The Amazing Instability of Edwin Jackson

Edwin Jackson is not happy with the way his market is playing out. News came out Tuesday, via Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, that Jackson has multiple three-year offers but would instead prefer a one-year deal. As Dave Cameron noted earlier, this plan could easily backfire. Still, the fact that Jackson — a pitcher with three consecutive 3.5 WAR seasons and a 92 ERA- during that span — feels the need to employ this strategy speaks volumes about his perception in the marketplace.

This is just more instability in a career rife with it. Jackson’s trade history is always the first thing that comes up in any discussion of his talents, and it’s difficult to overstate just how extensive that history is. Steve Slowinski produced the following visualization after the sixth — and last — time Jackson was traded prior to reaching free agency:

Throughout his career, Jackson has always been the pitcher who wasn’t quite good enough for a team to make a long-term commitment — but he always has been good enough that a contending team could use him. The Rays liked him, but trading a strength (pitching) for offensive power was an easy move to make. For the Tigers, Max Scherzer seemed to have more talent than Jackson — and at a younger age — and although things haven’t broken that way quite yet, Scherzer is a good pitcher who has potential. Nobody would criticize the Diamondbacks for flipping Jackson for Daniel Hudson. The White Sox arguably got the least for Jackson, bringing back Zach Stewart and Jason Frasor. And then the Blue Jays flipped Jackson for big-talent Colby Rasmus.

The point is, it’s not that teams necessarily wanted to get rid of Jackson. It’s just that the combination of his teams’ situations and the talent offered was too much to turn down.

All of which makes the market collapse we’ve seen for him even more surprising. It wasn’t difficult to imagine some team hitching its wagons to Jackson. But his request of a five-year contract allowed other pitchers to fill spots that otherwise may have been reserved for him. Perhaps a more realistic three-year deal would have been the best way to go. But now it looks like Jackson could endure yet another season of instability, with a one-year contract that could see him as the final piece for a playoff team — or, once again, the being offered at the trade deadline.




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33 Responses to “The Amazing Instability of Edwin Jackson”

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  1. Yirmiyahu says:

    So 6 teams coveted Edwin Jackson so much that they went out and paid whatever it took to get him.

    Why is this not the narrative?

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    • David says:

      Maybe he’s got a lousy agent ;)

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    • Richie says:

      Perhaps because it’s not particularly so. You can spin it that way for every player not claimed on waivers or given an NRI invite to spring training.

      As Matt Schwartz has researched, teams generally know what they ‘re doing in whom they keep and who they let go. Perhaps Jackson is proving the anomaly there. But for whatever reason, he hasn’t gotten the long-term contract his accomplishments suggest he should have.

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    • MikeM says:

      There’s a big difference between needing a date for the dance and getting down on one knee to propose. Jackson has always met the short term need, but that doesn’t make him marriage material.

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  2. Steve K says:

    A one year deal can also add stability.

    Fewer teams would be a willing to trade for him for just a few months. If he has a 3 year deal teams would be tempted to trade him around when the going gets tough. He can include a no-trade clause but teams would only want to reduce the value of the contract. A one year deal would be his best option.

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  3. Anon says:

    The White Sox arguably got the least for Jackson, bringing back Zach Stewart and Jason Frasor. And then the Blue Jays flipped Jackson for big-talent Colby Rasmus.

    These deals don’t happen without other players (who you fail to mention). Toronto received bad players in both deals involving Jackson.

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  4. chuckb says:

    “Instability” is not the word I would use to characterize Jackson based on this article. It’s about him being in demand by other teams or by being unimpressive to current teams or about demanding too much from his contract or about him playing for many teams. It is not, however, about instability by any definition. Instability implies that he has been inconsistent but the article doesn’t even make that point. In fact, there’s nothing in this article, aside from the perception that teams don’t want him or that he asked for too many years, to even point toward why he’s still a free agent or even address his performance at all.

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  5. CircleChange11 says:

    At this point, I think Edwin Jackson is making 2 big mistakes for a player that is not an elite level pitcher and seeking a good, market-value contract.

    1. Be White
    2. Be Left-Handed

    He needs to do one of these two things, preferably both if he expects the deal he seeks.

    I mean, geez, Livan Hernandez and Jason marquis continue to out-earn Jackson.

    There’s simply no way that Edwin Jackson should not get John Danks’s contract. They’re both pretty talented, erratic at times, pitchers in the prime years. Evidently being more consistent and older is better than being more talented and younger as evident by Buehrle’s contract.

    I can’t say I blame EJ for expecting to get a Danks-Buehrle level contract. Geez, the jake Westbrooks, Jeff Suppans, and Kyle Lohse’s of the world have gotten better deals … and Suppan following a WS champ year as well.

