Nationals Sign Jackson, But to What End?

Per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, 28-year-old right-hander Edwin Jackson and the Washington Nationals have reached an agreement on a one-year deal worth somewhere in the $8-12 million range. Pending a physical, Jackson joins a rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and recent acquisition (in a trade with Oakland) Gio Gonzalez.

What is there to say about Jackson, specifically, that FanGraphs hasn’t said already? The market for him has been — and continued this offseason to be — underwhelming relative to his production (link). It’s likely to continue to be underwhelming (link). He (Jackson) has become a journeymen despite possessing youth, physical tools, and an increasingly robust resume (link).

For three consecutive years now, Jackson has been worth between 3.5 and 4.0 WAR — which suggests that, provided he’s healthy, another season in the 3.5-4.0 WAR range wouldn’t be shocking. It also suggests that, even were a team to have given him $15 million, that would still probably have been on the low-end of fair market value.

The question that’s more interesting for the time being is this one: what, precisely, are the Nats hoping to accomplish with the Jackson deal?

Let’s start first of all by establishing this: the addition of Jackson — and subtraction, presumably, of either John Lannan or Chien-Ming Wang — doesn’t make the Nats insta-contenders. Per a too-early standings projection conducted last week by the Replacement Level Yankees blog (using Marcels as an input), the Nats finished with 83 wins; the Phillies and Braves, with 90 and 89, respectively. The most recent iteration of OLIVER standings projects the Nats to finish with 81 wins — a full 10 games behind the would-be first-place Braves.

Even in a best-case scenario, Jackson only adds three wins that weren’t there previously. That narrows the gap, obviously — and at least allows for the possibility that randomness could push the Nats into contention leading up to the trade deadline — but it does not the Nationals a playoff contender make.

It’s possible that the Jackson signing represents an attempt on the part of Washington simply to not be mediocre. Or to be less mediocre. That’s a possible, if entirely uninspiring, explanation for the deal — because there’s value in being “just fine.” Furthermore, it’s possible that the Nationals see value in Jackson as a player either to flip for a decent prospect at the deadline, or from whom to gain a compensation pick in the 2013 draft after Jackson becomes a Type B free agent when the season is over.

For the Nationals to become actual contenders, though, at least one of the following three names will have to appear in fewer of manager Davey Johnson‘s lineups than is projected: Roger Bernadina, Ian Desmond, and Adam LaRoche.

It’s unlikely that any of those is an average major leaguer. Even when healthy — and he wasn’t that in 2011 — LaRoche hasn’t really had the bat to carry first base in a full-time capacity. Despite tools that help his fantasy value, Desmond’s defensive shortcomings and poor approach at the plate suggest that’s he best suited for a utility role. And as for Bernadina — he’s fine, but not as a starter.

Really, the Nats’ intentions will only become clear when it becomes apparent how they plan to address the shortcomings at center field, shortstop, and first base. Those positions are set to produce something in the vicinity of four wins right now. Could the GM Mike Rizzo extract, say, three more wins out of those three spots — via trade, via whatever — then the Nationals would be well-suited to contend in 2012. If not, then the motivation for signing Jackson to a one-year deal is less eventful, more shrewd.



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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


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Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 7 months ago

First base: deal LaRoche, use Michael Morse

So to rewrite: “Really, the Nats’ intentions will only become clear when it becomes apparent how they plan to address the shortcomings at center and left fields and shortstop.”

Additionally, Danny Espinosa is a natural shortstop who spent college and the minors at the position, so one solution for shortstop is to sign a second baseman.

Well-Beered Englishman
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Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 7 months ago

P.S. The answer to left field is “Jayson Werth, when Bryce Harper arrives.” Unless the answer to center field is “Jayson Werth.” It’s all rather confusing. The point is, by July 2012 the Nationals plan to have Morse at first, Werth and Harper in the outfield, and the big holes are shortstop and one outfield spot.

I’d expect a trade for Marlon Byrd, regular DeRosa starts on the infield, and serious AAA playing time for Steve Lombardozzi at both SS and 2B.

