Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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As many of you know, I’m not Edwin Jackson’s biggest fan. When the Cubs signed him to a four-year, $52 million dollar deal between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, I scratched my head while trying to figure out just what they were thinking. Weren’t they supposed to be building? Wasn’t the very definition of building to not spend money on free agents while focusing on fortifying the team through trades and the draft? How does signing a questionable pitcher to this size of a deal fit into that?
After watching two seasons of dreadful pitching by Edwin Jackson, I think I now understand what the Cubs’ brain trust was thinking two years ago when they signed him.
Yes, in his first two seasons in the windy city, Jackson holds a 14-33 record with a 5.58 ERA. Yes, in 2014 Jackson posted a 6-15 record with a soaring 6.33 ERA. Yes, Edwin Jackson appears to be trending downward as he get’s older. So what about him makes me “understand” the thinking of Epstein and Co.?
The answer lies in looking at Edwin Jackson’s entire career.
Jackson has played for a whopping eight major league teams (which I believe beats Kevin Gregg’s total by one…but I digress). In case you were wondering, he has worn the uniform of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays, the Detroit Tigers, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Chicago White Sox, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Washington Nationals, and of course, the Chicago Cubs.
Notice how you don’t see a lot of lousy teams on this list (although there are a few). Most of these teams were looking for a guy to put them over the top, and some of them managed to make it over the top in spite of the fact that Jackson was in their rotation. But it’s not as if he was pitching for a collection of teams that resembled the Kansas City Royals of the early 2000’s. If all those teams saw some value in Jackson, then surely there must be some.
Now sure, a list like this might tell you a lot of things about a player. Maybe he doesn’t get along with anybody and is a complete cancer in the locker room, like a Milton Bradley for example. Maybe he’s just good enough to be “serviceable” but he still kinda sucks, like a Kevin Gregg. Or maybe, just maybe, it might tell you more than that. Perhaps it tells you that in the right situation, this guy could really shine…but he just hasn’t found that situation yet.
I’m no insider or anything of that sort. I haven’t sat in on the meetings over at Wrigley during this rebuild. But I wager that Edwin Jackson wasn’t signed to win a lot of games in 2013 and 2014. My bet is that he was signed for the potential success he could have in 2015 and 2016…when the Cubs would be ready to sign some free agents and begin making a run at the division, or maybe more.
Think about it.
The Cubs signed him to a four-year deal, to play for a team that they knew would be downright lousy and give him virtually no run support for the first two years of said deal. I honestly think they looked ahead at the potential free-agent market for this offseason and figured that they better have somebody in place in case they didn’t get everybody they wanted (notice that James Shields is in San Diego and Max Scherzer is in D.C.). So if Edwin Jackson could manage to put it all together and pitch like a high profile starter while the team is making a charge, then his $52 million dollar contract looks like chump change compared to the contracts that a high profile starting pitcher is getting these days.
The only problem is that Edwin Jackson hasn’t managed to put it all together…yet. If he can manage to put together a decent spring and hold onto that fifth spot in the rotation, then you may see something special from him. If he doesn’t, then the Cubs have some options.
If the Cubs decide to cut Edwin Jackson, they still owe him the entirety of his contract. Now, this contract is tiny compared to the one they were carrying with Alfonso Soriano a of couple years ago, so it won’t cripple the organization to cut him. But $26 million dollars is $26 million dollars…and you hate to throw it away.
If the Cubs decide to trade him, it could be difficult to find a taker. Not many teams are looking for a pitcher whose age and ERA are trending in the same direction. However, if the Cubs could find somebody who is willing to take on enough of Jackson’s contract while giving up enough in return, it might be an option worth pursuing.
However, if the Cubs decide to ride it out, things could get really special. Jackson might be able to give the Cubs enough of a performance that they can dump him at the deadline for some prospects. Think about it this way: trading ballplayers is like trading stocks, the object is to buy low and sell high. Right now Jackson’s stock can’t get much lower. So it might be worth it for the Cubs to weather the storm.
Now, if I were Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, and I knew that Jackson would be this bad two years into his deal, would I have signed him at all? No way, nobody would have. The problem is that hindsight is always 20/20. Now, had I been in their situation two years ago, would I have given Jackson a chance with a “reasonable” deal like this one? Absolutely I would have.
I’m a Cubs fan, but I have not always been a supporter of the moves that Epstein and Co. have made during this build, including this one. But now, after giving it some serious thought, I think this was a great idea. Had it worked out, Epstein would look like a genius and we’d all be singing his praises. The problem is that it just doesn’t seem to have worked out.