    There has to be a perception out there questioning Jackson’s intelligence and/or willingness to learn, because he’s certainly been around enough managers/coaches/GMs and performed well enough over the last 3 years. Teams are usually ruthless in their willingness to win as we’ve seen with other contracts that have no chance at ever paying off in equal terms … yet a guy that’s been rather consistent in value cannot get a contract of lesser money and shorter duration.

    There’s absolutely no reason that Edwin Jackson should have to take a one year deal. There must be some sort of perception or impression among the teams regarding Jackson that does not come through in his metrics.

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    • Undocorkscrew says:

      How many ‘black’ starting pitchers even exist in the majors? Sabathia, Price, Jackson……Willis? Don’t know if you were just joking about that, but I’d hope so…..

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      • Undocorkscrew says:

        Forgot about James McDonald

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      • Chris in Hawaii says:

        And Jerome Williams!

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      • chuckb says:

        It’s obviously a joke. “He’s making a mistake by not being white?” Surely you didn’t think that was a serious statement. It was more a commentary on how mediocre white starters get better contracts than pretty good African American pitchers. It’s certainly not intended to be a racist statement.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        It’s just me voicing my frustration that Jackson cannot get the same deal that Danks and Buehrle received, even though Jackson’s performance is right in line with what the other two have done.

        I can’t honestly sit here and yell racism nor can I act like up some great pursuer of equality or things of that nature, I just like to see players get what they’ve earned (IMO). We see plenty of players get money thrown at them in large amounts for lots of years, and yet EJ as a 3-4 WAR pitcher (that has to be his true talent) can’t find a multi-year deal that pays 10+M/y.

        In trying to think of what elese EJ has to prove above and behind 3 consecutive 3.5+ WAR seasons, all I was left with is that he could be white and/or left-handed. It was meant as sarcasm since he obviously cannot, as a black RHP, be a white LHP.

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    • 44 says:

      clearly, racism

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  6. pft says:

    It’s puzzling to see guys like Jackson and Oswalt still on the market and some of the low ball numbers floating around.

    As for racism, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols say hi, almost 500 million between the two of them. One is African-American, the other African-Latino. GM’s and owners see only 1 color, and thats green. Those who help them earn more green, get more green.

    Maybe pitchers numbers are being helped by the dead ball, and owners know this, so are giving pitchers less credit for their performance, and more credit to hitters.

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    • Beasy Bee says:

      Not sure pointing to Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols dismiss the racism argument. Hasn’t a critique (not to mention the low, overall percentage of black athletes in baseball) been that black superstars are usually recognized, but pretty good, decent, or slightly above replacement level black players are almost nonexistent?

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      • Bip says:

        Chris Rock said that Jackie Robinson didn’t fully break the color barrier. The color barrier was broken when bad black players were able to fill utility infield and bullpen swing man positions. If you ask me, it seems they are still underrepresented in these areas, actually.

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      • gabriel says:

        But overrepresented in among 4th outfielders?

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  7. Madoff Withurmoni says:

    Is it possible the success he’s had under Don Cooper and Dave Duncan is being held against him? Meaning other teams think perhaps he’s the product of miracle workers and won’t fair as well without them.

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  8. cpebbles says:

    Edwin Jackson frequently goes through little stretches where he looks like the terrible pitcher he was when he first came to the big leagues. That scares teams off. That’s really all there is to this.

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  9. Mrdaikon says:

    I’ve got the answer to both why he’s still unsigned AND his tremendous number of trades during his short career. It’s a clubhouse issue. Circle Change alluded to an unknown factor, and if he were a clubhouse problem then neither would we have heard of it nor would he be signed to a multiyear deal. We’ll see if he lands one. And then we’ll see if he gets traded quickly. But that’s been my theory about Edwin Jackson.

    Another player whom I had wondered why he hadn’t gotten more contract lovin’ was Orlando Hudson. A pretty decent all around player, average hitter, average fielder, nothing special but a valuable asset. Then I saw a video taken of O-Dawg. Guy’s a wingnut, just kinda out there. And in a small clubhouse for 162 it could get pretty annoying. Point is, it’s hard to tell how to weigh clubhouse issues, but they are there and have weight

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  10. Antonio Bananas says:

    I know this is fangraphs and “lol @ emotion” but how much has being traded so much changed his stats? He’s never in a familiar park or against familiar hitters. Then again, that could be an advantage too.

