promotion to AAA Tacoma after just 58 games. Heredia’s 35 AAA games—where he hit .312/.378/.414—were split by a cup of coffee when the major league club. In AAA, Heredia improved his strikeout rate to 9.6%, while his walk rate fell to 7.5%, but his combination of solid on-base skills and great defense earned him a call up to the majors for good on August 22nd.

Heredia made the most of his cup of coffee, hitting a solid .250/.349/.315, drawing 12 walks against just 15 strikeouts in a small sample of 107 plate appearances. Thanks to his strong on-base skills, and stellar defense, Heredia managed 0.4 WAR in just 45 games — with most of his playing time coming as a late-inning defensive replacement.

Despite his stellar defensive reputation, Heredia was relegated to corner outfield for all but one game of 2016 due to Leonys Martin’s stellar defense in center. Still, Heredia managed to make an impression. Heredia passed the eye test, and scored positively in both UZR/150 (+7.2) and DRS (+3). But what stood out most was his throwing arm. This throw made me a believer that among his many pretty good skills, he had at least one that was elite:

Petit out after challenge

He made an equally impressive throw this season to get George Springer trying to go from first to third, an out that proved pivotal in the Mariners securing a series win against the Astros:

Heredia nabs Springer at third

In just 705 innings in the outfield this season, Heredia has four outfield assists and +2.3 rating in the ARM component of UZR. His arm is an asset, and potentially one of the better throwing arms in the league.

Heredia’s scores in the range component of UZR were positive in 2016, and have been negative in 2017, for a total of -2.9 in 705 innings across three outfield positions. DRS is more favorable, giving him a +7 score across all three outfield positions, and exactly even at -1 in 251 innings in center. There’s no doubt he has the speed to play there, though his route efficiency is in question. Still, Heredia has nabbed 19 out-of-zone plays in center this season, and can outrun plenty of his poor jumps. Across all three outfield positions, he has scored +0.0 UZR, and +0.3 UZR/150. Even the most pessimistic evaluation of his defense would likely call him slightly below average in center.

If you’re someone that does hold the pessimistic outlook on his defense, then his bat would have to justify his playing time. The good news is Heredia now has a little more than two-thirds of a full season’s worth of plate appearances, and has steadily improved.

Heredia is hitting .271/.344/.368 (97 wRC+) in 450 career plate appearances, with a solid 14.5% strikeout rate, and decent 6.1% walk rate. He’s not riding an unsustainably high BABIP, either — his BABIP sits at .310, perfectly reasonable for someone with well above-average speed like Heredia.

In 34 games in the second half of 2017, Heredia has found a little more power: his first half ISO was just .091; it currently sits at .137 in the second half. Nine of his extra-base hits came in 208 plate appearances before the break, while 12 (11 doubles, 1 home run) have come after.

Even more encouraging is the fact that Heredia isn’t just a pull, or slap, hitter. Heredia’s career numbers split by where the ball is hit show that he can be effective hitting to any part of the field.

(Since walks aren’t put into play, this split is just AVG/SLG)

Pull: .333/.571
Center: .308/.342
Opposite: .323/.376

Essentially, Heredia only has power on his pull side, but can get on base hitting the ball in any direction.

There is one elephant in the room, though: despite his outstanding speed, Heredia just can’t steal bases. Perhaps he can learn how to get better jumps as he gains experience. It’s important to note that he missed his entire age-24 season trying to become eligible to sign with a team. But so far, Heredia has shown that he’s probably best utilizing his speed once the ball is put in play, rather than trying to advance via the steal. Between the minors and majors, Heredia has seven steals and has been caught 11 times.

Heredia can be an effective baserunner outside of when the ball is being pitched, though. He’s turned numerous singles into doubles by hustling out of the box, and shown that he can take two bases on a wild pitch If the catcher is lollygagging, as he did against Boston earlier this year:

Gamel scores on a wild pitch, ties the game

What the Mariners have in Heredia is a raw, speedy athlete with an absolute cannon for an arm, above-average on-base skills, and below-average, but developing, power. Heredia might never hit more than 10 home runs in a season. He might never steal more than 10 bases, either. But he’s amassed 1.2 WAR and posted a .344 OBP while playing at the very minimum passable defense in center field, with the upside for better.