Michael F
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Michael F
4 years 7 months ago

Well, for starters, they now have one of the top pitching staffs in baseball, even if it’s only second or third in their division.

But yeah, it seems like they’re just trying to catch variance in a bottle.

They’ve got some decent bats out there, but their best hitter derives a lot of his value from fielding, and he’s fairly injury prone at that, so yes, they may end up playing a bunch of 4-2 games this year.

Realistically, I think they see two very flawed teams ahead of them, realize how little success they’ve ever had, and are trying to make something out of the season beyond mediocrity.

will h
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will h
4 years 7 months ago

this is poor analysis. those predictors dont work with young and injured players. stras should be worth tons more, zim and zim(nn) as well due to GP. that is for starters…

will h
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will h
4 years 7 months ago

desmond was the 18th best ss… i hardly love him, but he is an acceptable mlb ss.

Will
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Will
4 years 7 months ago

I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic….

Do you realize he was the 18th best QUALIFIED SS? Do you also realize there were only 20 qualified SS? That means he’s the 3rd worst SS in baseball.

Avar
Member
Avar
4 years 7 months ago

Desmond was one of the 5-10 worst qualified hitters last year. You actually can’t get much worse than him. The other 12 SS you were looking at probably didn’t play all season. Desmond was terrible. He stands a chance of doing better this year but you can’t candy coat how awful he was last year.

Ronin
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Ronin
4 years 7 months ago

Man I hate when teams try to make themselve better, especially at the relative cost of what you and I pay for fast food. This is where you gotta respect a guy like Jeffery Loria, he isnt gonna waste money on a guy who is only a couple wins better than a guy they already have.

EarlSweatshirt
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EarlSweatshirt
4 years 7 months ago

So a team shouldn’t attempt to sign a player at good value because he doesn’t put them over the top on paper in April? Really? Last time I checked, the Red Sox didn’t get a trophy for their 2011 preseason projected win total.

bc2208
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bc2208
4 years 7 months ago

“but it does not the Nationals a playoff contender make.”

I hate that syntax.

Will
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Will
4 years 7 months ago

Hate not that syntax, young Jedi.

Baltar
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Baltar
4 years 7 months ago

A team improve should not unless is a playoff spot certain.

NatsTown
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NatsTown
4 years 7 months ago

I like your analysis, but I’m not sure I understand your conclusion. If MARCEL already projects the Nats to get 83 wins and have a 29% chance of earning a playoff spot (assuming two wild cards per league), wouldn’t an extra two wins make a significant difference and almost certainly put them in a position to be a few games from a playoff spot come September 1, or to earn a playoff spot if things break well for them or they make another move? Wouldn’t that satisfy any reasonable definition of the word “contender”? Perhaps you meant “playoff favorite” instead of “playoff contender”? Or maybe you assume only one wild card per league?

Ben
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Ben
4 years 7 months ago

Say, for the sake of the argument, that the Marcel projections are correct.

“The Marcel projections are correct”

3 games out of 162 is not a terrific amount of variance to grasp at. And for only having a few holes in the lineup, there’s a lot of variability as far as remedies go. Some of which you mentioned. Honestly the only players chained to their expected positions are Zimmerman at 3B and Ramos at C. The could be in on a trade for just about anyone.

the hottest stove
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the hottest stove
4 years 7 months ago

This is especially true when you look at the age of the Phillies’ roster and the uncertainty around the injury to Howard, because no one knows what team they will have on the field toward the end of the year. Go for it and see what happens rather than choosing not to try…

thomkay07
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thomkay07
4 years 7 months ago

What are the Nationals intentions? To contend for a playoff spot. They’ve never had a winning record, their attendance last year was only 59% of capacity, and they’d like to be considered a real major league team.

Not Dave
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Not Dave
4 years 7 months ago

Wait …So Hardball times thinks the Phillies will finish behind the Mets?

bruceschwindt
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bruceschwindt
4 years 7 months ago

Really makes one understand why Hardball Times is considered a second-rate site. Plus, they predict only 75 wins for Tampa- which is even more moronic than predicting the Phils to only win 84. Very sad and laughable at the same time.

