Would Taking a One-Year Deal Help Edwin Jackson?

While there are still a number of free agents on the market, there are only three guys left who project to make a significant impact on a team’s win total next year – Prince Fielder, Roy Oswalt, and Edwin Jackson. Fielder is still available due to a strategy decision by his agent, who has dragged out the process to try and lure more teams into the bidding. Oswalt is reportedly being picky about where he’ll sign, and as an older pitcher coming off an injury plagued season, he fits the mold of guys who traditionally sign later in the off-season. Jackson remains on the market, however, simply due to a lack of interest in his services.

The Yankees were rumored to be a potential landing spot, but they traded for Michael Pineda and signed Hiroki Kuroda instead. The Red Sox seem to prefer Oswalt. The Reds gave their last remaining free agent dollars to Ryan Madson and Ryan Ludwick. Most of the other teams still shopping for starting pitching seem to be looking through the bargain bin, deciding between the likes of Rich Harden, Jeff Francis, or Zach Duke. So, today, Ken Rosenthal reported that Jackson may settle for a one-year deal with plans of hitting the market next winter and landing a bigger contract.

This plan has worked for others before – Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman, Carl Pavano, Bobby Abreu, Randy Wolf, and Kyle Lohse are all guys who took one year deals in order to try and re-establish some value, then had a good season and cashed in with larger contracts the following winter. However, in just about every case, the player was coming off a lousy season compared with what they’d done in years prior. Beltre (8 HRs in 2009) and Berkman (14 HRs in 2010) were coming off seasons where their power disappeared. Bobby Abreu was headed into his age-35 season and his defense had degraded to the point where he needed to be moved to DH. Pavano posted a 5.10 ERA in the first healthy season he’d had in five years, while Wolf had just put up a 4.30 ERA while spending the first two-thirds of the season pitching in Petco Park. Lohse’s 4.62 ERA, supported by mediocre strikeout and ground ball rates, also wasn’t overly appealing.

These guys had reason to believe that they could perform better in the following season than they had in the just completed campaign, and by putting up better numbers, they could attract more attention during the following off-season. For each of them, there was legitimate potential for a bounce back season, and that expectation of improvement helped lead them to decide to take a one year contract.

Which brings back to Jackson – what, exactly, is he supposed to improve upon in 2012? He’s already shown that he’s durable, as only 16 pitchers in the sport have thrown more innings over the last three seasons. He posted a 3.79 ERA last year while pitching most of the year for the White Sox, who play in one of the most offense-friendly ballparks in the game, and his results matched his peripherals nearly to a tee. Should Jackson really expect to post significantly better numbers than 200 innings pitched with a 94 ERA- next year? It’s possible, I guess, but his 2011 results line up fairly well with what we’d expect from his skillset, and barring some unforeseen development of a new pitch, it’s pretty unlikely that Jackson’s going to drastically improve his numbers in 2012.

The market isn’t asking Edwin Jackson to prove that he’s healthy or that his numbers from a year ago weren’t a sign of worrisome decline – the market has just rejected Jackson as a quality starting pitcher entirely. This was a terrible crop of free agent starting pitchers, with three teams in need of upgrades deciding that they’d rather gut their farm systems in order to bring in an arm via trade rather than open their wallets to sign someone from this group. Jackson hit the market at exactly the right time – a thin group of other starters to choose from, headed into his age-28 season, coming off a pretty solid year overall. And still, the market has essentially told him “No thanks.”

Next winter, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, Anibal Sanchez, Shaun Marcum, Colby Lewis, and Brandon McCarthy are all slated to hit the market, so Jackson won’t have the benefit of being a medium sized fish in a little pond. He’ll be a year older, and of course, there’s the ever-present chance that he’ll suffer an arm injury that could greatly harm his value. In order to be in a position to land a big contract in 12 months, he’d have to force teams to abandon the things they hold against him now – mainly, his perceived inconsistency.

But, if Jackson didn’t answer those questions in 2011, it’s tough to know exactly what he’d have to do in order to answer them in 2012. A reduction in his hit rate would probably help a bit, but he stranded about as many runners as we’d expect him to even if he didn’t have the high BABIP, so it’s unlikely that his run prevention numbers are going to drastically decline. He averaged 6.1 innings per start, and only the game’s truly elite hurlers do much better than that. And, despite the inconsistent tag, the standard deviation of his game scores was just 15.6, a mark that stacks up well against other good-not-great innings eaters.

