How Yankees protected themselves from badly timed James Paxton blow

The decision to buy an ace and retain a sturdy No. 5 starter looks even better for the Yankees upon the revelation that James Paxton will miss at least April, possibly more, after undergoing back surgery Wednesday.

The Yanks announced Paxton underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy with removal of a peridiscal cyst. The surgery was performed in Dallas by Dr. Andrew Dossett and the Yankees’ statement approximated that the lefty would return “to major league action” in 3-4 months. In a phone interview, Brian Cashman said doctors had told him to expect Paxton to be at full strength when he returns.

For Paxton, the timing is brutal. He is about to enter his walk season and the bugaboo for a talented starter is fragility — Paxton has still never qualified for an ERA title and now probably won’t this season either.

The Yankees are more positioned to absorb a rotation injury in 2020 than in 2019. Luis Severino, who missed nearly all of last season, is a full go for spring training. Notably, the Yanks invested $324 million in Gerrit Cole to be their ace, which pushes Severino, Paxton and Masahiro Tanaka down a rung in the rotation.

The Yanks had weighed trading J.A. Happ to cut payroll after the Cole signing — and had a market for the lefty. But Paxton’s lingering back issue (he first reported problems in the final regular season week last year) “certainly factored in us not trading J.A. Happ,” Cashman said. “There was a lot of knocking on our door about it. But because Paxton’s complaints (of pain) were being evaluated over the winter by various personnel, it just made sense to keep our depth.”

Cashman acknowledged having surgery so close to spring is not ideal, but that surgery was recommended as a last recourse.

The Yankees GM said Paxton first reported discomfort after a one-inning, playoff-tuneup start Sept. 27 in Texas and received an MRI and treatment from Rangers team physician, Dr. Keith Meister.

Paxton made three postseason starts, the last one in particular a six-inning, one-run gem against the Astros in ALCS Game 5 and the issue seemed resolved. Cashman said about a month ago, when Paxton began to intensify his workouts in preparation for spring, the pain returned. Paxton was sent to Dr. Dossett, who Cashman said recommended more injections and four weeks of rest to see if surgery could be avoided. But the pain resurfaced after the month and surgery was undertaken.

“We had to wait to see how it played out rather than rush to a decision,” Cashman said. ”Surgery is always the last resort and the last resort takes time. We lost time on the playing side. We took the proper steps of the process to determine if surgery was necessary or not.”

The Yanks will enter spring with Cole, Severino, Tanaka and Happ as their main four starters as they await the return of Paxton and Domingo German, whose suspension for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy expires in early June. Jordan Montgomery, who missed much of the last two seasons following Tommy John surgery, will be a full participant for spring training.

But when asked if the lefty is penciled in as the No. 5 stater, Cashman said, “Montgomery won a rotation spot (in 2017) and he was a dark horse who was not anticipated at all. So who is to say that it won’t be Michael King or Luis Cessa or Jonathan Loaisiga or Deivi Garcia? We will see.”

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