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  11. Todd Doug says:

    “big talent Colby Rasmus”

    LOL

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  12. james wilson says:

    Jackson sure reminds me of Dave Stewart’s talent level and lack of success for many years before he figured something out. Nobody said why he stunk and why he suddenly didn’t when he became Oakland’s ace, unless that was Dave Duncan too. Maybe Jackson needs to talk to Stewart. If I recall correctly, there was a general aversion to Stewart off the field even after he became good, and still is. Nobody gave a hint why that was, but it was. And still is. This is a guy who is intelligent and well spoken. So too there is something else to Jackson, or there is something wrong with most Major League organizations. To close to call.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      IIRC, correctly Dave Stewart was quite intense and private … it created the perception of “angry black man” (?). Stewart’s personality reminded me of Bob Gibson, sort of the all business, no fun approach … well, y’know the approach that’s celebrated if you’re name is Roy Halladay, but not necessarily if you’re black.

      I think we can all admit that there are personality qualities that are perceived differently among groups and genders. There are some qualities in the business world that if displayed by a woman, for example, lead to names like “bitch” and “ice princess”, but in a man they would be leadership qualities, no nonsense, or all business.

      I think the same thing exist with seriousness and intensity with race. White people are supposed to be unemotional and robotic. When the same qualities exist in a black person, they’re angry or uncomfortable.

      To be fair, Dave Stewart used it to his advantage, pulling his hat down low, curving the bill, always having a scowl, and never smiling. But, Roger Clemens pretty much does the same thing. I was going to say Chris Carpenter, but I saw him smile once. At least I think it was a smile, it might have just been gas.

      I would be disappointed if teams thought Jackson was lazy and/or unintelligent if the perception is “he should be better” because there are more than their fair share of dumb white pitchers out there, that “should be better” yet never seem o put together the control and command to match their “stuff”.

      I don’t really want to start a racism or stereotypes debate, or act as if I have inside information. But, it does get me wondering since we don’t even see sabermetric front offices (no emotional, performance-based, etc) involved in signing EJ to a longer deal.

      I’ve never heard of EJ having mechanical issues that would lead to an injury. My frustration in watching him pitch is how often he misses IN the strike zone, but he’s not unique in that regard.

      From 09-11, Edwin jackson has been as valuable as Josh Beckett and more valuable than James Shields, Gallardo, and a host of other pitchers that even I view as being “better than EJ”. He’s under-appreciated, and it may have to do with [1] not being able to identify him with any single team, and [2] lack of real post-season memories, or [3] lack of a real dominant season.

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      • DC says:

        Don’t forget Shields had a giant mulligan of a season in 2010. As for your cultural perspective, I sincerely hope the popularity of one Tony Plush can point to some positives.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Tony Plush wasn’t so popular in 2010 when he was starting fights with the Marlins and generally pissing everyone off.

        He was, however, very popular when he was being all jubulant and walk-offy with the Brewers.

        Society likes black guys when they’re all laughy and fun and stuff, when they’re serious, intense, and no-nonsense, they make “us” nervous.

        As a white guy we used to tease black friends about this situation. Any time they would get “too serious” or start to get frustrated about something we’d chime in the “Whoa, whoa. Easy big fella. Calm down. Deep breaths. Just step back” … and the like, y’know as if a serious or frustrated black man was a WMD or something.

        I don;t know what any of this has to do with Edwin Jackson, because I don;t know if I’ve ever seen him mad and/or serious. He seems very mild-mannered and clam, like a bubbling brook. Never completely still, yet never making too many waves.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Circle if it was because people were afraid of the angry black guy, I think you’d actually want to sign him. If it’s as intimidating as you think, imagine standing in the batter’s box and the person you’re intimidated by has a hard weapon he can sling at you at over 90MPH. I don’t think race has anything to do with it.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I said in my last paragraph that EJ is pretty much the opposite of the “angry black man” scenario. Someone referred to clubhouse issues as a possibility earlier and I noted the ABM personality, and that EJ’s about as far from that as you can get.

        If I had a guess, I’d say that the perception of EJ is just another black athlete that’s supremely talented but could be a lot better if he had the mental faculties to focus more or make better adjustments.

        Meanwhile, the same personality in John Danks and well, he’s just a wacky lefty. What can ya do?

        I could be way off with these statements, but it’s apparent to me that it’s not performance based.

        If EJ really does have a sweet 3-4 year deal from BAL on the table he needs to take it and stop trying to get BOS and NYY to up their offers by using another team as leverage. I don’t think EJ is so valuable that he can afford to use that type of leverage. It’s as likely that the “other team” just decides to pull their offer rather than be used for leverage to go to a better team.

        If EJ is content with just having short term deals for contenders, ala David Cone, then he can go that route.

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