If the market wasn’t willing to pay Jackson big money this winter, I just don’t know that it’s reasonable to expect that it will pay him big money next winter. Major League teams currently have ample evidence that suggests he’ll be a solid +3 win pitcher with few health concerns for the next several years, and yet, they have shown little interest in paying him as a guy who can perform at that level. Outside of just having an unexpected breakout performance, I’m not sure what else Jackson could do to convince teams of his value. He built a nice resume, hit the market at a young age, and everyone still passed.

If there’s a multi-year offer on the table, even something as small as $30 million over three years, Jackson should probably take it. It’s not close to what he’s likely to be worth over the next three seasons, but there’s little evidence that suggests Major League teams are ever going to warm up to him. They’ve got three years of data that shows he’s a quality arm – is adding a fourth really going to make much of a difference?

Someone’s going to get a steal with Edwin Jackson, and given what he’s likely to do for the price he’s going to cost, the signing team should probably want to lock him in at these rates for the next few years. From Jackson’s perspective, he’s just been given a thorough rejection in his efforts to land a long term contract in a market where he should have been a pretty well sought after commodity, so he shouldn’t expect that posting another 200 inning season with a decent ERA will land him a raise next winter.

I just don’t see how settling for a one year deal is in anyone’s best interests. Jackson should take as much guaranteed cash as he can get, and the teams that have some money left in the budget should be happy to take him at bargain rates for the next three or four years.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

33 Responses to “Would Taking a One-Year Deal Help Edwin Jackson?”

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  1. Dave says:

    Damn, I feel sorry for the guy!

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  2. dan woytek says:

    In a moment of conjecture:
    Is this just an instance of a guy getting a weird rep, simply because he’s been traded so many times?

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    • fly eli and tony plush says:

      that’s what was crossing my mind- that, and the fact that his results don’t match his stuff (high velocity, pitch to contact- he looks like he should be a strikeout machine, with the ability to hit 96-98). He seemed inconsistent young- perception doesn’t seem to match reality.

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        I’ve never understood why being traded 5 times is necessarily a bad thing. Sure, it could mean that 5 teams were disappointed in him and wanted to get rid of him. But it could also mean that 5 teams coveted him and wanted to acquire him.

        Top prospect Anthony Rizzo has now been with 3 teams in the past year or so. But is it because they all gave up on him, or because Jed Hoyer loves him so much that he’s now acquired him 3 times?

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  3. bpdelia says:

    Interesting now that i reflect though. With the fielder and Jackson negotiations nowhere near where we thought and Wilson signing on the low end of his projected payday is it possible we are finally seeing a market correction for good not brest players? Sabathia, hamels etc are gonna get top dollar but maybe going forward guys with ANY question marks(fielder,Cain,grienke,) and guys who offer little star upside are not going to continue to get semi speculative mega deals.

    Or maybe its just the phillies, red sod, angels and Yankees for one reason or another based on $$and or roster construction were nit involved with these hugs effectively devastating the market for them. Next year with Sanchez, Cain, marcum and grirnke should be very interesting. Hamels is getting a mega deal. The others? Who knows.

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  4. Baltar says:

    Maybe Fielder should settle for a 1-yr deal.

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  5. David says:

    Maybe it’s society?

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  6. Slappy says:

    For the love of God…..blink will you please.

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  7. Misfit says:

    I think this is mostly an example of a guy’s reputation hurting him. He’s bounced around the last few years without much of a perceived impact on the various teams he’s joined. People also remember him as the super prospect and still look at the radar gun readings while he pitches and wonder how a guy with this much talent can’t break through. He’s also been around for awhile, so even though he’s 28 and still in his prime, I don’t think anyone expects improvement going forward. Boras probably hasn’t changed his demands either and we don’t know what he’s asking for (probably more than he’s worth). I’m waiting for Boras to start screaming collusion since his clients aren’t having the best off-season (which could change quickly if Fielder inks his assumed mega deal).

    If teams were to take an objective look at Jackson they’d probably be willing to invest 4 years for a 3 win per year pitcher. I think what’s happening is that teams are willing to overspend on perceived stars, but the ones that fall somewhere in the middle aren’t commanding WAR dollars. I agree that a one year deal would be foolish and would not be a benefit to the player unless the offers coming his way are truly insulting.

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  8. adohaj says:

    His 2010 ERA is ruining him

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  9. Mr. Clutch says:

    Why the Red Sox have not taken advantage of this situation and gobbled him up is beyond me.