He’s not Jarrod Dyson with the glove. He’s not Andrew McCutchen at the plate. What he is, though, is a competent offensive and defensive player with untapped potential. Even if he never improves, he looks capable of giving Seattle a 2-win center fielder going forward. Even a slight improvement could turn him into an above-average player, and one who is under team control for five more years.

I Alone Can Make Felix Hernandez Great Again

It’s no secret that Felix Hernandez struggled in 2016, looking little like the ace Mariners fans had come to expect from 2009-2014. After a good-but-not great 2015, there was some hope that Hernandez would fix what ailed him and come back as the fire-breathing ace he’s been for more than a half-decade.

Instead, he had the worst season of his career, striking out 7.2 per nine, walking 3.8 per nine, and allowing 1.1 home runs per nine. His sudden decline from ace to barely-passable fourth starter has baffled fans and media members alike. Many point to his declining velocity — his fastball averaged just 90.5 miles per hour in 2016, the lowest of his career.

Of course, the real answer has nothing to do with velocity. The answer is far simpler. The Muddy Mound Game Conspiracy has been hidden from the public’s memory for long enough, and it’s time to wake up, sheeple! Those close to me have called me a “muddy-mound truther,” as if that’s a negative thing. But, folks, don’t believe what they’re telling you. I’ve got the facts, and once you’ve taken in this mind-blowing information, you’re not likely to ever trust a grounds crew again.

The muddy-mound game is the day everything changed for Hernandez. I’m talking, of course, about June 1, 2015, when the Mariners faced the Yankees at home.

Because of a malfunction with the Safeco Field roof, rain covered the mound, making it muddy and slippery. Hernandez visibly had trouble with his stride leg in his delivery, and was seen at times scraping the dirt out from between his cleats.

Through the first three innings, Hernandez was perfect, striking out three and inducing five ground-ball outs. And then, in the top of the fourth inning, as the rain came down harder and covered the mound, Hernandez appeared to land awkwardly on his first pitch to the inning’s second batter, Chase Headley.

At that point, it was clear something wasn’t right. Hernandez would walk five batters in the next inning-and-two-thirds (after having walked just 15 in 70.2 total innings up until that point in 2015) and give up seven runs before being removed.

This is the point, almost exactly, where Hernandez’s command abandoned him. From this game forward, Hernandez has had 46 starts, and has walked 3.4 per nine. In the 46 starts leading up to this game, he was averaging just 1.9 walks per nine. It seems unlikely that an ace pitcher would lose his command entirely in the span of two innings, but the numbers say that’s exactly what has happened.

Mariners fans may recall that in 2009, Hernandez began to add a Luis Tiant/Fernando Valenzuela-esque twist to his windup. Hernandez himself said that he had picked it up from watching teammate Erik Bedard. It should be noted that Hernandez made the jump from “promising young pitcher” to “perennial Cy Young contender” in 2009. The twist in his windup may not be directly responsible for Hernandez’s ascension to the throne, but it certainly played a large role.

In the chart below, you’ll see four sets of data. The first column is from when Hernandez debuted through the 2008 season. Row two spans 2009 until June 1, 2015 — from when he first started adding the twist, until the muddy-mound game. Row three is the 46 starts before June 1, 2015, and row four shows us the 46 games including, and since, the muddy-mound game.

So, not only has Hernandez declined dramatically since the fourth inning of that game, but it’s actually been the worst stretch he’s had in his entire career. Oddly enough, this stretch has come right after the best stretch of his career.

But there’s more! It’s not just boring data that shows dramatic decline. There’s been a visible change in Hernandez windup over the last year and a half since this game. I’m going to play right into my enemies’ hands here — as they would say, I’m putting on my tinfoil hat. But, the joke is on them, because now they can’t hear my thoughts.

Three things stand out — Hernandez has reduced the torque of his twist, he’s lowered his hands, and the position of his stride leg is inconsistent. I took a series of images of Hernandez at the top of his windup, detailing the changes. To the undeniable proof!

