Marlon Byrd and Vicente Padilla were teammates in Texas last year and when the Rangers released Padilla at midseason Byrd was very outspoken in praise of the move, saying:
About time. It’s absolutely a positive for this team. We have to get rid of the negatives to make a positive and I believe this is a huge positive. You have to be a good teammate. You have to help teach younger guys the right things. He wasn’t a positive influence on the young guys. You started questioning his character and about how much he cared.
Fast forward to a year later. Byrd is on the Cubs and Padilla is on the Dodgers, and they faced each other in the seventh inning of a blowout game last night. As you might have guessed Padilla plunked Byrd in the back, which is amusing given that part of Byrd’s problem with Padilla came from his tendency to hit batters and put his teammates in danger of retaliation.
Which is exactly what happened last night, as Byrd’s new teammate Andrew Cashner responded to Padilla plunking him by plunking Dodgers second baseman Blake DeWitt in the next inning. Oddly enough, Byrd didn’t have much problem with that, calling Cashner “a great teammate” and coyly talking about his “pinpoint accuracy” to make it clear the pitch had a purpose.
Cashner received high-fives in the dugout afterward and despite losing 7-0 the Cubs’ clubhouse was reportedly full of congratulations for rookie. Or as Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune put it: “Happiest losing clubhouse in Cubs history.”
And in a fibbing contest, Cashner claimed the pitch to DeWitt simply “slipped” while Padilla claimed he never saw Byrd’s original quotes because “I don’t really read the papers.”
To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.
So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”
When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.
Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.