Will
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Will
4 years 7 months ago

I thought you guys were looking at MARCEL’s projections from 1998 or something…

Holy crap. I don’t even know how that makes any sense? Does MARCEL severely discount young players stats? It would explain the Nationals, Rays, Royals and Padres awful showings.

But really, how can you take that seriously when it predicts the Rays will be only 3 games better than the Astros? Or the Twins will be 22 games better than the Royals? Or the Mets will be better than the Phillies?

James Gentile
Member
4 years 7 months ago

OLIVER is the one you are angry at, not MARCELS. The monkey has TB at 88 wins, HOU at 66.

Tasintango
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Tasintango
4 years 7 months ago

Jackson appears to be a good pickup for Washington and could even help them into the playoffs with some luck. Does it make them the favorites? No, but it makes them better. Only down I see on this signing is if I wanted him to sign somewhere else.

Jesse
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Jesse
4 years 7 months ago

What are the odds if Washington hasn’t panned out they can’t find a market for the rest of the jackson contract? I think the guy has been traded a few times before.

Phils_Goodman
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Phils_Goodman
4 years 7 months ago

This article makes me scratch my head. “To what end”? Trying to be competitive and improve their team…. It’s professional sports.

Franco
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Franco
4 years 7 months ago

This is a good deal for about 25 teams out there. 1 year of a good starter at a heavy discount? He makes your team better with no risk. He’s trade bait if you stink, he’s a draft pick if you’re decent. The only scenario that this is not a great deal for a team is that if he’s blocking a major prospect. The Nats had Wang and Lannan penciled into the rotation so that wasn’t an issue.

TJ
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TJ
4 years 7 months ago

Wang should safely be in the rotation. My guess is that Detwiler is pushed to the pen, and if they can deal Lannan, they will. If not, Lannan might be pushed to AAA (has an option left).

What they really need, IMO, is a top of the order bat, preferably in CF, but if they found it in the MI, then you make some corresponding moves to fit said player in. Yes, a bigger bat at first would be nice, but long run, I think they are thinking that Morse goes to first, Bryce is in RF, and Werth moves to LF, so I don’t think first is going to be a high priority unless it’s an elite player that comes at their price.

I think Espinosa eventually moves to short, but I’m not ready to pencil in Rendon at 2nd yet. I’d like to see how he handles that before making such assumptions.

Anon
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Anon
4 years 7 months ago

The Type A/B free agent designation is gone in the new CBA. Next offseason, the Natioanls would have to make a qualifying one-year offer to him, and only if he rejects it do they get compensation if he signs elsewhere (although, assuming he’s healthy, in that case you either get compensation or you get him on a one-year deal at a reasonable price unless he completely collapses in value, so that’s still pretty good)

PaddyG
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PaddyG
4 years 7 months ago

It’s totally possible that any of the contenders (Boston, New York, and Texas particularly) could need to acquire a starter and Washington could shop Jackson for a decent prospect.

Ray
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Ray
4 years 7 months ago

I understand an article like this for, say, Houston, where spending even $8 million seems a waste given their current roster and how little those couple of wins would mean in the end…pocket the dough and save it for another day.

But the Nats, if they get some things to break their way, if they make a move or two to figure out 2B/SS and that OF, that’s a team that could do some damage. And frankly, who’s to say Harper doesn’t bust on the scene with a 3+ win season, then then those fancy projections might have the Nats squarely in the mix for a playoff berth.

Bob
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4 years 7 months ago

Can you really call a 28 year-old getting his first shot at free agency a ‘journeyman’? Yes, Jackson has played for many different teams now, but in each case it was in a trade where the acquiring team wanted to add his services and gave up something of value to get him. I think of a journeyman as somebody who has played for a number of different organizations because he only has marginal talent and is just hoping to make the club. Like Dirk Hayhurst or whatever.