First, we have an image from Hernandez’s perfect game against Tampa Bay on August 19, 2012:

The twist is as prominent as ever in this game; the front of Hernandez’s shoulder is basically facing the viewer. His hands are close to his neck, and his arms are raised high enough for us to read the jersey script. Hernandez’s drive leg is bent at a slight angle. Considering he threw a perfect game with 12 strikeouts with these mechanics, it would seem that these represent a good version of his windup.

Let’s jump ahead. This one comes from April 18, 2015 — Hernandez’s second home start of the year.

For the most part, things look similar here. He’s turning slightly less, but we can still read the jersey script, and see most of the front of his left shoulder. Moving on!

Nothing appeared too different in his next few starts, though he didn’t look exactly the same as the previous image. This image is from the first inning of the infamous muddy mound game itself:

Some small tweaks, but for the most part, things appear the same. Considering Hernandez was dominating during this stretch, it’s hard to argue with the results.

Here’s an image from Hernandez’s first slip off the mound in the fourth inning:

Unfortunately, Hernandez spent most of the rest of his outing after slipping pitching from the stretch, so it’s hard to find an example of his windup immediately after the injury. It’s hard to tell from this image, but this came on the first pitch of the second at-bat of the fourth inning. Hernandez falls off the mound, looks a little ginger on his left foot, but shakes it off and returns to the mound. The story is the same for the very next pitch. Hernandez appears to be visibly uncomfortable, on his way to walking five batters and throwing a wild pitch.

Small changes to his motion became evident throughout the rest of 2015, and the best example of these changes came on September 10 against the Rangers:

It’s clear that his hands have lowered, though his front shoulder still seems pretty well twisted to face us, the viewer. It’s also notable that Hernandez’s stride leg is now wrapped more around him at an angle, whereas before it was closer to perpendicular with the ground. Hernandez didn’t give up a run in this game, but did walk four batters.

In Hernandez’s second home start of 2016, April 29 against the Royals, we see not much has changed:

His hands have raised slightly, but still cover the jersey script more than before. Where his shoulder once squarely faced the camera, it appears almost to be pointing straight at the batter in this picture. His stride leg still appears to be almost wrapped around his drive leg — consistent with the last image, but more dramatic than at any point before that. It’s worth noting that Hernandez walked 18 batters in just 32.2 April innings in 2016.

Skipping ahead to Hernandez’s return from the disabled list, things appear to be more problematic:

Hernandez’s hands are now at an all-time low, almost entirely covering the jersey script. The front shoulder still faces the batter more than it used to, and the angle of his stride leg seems as wrapped over the drive leg’s knee as ever.

The last exhibit from the 2016 season comes on September 5 against Texas:

Hernandez’s hands appear to have lowered even a little further. His stride leg is angled so much that it’s almost passing over his drive leg’s knee from our point of view. While his front shoulder once looked square and broad to the viewer, we now essentially just see the side of Hernandez’s arm, and little of the shoulder itself. At this point, he’s twisting less than ever, his hands are at their low point, and his stride leg is the most out-of-whack it’s ever been.

The final piece of evidence — and I apologize for the quality, but winter-league baseball isn’t streamed at the quality of MLB games — is from Winter Ball. Observe:

The camera angle here isn’t exactly the same as Safeco Field, but as the most recent piece of evidence of what Felix is doing, it should be included. First, some good news: Hernandez’s stride leg is more perpendicular with the ground than it has been since the first three innings of the muddy-mound game itself. His hands have been raised up above the jersey script partially, though not quite as high as before the injury occurred.

The bad news, though, is the worst news. Hernandez has less of a torso-twist in his windup than ever. In fact, we can’t even see his shoulder at the top of his windup — the only image where this is true.

Watching the video, the twist seems less dramatic than at any point. It should be mentioned that in the video this was lifted from, Hernandez’s line is: 1 IP, 2 H, 2R, 2BB, 1 K. He also threw a wild pitch with no one aboard, and threw the ball into center field for an error when the runner on first took off early.

