Problems with finding a stadium that he spent his first spring with the Cubs working at aside, Edwin Jackson‘s time with the Cubs has been a colossal disappointment. After signing a 4 year, $52M deal, Jackson was supposed to be a player who improved with the stability of a long-term contract. Instead, the consolation prize to missing on Anibal Sanchez hasn’t offered much consolation at all. In his two years with the Cubs, Jackson has amassed 316 innings and a 5.58 ERA, and has walked roughly one batter for every 2 he’s struck out. All in all, it’s been a rough couple of seasons for a pitcher who was a solid middle to back end starting pitcher before arriving in Chicago.
Knowing the tough time Jackson has had with the Cubs, the question now is what the Cubs should do with him when they break camp. It is difficult to justify putting him in the starting rotation. The bullpen is an option, but that would probably eliminate a spot for someone more deserving. And he hasn’t exactly lit it up during this spring to justify him staying on the roster. It is genuinely a difficult situation for the club, and for Jackson. In spite of all of his struggles, Jackson is well-regarded by his teammates, especially younger players who credit him for helping them learn about life in the major leagues. Kyle Hendricks went out of his way early in a spring interview to praise Jackson for helping him when he was called up last summer. Reporters credit Jackson for standing in front of his locker after every rough outing and taking the heat. And at the convention, in spite of the (ridiculously stupid) booing he took this year, he was happy to sign for the fans who wanted his autograph in the same way he was when he made his first Cubs Convention appearance. Unfortunately for both the Cubs and for Jackson, it hasn’t worked out on the mound like either side would have wanted when he was signed.
There are options for the Cubs with Jackson, although none of them are great.
1. They keep him on the active 25 man roster
While this option seems to be the most likely of all of them, it is the most difficult to justify. Edwin has not been effective as a Cubs pitcher. There is almost no chance he winds up in the starting rotation. His fastball and slider are good enough that they could play in the bullpen, but it is not a familiar role for him, anymore. If it works out, it could be great. Edwin in the bullpen could be an Edwin with great stuff that avoids the “E-Jax Inning” Cubs fans have come to know and dread. On the flip side, Jackson hasn’t been known for bringing it out of the chute in his starts, and out of the pen he would have to bring it, likely with less time to get as warm as he has as a starting pitcher.
2. They cut him
Cutting Edwin Jackson comes with all of the benefits of not having to figure out what to do with him within the organization without the benefit of financial relief. In some ways, the financial aspect of this is aside from the point. The Cubs are on the hook for the remaining $22M of Edwin Jackson’s contract if they keep him or if they cut him loose. Theo will have to determine the best course of action in that sense. Although Tom Ricketts says he doesn’t get involved in baseball decisions, he may have some input on whether he is going to pay another player to go away, like he signed off on with Carlos Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano. At least in those cases, the Cubs got something in return. With Jackson, that wouldn’t be the case. This would be a straight sunk cost.
3. They work out some sort of trade
This is going to be highly unlikely. For a player who has not performed well and is on the hook for $22M over the next two seasons to get traded would mean that the Cubs pay the vast majority of the contract and be willing to take very little in return. The other trade option is trading Jackson for another team’s under-performing contract. Taking on another under-performing player, though, leaves them with the same questions that they have with Jackson. It is hard to envision the Cubs doing that, unless Joe Maddon convinces the front office that Melvin Upton Jr. (the former B.J. Upton) would be the Rays version of Upton and not the Braves version of Upton…and that is a massive stretch. Don’t count on a Jackson trade. Any team who is interested is probably not interested with parting with much, the Cubs probably wouldn’t want what the team would part with, and a team probably doesn’t want Jackson bad enough to not wait for the Cubs to just cut him loose.
4. He gets “injured”
In the interest of being thorough, this is an option. The Cubs could get to the end of Spring Training, place Jackson on the disabled list with “ineffective-itis” and kick the can down the road for a minimum of 15 days and a maximum of 45, if he were to use all of his rehabilitation assignment time. This is possible, but is about as likely as a trade. After two years, a DL and rehab assignment is not going to cure what has ailed Jackson, and it is merely buying time to do one of these other options. One thing to love about this front office is that they don’t stall on moves. And all this would be is a stall tactic.
5. They outright him to Iowa
A few caveats with this… Jackson, because he has more than five years of service time would have to accept the outright assignment to Iowa (or somewhere else in the minor league system) and he would have to clear waivers.
This is a very definite option, though, because Edwin Jackson will absolutely clear waivers. Any team who would claim Jackson off outright (and irrevocable) waivers would be taking on his contract, and nobody is going to claim that contract for the level of performance he has shown over the last two years. It is also likely that Jackson accepts the assignment. If he were to refuse the assignment, he ” shall not be entitled to receive termination pay” according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Simply put, if Edwin Jackson refuses the assignment, he would be walking away from the $22M the Cubs owe him. While Jax is a stand-up guy who knows things haven’t been great, he’s not a moron. And he is likely self-interested enough (for his and his family’s sake) to stick it out and get his money. And, if Jackson were not added back to the 40 man roster before the end of the season, he could elect free agency then and the Cubs would gain $11M in salary relief for next season.
For the Cubs, sending him on an outright assignment has a number of benefits. Salary relief at this point his highly unlikely. They are on the hook for the money, so sending him to Iowa doesn’t hurt them and it frees his spot on both the 25 and 40 man roster. While with the I-Cubs, Jackson may rediscover what made him effective before he signed on with the Cubs, giving them a serious boost of depth in the event of injury. If he doesn’t, he can definitely serve as a veteran mentor to young pitchers who will be with Iowa this season, including C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson. What is more likely with this move is he eats some innings between the beginning of the season and the inevitable separation between Jackson and the Cubs organization.
As of now, what the Cubs decide to do with Edwin Jackson is very much up in the air. Because of the size of his contract, the answer is not going to be simple and is going to be more expensive than any of these moves typically are. At the time he was signed, the move looked strong. It would be an understatement to say it hasn’t worked out as planned. In the next 11 days, the answer is going to reveal itself in one way or another. The ultimate end, though, looks like Jackson’s days with the Cubs are probably numbered.