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Dodgers’ James Paxton ‘ready to get after it’ following reworked contract

The Dodgers restructured their deal with the free-agent left-hander to guard against his injury history

Dodgers pitcher James Paxton throws during the first day of spring training Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Dodgers pitcher James Paxton throws during the first day of spring training Friday, Feb. 9, 2024, at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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GLENDALE, Ariz. — It ain’t over ’til it’s over – when it comes to contract negotiations, too.

The Dodgers and free agent left-hander James Paxton, represented by Scott Boras, came to an agreement on a one-year contract last month that would pay the 35-year-old pitcher $11 million in 2024 with incentives that could take it higher.

Pending a physical.

After Paxton’s physical, the two sides went back to work, restructuring the contract to assuage some of the Dodgers’ concerns about the left-hander’s injury history. They settled on a $4 million salary, a $3 million signing bonus, a roster bonus and performance bonuses that will pay him $600,000 each for making six, eight, 10, 12, 16 and 18 games started this season, giving Paxton a chance to make as much as $13 million if he stays healthy.

“I’m an older player now, and I’m not perfect anymore. My body’s not perfect,” Paxton said of the restructuring. “So there’s things that have kind of built up over the years. But I’m feeling really good right now. All the physical tests are really good. I’m feeling strong and ready. We were able to figure things out and just make a plan for me going forward, how to build up and manage my load.”

Paxton said it was nothing specific that came up during the physical – “just my body.” But he acknowledged the Dodgers were “worried” about the right knee injury that ended his season early last year with the Boston Red Sox.

“They wanted to talk about that,” he said. “Obviously, going through the Tommy John (surgery in 2021) and talking about how my elbow was feeling and stuff like that. But that was about it.”

Paxton returned from the elbow surgery to go 7-5 with a 4.50 ERA in 19 starts for the Sox last season, his heaviest workload since 2019. But his season wasn’t built equally.

After going 5-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his first 10 starts, Paxton was 2-4 with a 6.98 ERA in nine starts after the All-Star break before his season ended in early September.

“The second half, I started to get pretty tired,” he said. “It had been 2½ years since I pitched, and the innings kind of built up there. I was going pretty deep into ballgames there for quite a while and I just ran out of gas there at the end. Then my body started to bark at me a little bit, my knee and stuff like that. So I wasn’t able to execute pitches the way that I needed.”

Paxton threw a bullpen session during Saturday’s workout at Camelback Ranch and said he has “no doubt” he will be ready to join the Dodgers’ starting rotation to begin the season. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said he doesn’t think Paxton will have any physical issues that prevent him from opening the season when needed.

“We don’t think so. He feels really good and strong,” Friedman said. “Obviously we weren’t around him last season so it’s hard. It’s harder. If you’re around someone, you see how they’re recovering, the treatment they’re getting, things that we can do to help. You have a much better feel for that with someone who’s been with you before. Someone who hasn’t, it’s harder.

“But he’s incredibly confident. We feel good about it. … He is a full go and ready to get after it and excited to be here.”

MEDIA MADNESS

Before Friday’s workout, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts compared to the large media group that followed the San Francisco Giants when Barry Bonds was closing in on the home run record.

Roberts was a teammate of Bonds during his final season and found himself doing a lot of interviews when Bonds – notoriously unfriendly with the media – wouldn’t talk.

Ohtani’s time with the press was limited during his days with the Angels and Roberts was asked to nominate a teammate with the Dodgers to be the Japanese media’s go-to alternative for interviews about Ohtani. He suggested veteran Jason Heyward and Heyward was surprised to find his locker surrounded by media before Saturday’s workout.

“Shohei is the guy to talk about Shohei,” Heyward said when told of Roberts’ suggestion.

Approximately 60 reporters and photographers have been credentialed for spring training, more than triple the usual number. Heyward was asked if that could become a distraction this year and told reporters “it’s harder if you guys make it harder.”

“We start officially on Tuesday. So it hasn’t felt like anything yet,” said Heyward, one of several position players already in camp.

Roberts said he would likely address the issue of dealing with the greater media attention this season with the team.

“I do think that when you put this uniform on, there’s a certain standard in how you go about things,” he said. “Appreciating the fact that there’s more responsibility, more autographs to sign, more media probably to contend with and stuff out in the community. Then obviously on the field, there is an expectation. … I don’t know if we’re prepared for it. I think that we’re going to learn as we go. But I think that’s what we’re in store for.

“It’s going to be a learning curve for everyone. But I think that part of my messaging to the players is going to be, it comes with the territory. I think that the expectations of winning, the expectations of answering questions when you don’t feel like it, it’s part of the job. I think that, yeah, playing is first and foremost, but to sort of grow this pie of Major League Baseball, that’s part of the deal.”

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

Right-hander Bobby Miller is wearing uniform number 28 this year after wearing 70 as a rookie last season. Miller said he “just always liked that number” – which J.D. Martinez wore for the Dodgers last season.

“I just wanted to get out of the offensive linemen numbers this year,” Miller joked.

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