Edwin Jackson has been bad. There is no denying this. There have been games where he's been decent; he's thrown seven quality starts this season, even though it feels like he gets beat up every time out. It's sad to have to finally admit that it looks like the first big Theo Regime free agent just isn't working out.
He had a down season last year, but his peripheral numbers suggested that the poor ERA was an aberration. Most right-thinking people believed that, based on his history, velocity, and consistent exterior numbers, that he would return to being the pitcher that he was for the White Sox, Cardinals, and Nationals.
And through mid-May, this was true. But since, he's been terrible. His ERA (not the best pitching indicator, but still) is up to 5.76. In his last 8 starts, his ERA is 7.52. Batters are hitting .319/.377/.554 off of him during that stretch. That's not just bad, that's not good enough to be in the Major Leagues.
Evan Altman gave a solid suggestion as to why Jackson has been so bad, but I'm not here to make any such hypotheses on that topic. All that matters to me is that he's bad, he's had long enough to figure it out to suggest he won't be getting better, and something needs to be done. So let's look at a few options.
Put him in the bullpen!
I go back and forth on this option. On the surface it makes sense, for at least a few reasons. First, as Evan also suggested, the uptick in his velocity may be more conducive for getting guys out as a reliever. Second, it allows the Cubs to look at another starter. Dan Straily is starting for the Cubs today, and would fit into a rotation alongside Travis Wood, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Tsuyoshi Wada, should he pitch well.
Dallas Beeler is another guy that pitched well at AAA this year, and also did well in his spot start earlier this season. No matter how bad any guys replacing Jackson are, it's still likely worth the tradeoff of finding out just how good or bad they are. The bullpen scenario gives the Cubs an idea of what pitchers may be useful going forward, even if it is only as 6th, 7th, or 8th starters.
The downside is that, by bullpening Jackson, you essentially admit that he's a lost cause. Stick with me on this one. If you leave him in the rotation, you leave open the option that he may have a string of decent starts that improves his numbers. Going into the off-season, at least that gives you some ability to sell a pitching-desperate team on taking him off your hands.
And in general, teams don't usually like to openly give up on 30-year-old starting pitchers with decent velocity and 2 years, $22 million left. It's a bad move for business, unless you're chasing a pennant and desperately need wins. Leaving him in the rotation serves two purposes: if he sucks, you lose more games and get a higher pick; if he rights the ship and pitches well, it makes dealing him a bit easier.
Keep him, pray he figures it out.
Maybe the Cubs look into dealing him in the winter but decide that, for whatever reason, two seasons of bad are an anomaly. Even with the Jackson contract, the Cubs still only have around $50-$60 million in contracts on the books for 2015 (with estimated arbitration raises). It's not like Jackson is preventing them from going and signing a difference-maker.
Let's say they land Jon Lester and plan to pair him with Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood, Kyle Hendricks, and Jackson. You could certainly do worse than that rotation. Of course, you could do better as well. But in the mind of the Cubs front office, if you still don't think your team will be ready to compete until 2016, you might be able to deal Jackson next July if he surprises you and has a decent first half. It's an option that fills our hearts with ache, but we must prepare ourselves for nonetheless.
Bad contract swap!
As Cubs fans, we're familiar with the bad-contract-dump. From Todd Hundley to the Dodgers, Sammy Sosa to the Orioles, Milton Bradley to the Mariners, and Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins, we've learned the hard way that big contracts carry a huge downside. However, sometimes those swaps can work out (look up what the Cubs got for Hundley, for example).
The bad contract swap requires two things: a team that has another bad contract they want to unload (duh), and the general ability for the Cubs to accept that player. For example, trading E-Jax to the Phillies for Ryan Howard would not work, as he's blocked by Anthony Rizzo. Otherwise, that trade would actually be reasonable (depending on the Phillies eating some of the money on their end).
There are a few bad contracts in Major League Baseball that are worth exploring.
