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Cubs still have no answer to the $52 million question that is Edwin Jackson
NEW YORK – It’s no secret that the Cubs plan to consider a deep dive into free agent pitching waters this offseason to address their pitching deficit.
How might the $52 million signing of Edwin Jackson – by far this front office’s biggest in three years in charge – affect decisions on free agents going forward?
General manager Jed Hoyer suggested it was premature to talk about takeaways from the Jackson signing less than two years into a four-year deal.
Never mind that it has been a 14-31, 5.31 bust so far. This year Jackson has only seven quality starts in 25 outings.
That’s the stuff that makes Cubs execs scratch their heads evaluating the career arc of Jackson since signing him as a 29-year-old former All-Star two winters ago.
“For the most part, pitchers usually get better and better as long as they’re healthy and keep their stuff,” Hoyer said, “because they learn how to command the ball better. So a big part of our attraction to him was durability. He’s been healthy. He’s always been in a rotation and taken his innings. That part hasn’t changed.”
And, significantly, neither has the 94-mph fastball or the quality of his breaking pitches.
“The stuff is still there. The velocity’s still there,” Hoyer said. “I think it’s his location. When he pitches up in the zone he gets hit, and the times he’s been able to stay down in the zone and locate his fastball away, he’s had some success.”
That being the case, the thought of moving him to the bullpen is almost a non-starter – especially since a disproportionate amount of the damage he gives up comes in the first inning.
The Cubs have been baffled and frustrated by such a dramatic decline in performance at this stage in his career – a 56-game stretch with the Cubs that is easily his worst extended stretch since his first full season in the big leagues (5-15, 5.76) as a 23-year-old with Tampa Bay.
“He had one bad year… and then really established himself,” Hoyer said, “and had some ups and downs but was always pretty consistent with innings and performance. It’s really been a chance from what he had established.
“It’s been frustrating to him and frustrating for us. I think he’s been searching for answers and we have as well. He’s been a great teammate. And we know he cares. He’s accountable. The results just haven’t been there yet.”
So what next? Skip him in the rotation, once, twice, regularly the rest of the way? Move him to the bullpen and hold your breath?
A trade is all but impossible.
Hoyer talked about the idea of trying “something creative” to open starting opportunities for three recently acquired pitchers down the stretch – and clearly Jackson’s spot is insecure enough to be right in the middle of that conversation.
But with more than $25 million left on a contract that runs through 2016 – with a pitcher still throwing as hard as many starters in the game – it’s at least a costly proposition to write him off, no matter how fed up the club is with the results.
“We’re trying to give him the opportunity to right the ship,” Hoyer said. “It seems like the first inning we’re in a hole right away and he’s kind of battling right away and we haven’t been able to solve that problem.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to find a solution by the end of the year. That’d be our goal, to go into the offseason with a little momentum there.”