And really, who gives a crap what the projection systems say? Last year, to use two obvious examples, they had the Rays and post-Wainright-injury Cardinals as barely .500 and we all know what happened. Why bash the Nationals for improving the team who a guy who has been seen as one of the potentially best bargains of the offseason here and elsewhere?

Where’s the downside?

chris
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chris
4 years 7 months ago

I don’t hate this move by any means, but I am rather surprised they didn’t snatch up Oswalt instead. Any idea how much he is asking for?

KDL
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KDL
4 years 7 months ago

He’s asking for close to Mississippi…which DC ain’t. And my guess is, the $ they gave to Jackson would not be enough to sway Oswalt.

j6takish
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j6takish
4 years 7 months ago

They got a good player with a huge incentive to perform at less than market value on a one year deal, these are the types of signings that EVERY team should be trying to make, I don’t see the problem with this?

RobBob
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RobBob
4 years 7 months ago

Apparently SOME people refuse to take the Nationals seriously.

Kevin L. Wiley
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Kevin L. Wiley
4 years 7 months ago

It surprises me that on a sight like this one people aren’t pointing out that having 6 projected starters is a good and soeone necessary thing in baseball today.

I really like the signing of Jackson because he is a workhorse, and there is really no downside to signing him.

Also, I don’t see any reason to deal John Lannan who is still under team control and is a solid if unspectactular option.

Wang reestablished himself last year but isn’t someone who you can rely upon in my opinion.

Anyway I think it is an A move by Rizzo and the Nats braintrust.

RobBob
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RobBob
4 years 7 months ago

There’s Detwiler and Gorzellany, too. Gorzo may not be a real starter, but Det is wasted as a long-man-lefty.

JCA
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JCA
4 years 7 months ago

They really have 7-8 starters and no optionable relievers other than Storen (which means they will not option a reliever). True, Lannan has an option, but Detwiler, Gorzelanny, and Wang need to clear waivers if they do not make the team. With 5 bullpen locks (Storen, Clippard, Lidge, Burnett, and Rodriguez), they are going to be forced to either option Lannan, release or trade 1 the staff, or go with 13 ptichers. It is not the greatest roster structure to have that little ability to move guys on and off the 25 man.

They may want to look at trading Gorzelanny or Burnett to make the numbers work a bit better. Detwiler can be the #2 bullpen lefty rather than a long man, and Lannan can be the long man.

Preston
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Preston
4 years 7 months ago

Jackson is a solid pitcher and he makes their rotation look pretty daunting next year. If the Phillies get old quicker they might not be the team everyone expects. If Chipper falls off a cliff (a high likelihood) and Uggla and Heyward don’t bounce back the way people think they will, then that’s not a very good offense. The Nats with a little luck could compete for the division. And if there are two wild cards they could get into the playoffs that way. If not Edwin Jackson has always brought back value at the trade deadline.

Undocorkscrew
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Undocorkscrew
4 years 7 months ago

What makes you think Chipper falling off a cliff is a ‘high’ likelihood? He may miss time, but he’s always produced…..

Preston
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Preston
4 years 7 months ago

Because he’s 40, his production last year was solid, but not up to his standards. It may get worse. I hope he doesn’t, because he’s one of the greatest 3b of all time and the longer we get to see him play the better. But the number in the age column and history are working against him at this point.

Randy
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Randy
4 years 7 months ago

I am a Tigers fan who was recently transplanted to Washington D.C. In the past two years I’ve attended a few Nats games. The stadium is nice (very modern, if you like that) and very fan friendly as far as the quality of the stadium and proximity to the action (the 5 and 10 dollar seats are really high, but close to the field and worth the money). The problem with being in D.C. is that you don’t have a loyal fan base; people show up to the stadium to see other teams play and wear the attire of other teams.

