Edwin Jackson has capped a busy offseason for the Chicago Cubs in 2012. Edwin Jackson represents a huge shift in the philosophy of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. The mantra of the front office has been creating short term assets to turn into long term assets. That has been the plan. Or maybe not.
Edwin Jackson accepted a contract from the Cubs that by almost all objective measures was market value for his production. He is 29 years old, and has averaged a 4.10 ERA over 31 starts the past three seasons. The 31 starts is the important feature that has been overlooked by many given the current construction of the Cubs staff with guys who have either never made it through a full season starting or coming off of injury.
The signing of Edwin Jackson, though a nice addition to the roster in it of itself but more importantly the first real attempt to deliver on Theo Epstein’s promise of parallel fronts. Following the 101 loss season many have exposed a theory that Epstein and company plan to field lineups on the cheap to tank for high draft picks while the owner lines his pocket. The idea being that Epstein’s plan was to build solely through the farm system.
The first proof to counter that theory was offered by the Cubs pursuit of veteran relievers. The Cubs added two veteran relievers from NPB. The Cubs also were heavily involved in trying to sign Jason Grilli, and may still be in pursuit of J.P. Howell. While these moves certainly didn’t break the bank, the Cubs have invested significant dollars into the bullpen for 2013 and 2014 this offseason. These all point to the Cubs not planning to suck forever.
Much hand wringing at the end of the season was directed at the Cubs shrinking payroll totals. It did drop dramatically from the 130 million figure to under 110 million in 2012, but the payroll right now appears to be right in the neighborhood of the 2012 figure. The Cubs payroll sits at $62 million currently, but that doesn’t reflect arbitration and the most recent free agent acquisitions, which should add up to around $98 million. Edwin Jackson’s contract has an odd provision with an 8 million signing bonus. Many speculated that the signing bonus would be paid in 2012 and count against the budget for that year, but as the year is nearly over and no official announcement of the signing I don’t believe that it is possible to retroactively pay that bonus to Jackson. That means that the payroll is at $106 million right now. It is possible that the Cubs will drop that figure with trades, but unless Matt Garza is moved prior to the start of the year I highly doubt that it will drop below 100 million which most seemed to indicate was assured.
The payroll maintaining at the low $100 million dollar level, the short term acquisitions in the bullpen and a long term piece being added in Edwin Jackson all point to an eye being competitive in the short term. And that is really why the crux of those opposed to the plan falls apart. There is no way that Theo Epstein on a 5 year deal could show enough by just waiting for his own prospects to develop. The front office has four years to show progress towards being a regular contender, and the vast majority of prospects that have been added will not be ready until the end of Theo’s tenure. A strong farm system is a huge component to the plan, but it is not the only piece of the plan.
Edwin Jackson’s deal at 4 years is the most that Theo Epstein (and Jed Hoyer, the general manager) has committed to a player besides Jorge Soler. The deal runs the length of Theo Epstein’s contract with the Chicago Cubs. The $52 million is nearly twice the amount given to Soler which is the highest dollar amount handed out by the new regime. Jackson’s contract basically means that the Cubs envision him as part of a team that IS competitive.
It has been suggested that the signing of Edwin Jackson is merely a PR ploy. That the Cubs front office realizes that they need to give something for fans to come to the ballpark. I will not dismiss that this played any role in the signing of Edwin Jackson, but I hope that the front office is smart enough to realize that winning is what will bring fans back quicker than anything. I also question the amount that Edwin Jackson fires up the win now portion of the fan base.
The bottom line is that this offseason has been the first attempt to deliver the promise of developing on two fronts. The Cubs are not going to be a playoff contender this season, and the odds are stacked against them in 2014. However, the Cubs have added a piece that will be here when this front office envisions this team being competitive, and the tear down phase of the rebuild is nearly complete. There is still a ways to go, but the front office is signaling that there is light at the end of the tunnel.