Authored by Andrew Perna - 8th February, 2012 - 1:27 pm
The Washington Nationals added to an already deep starting rotation last week when they agreed to a one-year deal with Edwin Jackson. The right-hander opted for this deal over a rumored quartet of offers from American League teams willing to give out multiyear contracts.
He will earn between $9 million and $12 million in 2012, according to numerous reports, and the short term pact will allow the veteran to cash in next winter if he puts up a strong performance. Of course, there is also the chance that his value will decrease significantly if he struggles in Washington.
The concern for Jackson in that respect is very real, especially given his uneven history and the myriad of options that manager Davey Johnson has under contract. In addition to Jackson, the Nationals have Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, John Lannan, Chien-Ming Wang, Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez as starting candidates. If Jackson falters or misses a few starts due to injury, his replacement could easily excel and take over his spot for an extended period of time.
A quick glance reveals a starting five consisting in some order of Strasburg, Zimmerman, Lannan, Gonzalez and Jackson, but they could look to move some of their pitching depth before the season or around the trade deadline in hopes of adding to their offense. Washington has been looking for a center fielder for quite some time and spent most of 2011 flirting with Minnesota's Denard Span.
While he was believed to be in the crosshairs of several teams, Jackson landing in Washington isn't too much of a surprise given the positive working relationship between general manager Mike Rizzo and agent Scott Boras. Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Strasburg are all fellow clients of the super-agent.
The 28-year-old brings some winning experience to the maturing Nationals, who have added a number of older players to their young core this offseason, having won the World Series with the Cardinals this past fall.
He has pitched in parts of nine seasons, but caught on for good in the Major Leagues with Tampa Bay in 2007. Since then, Jackson has started at least 31 games in five-straight seasons, winning at least 10 games in each of the last four years. He has a career ERA of 4.46, but is coming off perhaps the most complete season of his career.
Split between the White Sox and Cardinals, he went 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA (second-lowest) of his career and 148 strikeouts against just 62 walks. His K/BB ratio (2.39) was his second-best over a full season and he kept the ball on the ground with a 0.85 ground ball to fly ball ratio. His ability to keep the ball on the ground is significant, given that Nationals Park saw the ninth-most home runs hit of all ballparks last season.
Jackson's inconsistency is a bit troublesome, but it has been beneficial in the past. He tossed a no-hitter while with Arizona in 2010, but also walked eight batters in the game. He is in many ways the classic hard-throwing pitcher that can be lights-out against one batter and then lose the strike zone completely against the next.
That is because he relies so heavily on his fastball, which he threw 60% of the time last season. If he is able to paint the corners without losing any velocity, he's dangerous. Otherwise, hitters have been able to wait for him to pitch outside enough to get into a favorable count. When he was behind in the count last year, he threw a fastball 72% of the time and hitters can then sit and wait for a heater in a zone of their choosing.
He features a curveball and change-up, but only in the sense that he can throw them if the fastball isn't effective. Jackson threw a curve or change-up just 9% of the time in 2011, while using his slider (29%) as his secondary pitch.
The National League is quite obviously the easier of the two leagues for pitchers, but over Jackson's career he has shown no propensity to pitch better there than in the American League. In 2010, he had a 5.16 ERA in 21 starts with Arizona but shaved that ERA down to 3.24 in 11 appearances with the White Sox.
Grade for Jackson: B-
There really isn't much room for Jackson to grade very high or very low here. If he pitches well and helps the Nationals contend for a rare playoff appearance, his value will increase and he'll likely sign a multiyear deal worth eight figures annually next winter.
If he struggles and Washington is stuck in fourth or fifth place, he could find himself seeking another one-year contract for 2013 in an attempt to drive up his value for the second-straight season.
Grade for the Nationals: B+
While Jackson could remain on the roster for the entire season, he has been dealt at midseason in each of the last two years, this signing is a valuable domino for the Nationals.
He gives them pitching depth, which can be used to acquire offensive talent early in the summer if Washington finds themselves within range of a Wild Card berth. If they are out of the race by July, Jackson or another one of their starters can be traded to a contender in need of the depth that the Nationals currently enjoy.
Dealing Jackson or another one of their starters not named Strasburg, Zimmerman or Gonzalez to a playoff-bound team would allow Rizzo to add young prospects to further enhance the team's future.
With that said, signing a pitcher like Jackson, even to a one-year deal, is proof that the Nationals are serious about winning baseball games and that free agents are starting to view the Capital as a desirable landing spot.
Rizzo continues to change the franchise's culture and this time he didn't have to give an aging outfielder $126 million over seven years to make that statement.