Baseball is a business, and whatever the market dictates for a player is what he will receive. In other words, whatever a team is willing to pay a player is what he’ll earn.
Enter the recent case of the Chicago Cubs and starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.
The 29-year-old righty signed a lucrative four-year, $52 million deal with the Cubs in mid-December. The Cubs will be Jackson’s eighth team in 11 big league seasons.
Jackson owns a 70-71 career record with a 4.40 career ERA. These are certainly solid numbers for a back-of-the-rotation-type starting pitcher.
However, with Jackson’s new contract, he’ll be paid as a frontline starter on a team that really has little chance of competing the next few seasons. This signing is certainly curious.
Over the past three seasons, Jackson has season records of 10-12, 12-9 and 10-11. The 10-11 mark came last season when Jackson pitched for the NL East division-winning Washington Nationals, who provided him with plenty of offense.
Again, no knock on Jackson here. He is what he is: a good fourth or fifth starter on a competitive team. He’s also been durable, making at least 30 starts in each of his six seasons as a starter.
But Jackson is definitely not a guy who should have received a four-year, $52 million contract.
Sure, the right-handed starting pitching market after Zack Greinke this offseason was mediocre. Anibal Sanchez re-signed with the Tigers, Dan Haren signed with the Nationals, Ryan Dempster with the Red Sox, Joe Blanton with the Angels, Kevin Correia with the Twins, Jeremy Guthrie re-signed with Royals, Brandon McCarthy signed with the Diamondbacks, and Kyle Lohse is still available.
Teams typically overspend for starting pitching because it is so integral to the success of a franchise. Based on need, a middling starter can be paid like an ace, as in the case of Jackson.
Jackson is not the missing link that will turn the Cubs into a World Series contender. The team has some talented young players in Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, but Chicago is still in a rebuilding phase and will likely be for the next four seasons.
So why would the team invest $52 million in a career .500 pitcher when it will likely finish near the bottom of the NL Central anyway?
Leave that question for Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to answer.
Not surprisingly, Jackson’s contract does not include a no-trade clause. After two years, don’t be surprised if Jackson is suiting up for his ninth team, with the Cubs taking on the bulk of his contract.