Edwin Jackson is a 27-year-old, hard-throwing pitcher who just helped his team win the World Series, but will he be paid like a garden-variety innings-eater?
In the middle of September, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about the wizardry of Edwin Jackson. For a 27-year-old pitcher who throws 95-m.p.h. fastballs, he sure gets passed around like a crappy digital picture frame. But wherever he went, he left behind a 2011 playoff team.
Jackson was traded for Matt Joyce, who helped the Rays make the playoffs. He was part of trades for Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, who helped the Diamondbacks make the playoffs. Same with Curtis Granderson for the Yankees, and Curtis Jackson and Max Scherzer with the Tigers. He indirectly gave the Phillies Danys Baez, who probably put Ex-Lax in Cliff Lee's coffee before Game 2.
It was creepy back then. That was before the Cardinals came back from a 10+ game deficit. Then they won three straight playoff series. It's now quite clear that Edwin Jackson is a warlock. I'm not saying he should be prosecuted for his crimes against the natural world just yet, but we should keep an eye on him. Everything that happened in the 2011 Playoffs happened because teams liked to trade away their flamethrowing pitcher with a favorable contract. That's just not normal. Edwin Jackson not existing would have led to eight different playoff teams, you have to believe me. I'll guess that instead of Granderson, the Yankees would have traded for Aaron Rowand, who would have collided with Derek Jeter on a shallow pop-up, ruining his bid for 3,000 hits*.
So how much would your team pay for a omnipotent puppet master? Sadly, that's not relevant to the question. Teams don't care about crackpot theories, even when they're supported by science. They'll look at Jackson's pitching abilities instead. And what they'll find, like the rest of us, is a heckuva confusing pitcher.
That's Jackson's post-Dodgers career, which eliminates the injurious three years he spent in Los Angeles. He was brought up as a 19-year-old for some reason after a very nice year in AA for a 19-year-old. The key phrase there is "for a 19-year-old." He came up, struggled to throw strikes, blew out his arm, and was traded for Baez. At an age where most pitchers are getting drafted out of college, Jackson was a reclamation project.
After leaving the Dodgers, his career went something like this:
Tigers: Pretty good!
White Sox: Pretty good!
Cardinals: Pretty good!
The trend is encouraging, at least. His command is improving -- Game 4 aside -- and his strikeout rate is now around the league average for a starter, which it certainly wasn't for his worst year in Tampa. He's made at least 32 starts in each of the past five seasons, so he's put the teenaged injuries behind him.
The question, then, is what do teams want to pay for? His potential, or his ability to be just a shade above average as he munches innings? It's not so silly to think of him as still having untapped potential -- he's just a few months older than Scherzer, with whom the Tigers are right to be patient. But when inking a three- or four-year contract, it's hard for a team to get super excited about untapped potential. This is called the Gil Meche Conundrum, which was just a rewriting of the Darren Dreifort Dilemma.
It'll likely be a combination of both. Jackson will get a multi-year deal because he's been average or better for the last four years, but there will be a little extra scratch thrown in because of the potential. So where a guy like Jake Westbrook received a 2-year/$17.5 million contract from the Cardinals, Jackson will get more because he could turn into something more. Westbrook is Westbrook is Westbrook.
Prediction: Marlins -- 3 years, $34 million. The Royals have an acute need for an above-average starter, as do the Nationals, but the Marlins depth chart is still showing Chris Volstad as their fifth starter, possibly with Wade LeBlanc fighting for a spot. That's no way for a big-market team to enter the season. A commitment to Jackson wouldn't be a long-term fiasco, but a three-year deal could pay off even if Jackson doesn't improve at all.
* Jeter's bid, not Rowand's.