This signing, as well as the Werth deal before, are an attempt to draw fans to the stadium. Washington hasn’t been able to keep teams in the past, and they don’t want it to happen again. Prior to Prince Fielder going to Detroit, I was excited about the prospect of him going to the Nats, and I thought it made sense (more sense than Werth) considering they have some quality pieces to build upon. Offensively, they really need another hitter at the top of the order, whether that’s an on base guy or a power hitter-I don’t think the team as it is assembled is going to score enough runs. However, if all of these pitchers live up to expectations, they have one of the better rotations in the league, with an outside shot at the playoffs (best case scenario, with some breaks). They also have a pretty good bullpen, which helps take some pressure off of the young staff.

I like the signing of Jackson, but I think they should have went ahead and committed more years. I still like it, though, because if they compete then Jackson is an important piece down the stretch, and if not then he is a great piece to trade at the deadline to a contender. It still makes sense for them to deal Desmond for a bat at either 1B or in the outfield. I’m looking forward to going to a few more games this year and seeing if the team can surprise some people and their young players can perform at this level.

pft
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pft
4 years 7 months ago

Their contract with MASN resets and TV revenue stands to double or triple from the previous 29 million. They were in on Fielder, so money is not an issue.

Making the playoffs could be worth another 30 million, and Selig is talking about expanding the playoffs this year if he can work out scheduling problems. 88 W may get you a WC spot this year.

Some of those holes can be filled mid season if the Nats look like contenders. If not, they can trade Wang (if he has a good 1st half) and Jackson to a contender and save about 7 million while picking up some prospects.

So Jackson either helps them get to the playoffs and increased revenues pay for his salary, or he gets them a couple of prospects by the deadline. Win-Win the way I see it.

jlr04
Member
jlr04
4 years 7 months ago

Innings. Lots and lots of innings provided by your starters seem to be constantly overlooked by those drinking the Nats cool-aid. Gio and now Jackson are the only starters the Nats have who can reasonably be expected to provide 190 IP. Strasburg will be limited to 160 max. Zim and Wang are also limited. So Jackson on a 1 year, cheap deal makes all kinds of sense. Still not a contender, Marlins and Braves are better, but they’ll help make things interesting.

Double D
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Double D
4 years 7 months ago

Carson, you may copy-paste this key point in your post above.

KDL
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KDL
4 years 7 months ago

Doesn’t the event this entire article is about cut into your innings, innings, innings theory? If one or two starters are expected to pitch less innings than you’d like a starter to pitch…doesn’t picking up an extra starter for under market cost 1) offer and excellent ‘end’ to the deal, and 2) undercut the very criticism you set out here.

btw – I was not aware ZNN and Wang are scheduled to be limited. Is this a real thing…or are you just suspecting it will happen based on their recent pasts?

John C.
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John C.
4 years 7 months ago

It’s not that Zimmermann or Wang are innings-limited, it’s that Zimmermann has never pitched 200+ innings and Wang hasn’t done it in over three seasons and one shoulder surgery ago. This gives the team depth to have a strong Plan B if Plan A isn’t viable due to injury or poor performance.

mockcarr
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mockcarr
4 years 7 months ago

It seems like the Nats are loading up for a trade, but creative roster manipulation can still work. Lannan’s option, Wang ,Detwiler or another guy in “extended spring training” for some form of arm soreness, etc. There’s always the chance a team doesn’t go into the season with the rotation they want, and will give the Nats something useful for their surplus.

The team likes Desmond a lot more than any projections would predict, and Espinosa’s swoon down the stretch, and struggles against right handers don’t make him a sure thing to have the upper hand in the infield going forward. If the Nats get lucky with Zimmerman’s health, and the other projections and regressions basically hold, they’ll still gain a win or two on offense, and the addition of Jackson and more innings by Zimmermann and Strasburg get them a few more wins – that’s close enough to compete in the wildcard.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
4 years 7 months ago

This article basically says, everything FG said up until this point about value was BS.

Jeff
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Jeff
4 years 7 months ago

To what end?

Worst-case scenario: the Nationals get a first-round supplemental draft pick or a hand-picked prospect via trade. (Remember the Nats lost four prospects for Gio, and Jordan Zimmermann was a first-round supplemental pick four years ago. Alex Meyer, a top-100 MLB prospect, was last year, too).

