The Cubs are apparently going to stretch Edwin Jackson out this spring and move forward with him as an option for the much-improved rotation. It makes sense because rarely (if ever) do teams go through an entire season without needing 7, 8, or even 9 starting pitchers.
Things pop up over the course of 162 games, like injuries, spot starts, double headers, etc; so to me it makes perfect sense to keep preparing Jackson for one of those spots. Not that I think he is one of the 5 best options for starting pitching on this team, but he is definitely in the top 9 (okay, he is probably number 9).
But the question we must ask is whether, even if Edwin Jackson can somehow turn things around and not stink up the joint like he did last year, what is the best the Cubs could possibly expect out of him?
Edwin Jackson has a 84-104 career record (14-33 for the Cubs over the past two seasons) with a K/9 of 6.97 and BB/9 of 3.52. He averages 1 HR per 9 innings and has a career ERA of 4.63 (FIP: 4.23). He has totaled 18.1 WAR in his 8 years as a regular starter with his high being 3.7 with the Tigers in 2009 and his low of .5 coming last year with the Cubs.
Those are some less than excellent numbers over an eight-team career during which Jackson has made over $50 million (with another $22 million still coming his way). On the outside, these are not the numbers of someone that is a quick adjustment away from dominance.
Best statistical season(s)
Some of Jackson’s “best” years were very similar statistically, so it was hard to pick one that stuck out the most from his other seasons. I will highlight a couple different seasons as examples: 2009 (Tigers) and 2012 (Nationals).
In 2009 as a member of the Detroit Tigers, Jackson set a career high in innings pitched (214) and WAR (3.7) and posted a career-low ERA (3.62). That was one of his 3 seasons with a better than .500 record on the mound (13-9).
In 2012 as a member of the Washington Nationals, Jackson set a career high in K/9 (7.97) and a career low in BB/9 (2.75). It was after this year that Epstein and Hoyer made that fateful decision to sign Jackson to a 4 year/$52 million deal ($11 mil/year with a $8 million signing bonus). This was a deal that Theo categorized as a mistake just this past October.
In 31 appearances as a reliever, Edwin Jackson has been a little worse than he is as a starter. Granted, it is a pretty small sample size in the whole scheme of things, but still nothing that stands out and screams “change his role now!”
He has a 5.56 ERA in 43.2 innings pitched with 31 Ks, 25 BBs, and a WHIP of almost 2 (1.992). I will say in his defense he has been a pretty regular starter since 2007 and he only had one appearance as a reliever for the Cubs last season, during which he pitched a mostly perfect inning (1 walk given up).
With that said though, there is no real reason for the Cubs to have faith in Edwin Jackson the reliever.
By all accounts Jackson seems to be a pretty good guy. He has the respect of his teammates and Joe Maddon is a big fan of his from their time together within the Rays’ organization. Just recently, Maddon called him one of the best athletes he has ever had as a pitcher.
Also, no matter how bad things got last season, Jackson did not duck the media one bit; he stood there and answered questions about why he struggled.
He does have some postseason experience (not success, but at least he has played in October) and did win a ring with the Cardinals in 2011.
So, what do the Cubs do with Edwin Jackson?
At this point there are two years and $22 million left on his contract; that’s a large sum of money, but let us not forget the Cubs ate about $17 million when they traded Alfonso Soriano to the Yankees. This is a larger sum, but not that much more.
I think there is a real possibility (if not probability) that Jackson could be cut if he gets lit up in Spring Training. The front office has always seemed willing to make the tough decision when needed and hopefully this wouldn’t be any different.
A spot in the rotation does make sense for Jackson if he turns things around, but I hope it wouldn’t be at the expense of Kyle Hendricks. Some have speculated that Hendricks could start the year at AAA anyway, but if the goal is to break camp with the best team possible, I don’t see a situation where that means he is in Iowa.
I see the final two spots in the rotation going to Hendricks and one of Jackson, Tsuyoshi Wada, Felix Doubront, Jacob Turner or Travis Wood (assuming he isn’t traded).
The bullpen has many intriguing arms and not that many spots available. I would like to think if the decision came to either Edwin Jackson or, say, Jacob Turner then the right call would be made and a young Turner would get the spot instead of consistently underperforming Jackson.
No matter how you slice it, even when Jackson has been at his best he hasn’t been that good. The best solution at this point is to cut your losses and not waste a roster spot that should go to someone with more upside.