*Matt Kemp (OF, Dodgers)
The Dodger's have made no secret of the fact that they've tried to deal Kemp. Since falling off from his MVP-type-season of a few years ago, Kemp is basically a replacement level player (he has a 0.2 WAR in 2014). His batting stats are decent, as his .804 OPS suggests. However, his defense is below-average in center field and it's basically stuck him in left field. But guess what? The Cubs could use an outfielder.
There is potential upside for both, here. Jackson has pitched for the Dodgers before, and perhaps a change of scenery could help him hit the reset button (at least that's what the Dodgers will tell themselves). The Dodgers are very serious about “going for it” right now, and starting pitching depth is necessary for any team with serious aspirations.
The Dodgers have plenty of outfielders and it's been rumored that they don't really want a ton in return for Kemp, just salary relief. If the Cubs were willing to take on the rest of his deal, a straight swap of Jackson and Kemp would make a lot of sense for both teams.
*B.J. Upton (OF, Braves)
I cringed just writing this. Upton is under contract through 2017, and has been flat awful. He slashed .184/.268/.289 in 446 PA in 2013 and .210/.281/.333 so far in 487 PA in 2014. Ouch. The Braves have to be completely desperate to unload him. However, I think the Cubs would really need to be enticed into this deal.
Even forgetting that his contract runs a year longer with $20 million more than Jackson, the swap is flat unfair. The Braves would have to eat a large portion of Upton's money, send another really good player with Upton, send a top prospect, or some combination of the three. If the Braves offered to pay for the entire 2017 season of Upton's deal and, oh let's say, offered a solid starting pitching prospect as well? It might be worth the deal.
*John Danks (LHP, White Sox)
This one is a little out there, as I haven't really heard the White Sox to be needing to unload Danks. However, GM Rick Hahn is an outside-the-box type guy. With a rotation with four potential left-handed starting pitchers in 2015, it would make sense that they could stand to swap one for a righty.
The money and years on the deals are almost identical, the players wouldn't even need to change residences, and it actually makes sense. Danks has been a tad better than Jackson the last two years, and when factoring in that he has pitched in the AL, maybe the Cubs need to throw in a low level prospect to get it done. Jackson plus Stephen Bruno for Danks? DO IT!
*Ricky Romero (LHP, Blue Jays)
This one is worth exploring. Romero has been bad and hurt the last few years. He's had elbow injuries, problems with both knees, and effectiveness issues tied in. If you think Jackson has been bad, check out Romero's stats from 2012 on. The difference is the money, though. Romero is owed $7.5 million in 2015 and $13.1 million in 2016, but with a $600K team buyout option.
So we come to another instance of “realistically good for both.” The Blue Jays could use more pitching depth, as they fancy themselves contenders in the AL East. They were fairly upset to have missed the boat on both Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.
If they could get a return to previous mediocrity from Jackson, it's a great gamble to take. They essentially get a starter for the next two years for only $14 million investment. Even if he's relatively bad, at least he eats the innings and adds depth.
From the Cubs end, they get salary relief to allocate towards other players. They only end up owing Romero slightly more than $8 million after the buyout, so they save around $14 million over the next two years. That money could turn into signing a different starter like Justin Masterson to take Jackson's spot.
For the fact that the Blue Jays take the lion's share of the risk, the Cubs again likely throw in a low level prospect (maybe Dan Vogelbach?) to get this deal done. If they do, it's a win-win for both.
The Edwin Jackson situation is a tough one for the Cubs right now. They have young kids that need a look and Jackson struggling every fifth day. They also have no need to push for more wins right now and a lot of money and time left on his contract. It's delicate to say the least.
Jackson may end up in the bullpen at some point this year, or he may not. But I think the Cubs will have plenty to talk about going into the off-season, whether it be about his standing on the team going into 2015 or what kind of bad contract they could accept in a trade. Either way, Jackson just hasn't worked out for the Cubs and it's time to move forward.
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