As we head into the All-Star Break, Chicago Cubs fans – for the most part – feel that the annual midseason fire sale is largely complete, given starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were both already dealt in a single trade to the Oakland Athletics.
But what if Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein aren’t done dealing from their rotation?
Since about this time last season, Cubs fans have been growing more and more impatient with veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson, who, prior to the 2013 campaign, was signed to a four-year, $52 million contract by the Chicago front office – proving to be one of the biggest mistakes of the regime to-date.
Since joining the Cubs, Jackson has made 50 starts, pitching to an earned run average north of 5.00 and putting together a dismal 13-28 record, as well. Big innings have been his undoing for much of 2014, and tensions seem to have reached a breaking point with much of the fan base. Sure, he’s been good for an average of 196 innings per season, meaning he eats a lot of time – a valuable commodity given the Cubs’ pitching relative youth, but at what cost?
After leading the National League with 18 losses last season, Jackson is on pace to potentially breach 20 losses this year. Should he hit that mark, he would be the first 20-game loser in Major League Baseball since 2003, when Detroit Tigers lefty Mike Maroth went 9-21 with a 5.73 earned run average in 33 starts. To find the next 20-game loser, you have to go back all the way to 1980, when Brian Kingman of the A’s lost 20 games. Given he’s on pact to join such unsavory company, the question must be asked: are the Cubs stuck with Jackson?
Any deal, obviously, would have to include Chicago eating a major portion of his contract. The team owes him $11 million annually for 2014 through 2016. Given we’re halfway through this season, that equates to roughly $27 million left on the deal. Given Jackson is a sub-.500 pitcher with a career earned run average of 4.55, no self-respecting team is going to give much up in exchange for him unless Chicago eats a lot of money.
We saw with the Jose Veras deal that Epstein and Hoyer are willing to accept when they make mistakes, evidenced by the fact that just months into a deal, they released the right-hander after he struggled mightily in early season action with the Cubs, but a one-year deal for a reliever and a veteran starting pitcher who is in the middle of a pricey four-year deal are two different matters.
Teams that could be intrigued by Jackson are sparse, but there are potential suitors out there on the market. Recently, the New York Mets made Bartolo Colon available, and between 2014 and 2015, the team still owes the right-hander roughly $14 million. The Cubs could keep an ear to these talks, and offer Colon suitors a younger option with another year of team control, hoping one may bite. This may be a difficult sell, though, given at 41, the righty is 8-8 with a respectable 3.99 earned run average. Don’t forget: last season, Colon finished sixth in American League Cy Young voting with an 18-6 mark with a 2.65 ERA with Oakland.
One potential option, although I, personally would consider it to be a long-shot, is the New York Yankees. Injuries to C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda and prized offseason acquisition Masahiro Tanaka have decimated Joe Girardi‘s starting rotation and adding someone who, at the very least, can eat a lot of innings could entice Brian Cashman.
Jackson also has experience in the American League East, as he played with the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays to begin his career. Although he struggled with Tampa Bay, he has been better in the AL than in the NL, pitching to the tune of a 43-44 mark and a 4.33 ERA in 150 games – 126 of which were starts. With NL teams, the right-hander is 40-55 with a 4.77 earned run average.
Unloading a contract such as Jackson’s will be a tall order, even for the talented duo of Epstein and Hoyer. Cubs fans need to understand, moving forward, that this front office won’t eat money just to eat money. They’ll expect some type of a solid return in a trade involving Jackson and if they can’t find a deal that suits their needs, you can expect to see him trotted out through at least the end of the 2014 season – and possibly through 2016.