So why did the King stop twisting so much? It’s hard to say. Hernandez has been known throughout his career as a guy that doesn’t watch much film of himself. He didn’t even start throwing bullpens in between starts until late in 2016. I exchanged messages with 710 ESPN Mariners Insider, Shannon Drayer, to confirm that both of those statements are true.

My hypothesis? He subtly changed his motion to not feel pain in his ankle after slipping on the muddy mound. Less twist means less torque, which means less force landing on the ankle, and that his legs will land just a bit sooner. This has caused his legs to be “ahead” of the motion of his upper body, and with that he’s lost his feel for his command.

As someone who doesn’t watch film, it seems entirely believable that once Hernandez got healthy, he didn’t realize he was doing anything wrong, and the bad habits he picked up to compensate for his injury became his new normal.

Velocity would be nice, but Hernandez, more than anything, needs to rediscover his command. He pitched at an ace level in 2013 with a 91.3 MPH average fastball. Velocity doesn’t usually return with age, but command can.

The path toward re-discovering his command appears clear. Hernandez needs to return to his older wind-up, when he twisted so much that the batters could read his name and number on his jersey. He became an ace when he began twisting, and began falling apart when he stopped twisting.

It appears that he made progress in winter ball with his hands and his stride leg. Though I remain skeptical that his performance is going to rebound in any significant way until he makes like Chubby Checker and starts doing the twist again.

Brett Miller does the agate page for the print edition of the Seattle Times. He is also a proud Washington State University alum, and good at drinking beer and taking criticism. Complain about this article directly to him at

James Paxton Is Going to Win the 2017 AL Cy Young

Mariners starter James Paxton is going to win the 2017 American League Cy Young award. You heard it here first.

In baseball, there is no better time of year to have bold, lofty, and irrational expectations than in spring training. But there are numbers to back up this claim, even though he is a 28-year-old who has never made more than 20 starts in a major-league season.

Here is why this is going to happen.

Paxton has always pitched at the level of a top-of-the-rotation starter

There has never been a question about his talent. Paxton debuted in September of 2013, and took the league by storm immediately, posting a 1.50 ERA over 24 innings in four starts. In 2014, his ERA was 3.04 in 74 innings. His worst season, 2015, still featured a decent 3.90 ERA in 13 starts. Not ace-like numbers, but numbers that would put him in the top two or three of most rotations in baseball.

Paxton’s ERA was similar in 2016 (3.79) to his 2015 number, but he made dramatic improvements.

Utilizing a new arm slot taught to him by Tacoma pitching coach Lance Painter, his average fastball velocity rose from 94.2 in 2015 to 96.8 in 2016 — an almost unprecedented gain for a starter. Paxton gained newfound command with his new arm slot, walking just 1.8 batters per nine innings, one walk fewer than his already-good career mark of 2.8.

Digging a little deeper into advanced stats, Paxton’s numbers are similar to the game’s elite. Looking at the FIP of pitchers who threw at least 250 innings from 2013-2016 (the four seasons Paxton has spent time in the majors), Paxton’s 3.32 is 25th in the league. Teammate Felix Hernandez No. 22 with a 3.27 FIP. The chart below shows where Paxton stands among other left-handed starters.

Paxton’s FIP over the past four seasons is eighth-best among major-league left-handers, and third-best among just the southpaws currently in the American League. That’s consistency.

Looking at 2016, Paxton’s 2.80 FIP ranked fourth-lowest in all of baseball among pitchers with at least 120 innings, and first in the American League. The next-closest American League pitcher, Corey Kluber, had a 3.26 FIP.

When Paxton is on the hill, he’s as good as just about anyone in the league. And his best numbers have come in his most recent season.

At 28, Paxton might still have room to improve. Paxton improved dramatically in 2016 in three major areas that he was already good at — strikeouts, limiting walks, and preventing home runs. In any case, Paxton’s ability to be a top-tier starter is obvious.

About that injured elephant in the room

It’s hard not to notice that Paxton has by far the fewest innings pitched among elite left-handers. It’s true, Paxton hasn’t been able to stay on the field. But his injury history doesn’t reveal the types of injuries one would expect to be recurring or career-derailing.