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    • B N says:

      Too much money stuck in Lackey. Which is unfortunate, as even before Lackey’s great implosion with the Red Sox, I would have taken today’s Jackson over him for even money.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      If he’d be willing to accept a 1-year deal, I wouldn’t count them out.

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    • ODawg says:

      I hope Cherington pulls a Theo and goes up to the big office to explain why this should happen despite the luxury tax. I’d much prefer Jackson to Oswalt. Based on past results of all parties considered, EJ would start the season as our No. 4 starter and at various times of the season cycle through being our best to fifth-best guy going. But at least we know, as much as you can ever know these things, that he’d be out there giving six innings.

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  10. Clark Addison says:

    I bet the Royals and Pirates would love to get E-Jax in their rotation for 10 mil a season. How much of it is that he doesn’t want to play for a crappy team (a la Prince and Seattle)?

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  11. Greg says:

    Look at Jackson’s ERA by year since 2008: 5.76, 4.42, 3.62, 4.47, 3.79. Yes, he has been solid all around the past 3 years, but it doesn’t surprise me that teams aren’t willing to offer up a long term commitment, especially when the large market teams don’t really have any more money to spend this off-season (Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Dodgers, Giants, Angels, etc.). I think he could still get something like 3 years/$36 million, but that’s about it.

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  12. walt526 says:

    Jackson should be a cautionary tale for good-but-not-great players that it is possible to price oneself out-of-the-market with initial demands. GM’s determined that committing $75M over 5 years was too much, particularly since so many better young arms figure to be free agents next year.

    Also, given his disasterous (by ERA) stint with Arizona, Jackson’s ERA progression perhaps looked a little too similar to a former Dodger from ten years ago, Chan Ho Park (who signed $65M over 5 years with Texas).

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  13. Snowblind says:

    2 other possibilities I didn’t see mentioned:

    1. The teams that currently have the money, and the short-term rotation holes, have some interesting pitching prospects that are just about to break out. Not so much a matter of worrying that Jackson would block said prospects; just that the money could be spent elsewhere to get much the same value.

    The Mariners might be one example. The M’s could invest in Jackson now… but they have Paxton, Hultzen and Walker coming within the next couple years. That money might be better spent on some premium players to shore up areas where the farm has no true saviors coming for several years. There are multiple chances for +3 win players from their farm’s pitching in the next few years. Not necessarily from say, the next crop of home-grown M’s outfielders.

    2. He might have some rep around character, clubhouse or other intangibles that just make people worry (irrationally) that he’s going to go all Zambrano on them. Note that I am not casting aspersions on him at all and have no anecdotal evidence here. For all I know he’s a sweet, puppy-loving, help-old-ladies-cross-the-street kind of fellow.

    I’m just saying that if there’s no rational, objective reason to be found, by looking at the same data that anyone else can – i.e. multiple front offices with full-time, presumably smart statisticians, scouts and other analysts – there might be something else that you don’t get from just his numbers.

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    • Kkhat29 says:

      Snow blind, I can guarantee you that as for the character part, he’s more of the “help old ladies across the street” type. It’s not that!

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  14. JMag043 says:

    I think its really a bunch of small issues coupled with the market not being there.

    - His ERA’s haven’t been great
    - he’s been traded so many times
    - People don’t believe there is any upside (people need to value Jackson as an innings eater not a top of the rotation guy)

    With that being said, if a guy like Randy Wolf can get 3/30 I don’t see why you wouldn’t give Jackson a similar deal. He’s been worth over 3 WAR the past 3 seasons and it wouldn’t be a bad deal even if he only produced 2 WAR.

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  15. Antonio Bananas says:

    I don’t get why the Royals wouldn’t want him. He eats innings and pitches well. Sanchez/Jackson, and then if you want to get crazy with the dreaming, add Oswalt. That’s not a bad front 3 with the young guys/older guys who used to be primising and young (Hochevar) fighting for the last 2 spots. With that bullpen and that lineup? Come on now.

    Or even the Cardinals. Waino is coming off TJ and Carp is ancient. Jackson would be a great guy to have while you wait for/if Miller/Martinez/Jenkins develop into something while the rest of the rotation rots away because they’re old. Helps preserve the pen a little too.

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  16. Jay says:

    Given what Boras just pulled off for Prince, isn’t is reasonable to think he’s got some aces up his sleeve for Jackson too? I expect some “mystery team” will overpay Jackson in the next week or so.

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  17. JCzymurgist says:

    Genius? Look what happened with Ryan Madson.

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