Best-case scenario: the Nats make the playoffs.

It’s not hard to understand.

The Real Neal
Guest
4 years 7 months ago

Worst cause scenario is that he blows out his rotator cuff in ST, and the Nationals didn’t have any insurance on him so they’re out a cool $12 million (or whatever the contract is), and don’t get a prospect or draft pick.

Brandon T
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Brandon T
4 years 7 months ago

They could also flip him at the trading deadline if they are out of it. That’s one way of buying prospects…

Antonio Bananas
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Antonio Bananas
4 years 7 months ago

I don’t see how this doesn’t make them contenders. With how young they are plus the addition of Stras and a possible June/July Harps call up, they ARE contenders. On paper, I see them as a better team than the Cardinals and pretty much every other team except the Reds, Giants, D’Backs, Braves, and Phillies. The only thing they really have against them other than their offensive holes (and which teams don’t have those?) is their schedule. The NL East is monstrous and they play the AL East in interleague.

The Nats are filled with either young players, or players in their prime, they have a great pen, a real solid offense, a few studly prospects, a now deep rotation. Really, what more do you want? O yea, and they apparently have the ownership and payroll to spend. The Phillies are old as Phuck, Howard is going to be a disaster, Halladay and Lee are in their mid 30 and could realistically drop off pretty dramatically any year. The Braves are full of question marks (as all young pitchers are, plus Heyward, Freeman, and Pastornicky are all under 23). The Marlins made a bunch of dumb signings that could either work out this one year when a miracle happens and none of the old players decline or get hurt or they could be awful.

As a Braves fan, I’m more afraid of the Nationals than the Phillies at this point. Halladay, Lee, Hamels is pretty good, but after that, meh. Stras is every bit as good as Doc if he’s healthy. Lee/Hamels vs Gio/Zimmermann is definately advantage Phillies but not by a lot, not enough to make up for the Nats having a much better offense and bullpen.

Avar
Member
Avar
4 years 7 months ago

Yeah, this article makes zero sense to me. So, your argument appears to be, “why would the Nationals sign Jackson since he doesn’t make them a leading contender?” What a bizarre criteria. You acknowledge that he adds 2 wins. I’m pretty sure that’s why they signed him. To add 2 wins. Who is left that can add more than 2 wins at this point? Also, signing Jackson means their #4 starter had a 3.8 WAR the last 2 years. I’m not sure any other team can say that? It’s a great signing for them with no down side.

gotcha
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gotcha
4 years 7 months ago

So, when a lousy Mariners team trades for Cliff Lee, it vaults them to the top 20% of the organizational rankings because if everything on earth broke their way, they could compete. But if an already solid Nats team signs Jackson for a bargain price, it’s a snorefest?

Aaron (UK)
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Aaron (UK)
4 years 7 months ago

For anyone able to bet with them (i.e. non-US residents), might I recommend the 16/1 (+1600) that UK bookmakers William Hill are offering about the Nationals for the NL?

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
4 years 7 months ago

Any team that signs a 3.5-4 WAR player for 8-12M/y should be praised.

I don;t care if they are a last place team or a 3rd place team or a 1st place team.

That’s good value for a good price, and the name of the game is improving or being more competitive.

To me, the REAL story is a players that’s put up ~12 WAR over the last 3 years (and been consistent) took a 1-year 8-12M deal. That’s the type of deal a player coming off injury has to take, not one that is projected for a reliable and reasonable 3.5 WAR.

I wish StL would have resigned him for 1/12.

Aaron (UK)
Member
Aaron (UK)
4 years 1 month ago

LaRoche, Desmond & even Bernadina seem to be doing just fine (6.5 WAR between them already)…

(Sorry Carson, but I couldn’t resist bumping this given Jackson’s 7 scoreless last night, a post-relocation franchise high of 20 games over .500 and my 16/1 shot now into a general 4/1).

Happy days to be a Nats fan.

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