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Yankees’ James Paxton out 3-4 months after back surgery

It’s hard to not still consider the Yankees the favorites in the AL, but this shakes things up a bit.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees starter James Paxton underwent back surgery on Wednesday and will be out three to four months, which means he’ll miss the first month of the regular season and possibly more:

It’s not as if the rest of the AL East will be at the Yankees’ throats in 2020: the Rays are a playoff team but shook things up this offseason and aren’t as deep as they were last year, the Red Sox are still talented but significantly worse following their decision to deal Mookie Betts and David Price Tuesday, the rebuilding Blue Jays have made major progress but still haven’t quite hit the competitive phase of their timeline, and the Orioles are stuck in a rut and figure to lose more than 100 games again this year. With that said, Paxton’s injury shouldn’t put their chances of winning the division in serious jeopardy, and as long as he’s back to his old self down the stretch it doesn’t really matter.

Every game counts, though, and the Yankees clearly will be weaker at the start of the season. Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino figure to be the Yankees’ top three starters, and after some discussion that J.A. Happ could lose his rotation spot, the veteran lefty will now almost certainly begin the season in the starting five. Paxton’s injury gives Jordan Montgomery and Jonathan Loaisiga — and perhaps even top pitching prospect Deivi Garcia — realistic chances to break camp at the back of the Yankees’ rotation. Considering that Montgomery and Loaisiga have had some previous success as starters at the major-league level, they’d figure to be the clear favorites for the role.

Paxton, 31, has been on the disabled/injured list in every full season of his major-league career; the only season where he stayed healthy was 2013, when he made his MLB debut on September 7 and appeared in four games. He had a 3.82 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP over 29 starts for the Yankees in 2019.