Paxton has been on the disabled list three times in his career, for a strained left oblique and shoulder inflammation in 2014, a strained tendon in his left middle finger in 2015, and for a sore pitching elbow after getting hit with a line drive in 2016. He also had start pushed back a day due to a torn fingernail.

This paints a picture of bad luck as much as being chronically injury-prone. Paxton has had trouble staying on the field, but it hasn’t been one faulty limb or ligament that just won’t get right. Perhaps he’ll suffer another major injury in 2017, but his injury history alone doesn’t include enough evidence to see it as an inevitability.

The 2017 AL Cy Young field isn’t that intimidating

Clayton Kershaw doesn’t pitch in the American League, so why can’t Paxton reach the summit of the junior circuit? The competition all have their own flaws.

2016 Cy Young winner, Boston’s Rick Porcello, is coming off the best season of his career by far. Not to mention, his teammates and fellow Cy Young contenders David Price and Chris Sale will take turns stealing the spotlight from one another.

It also remains to be seen how Sale adjusts to the right-handed-hitting haven of Fenway Park; teammate David Price saw his surface numbers suffer moving into the hitters’ paradise that is Fenway Park — his ERA ballooned to 3.99.

Among other contenders, Detroit’s Justin Verlander will be turning 34 and is coming off of his best season since 2013. It’s probably more likely that his current ability falls somewhere in between his very good 2014-15 and his Cy Young-caliber 2016.

The most credible threat to Paxton is Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, and he’s now on the wrong side of 30. Kluber also benefited from an above-average defense in 2016, while Paxton had one of the league’s worst defensive teams playing behind him.

As it stands, a thin field, as well as three top contenders’ home ballparks playing against them, gives a healthy Paxton as good of a chance as anyone.

Don’t forget the new outfield defense

Despite his outstanding FIP, Paxton’s ERA was a good-not-great 3.79, and his record was just 6-7. Certainly not Cy Young numbers.

But with a much-improved defense behind him, shaving a run off of his ERA isn’t unrealistic, and would likely increase his win and innings totals.

In 2016, the Mariners outfield defense was atrocious. Nori Aoki took the scenic route to every fly ball. Seth Smith and Nelson Cruz turned in defensive efforts that would be hard to call average in a slow-pitch softball league.

In The Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved (DRS) stat, the Mariners 2016 outfield had a -27 DRS, making them better than just the Twins, Tigers, and Orioles.

Jarrod Dyson (+19 DRS), Mitch Haniger (+1) and a healthy Leonys Martin (-2) could help turn one of the worst outfields in baseball in 2016 into one of the very best. Paxton will certainly be one of many pitchers benefiting from a greater number of fly balls being turned into outs.

It’s also worth noting that the infield’s three worst gloves — Adam Lind (-2), Dae-Ho Lee (-3) and Ketel Marte (-2) — will be wearing different uniforms in 2017.

With the Mariners upgrading so many spots on defense, Paxton’s ERA should drop significantly. The difference between a 3.80 ERA and 2.80 ERA over 200 innings is 22 runs. If the defense saves him anywhere close that many runs, the additional wins would certainly follow.

Okay, so how does this make him a Cy Young contender?

Everything is in place for Paxton to take his rightful place in the upper echelon of major-league starters. He has the talent, and now a defense behind him that will help him cash in on his nearly limitless potential.

What he needs more than anything is a little good luck with the injury bug. Considering his luck over the past few years, he seems due for that. If that happens, American League hitters will certainly notice.

Paxton is one of the league’s five or 10 best pitchers. Pairing his ability with what should be one of the league’s best defenses should reduce his record and ERA to put him in a peer group with elite guys like Chris Sale, Corey Kluber, and Madison Bumgarner.

(I didn’t mention Clayton Kershaw because he is, of course, peerless.)

James Paxton will be your 2017 American League Cy Young award winner. See you at the award ceremony — or the loony bin.

Brett Miller does the agate page for the print edition of the Seattle Times. He is also a proud Washington State University alum, and good at drinking beer and taking criticism. Complain about this article directly to him at