At least a dozen emailers, paraphrased: Will the Yankees show any interest in Edwin Jackson this off-season?
If it feels as though Edwin Jackson has been around the league for nearly a decade, it’s because he has. He made his debut in 2003 at age 19, throwing 22 innings for the Dodgers. That came after he rolled through the AA Southern League with relative easy, producing a 3.70 ERA and a 2.86 FIP. It’s tough to mistake that type of talent as anything but star-bound.
It didn’t take long for the wheels to fall off. The Dodgers let him start the 2004 season in AAA, and he got rocked down there. His stint in the majors went just as poorly. A repeat in 2005 completely removed Jackson’s prospect luster. The Dodgers wasted little time in trading him to the Rays for Danys Baez and Lance Carter. That is, they traded a 22-year-old who, two years prior, was Baseball America’s No. 4 overall prospect, for what amounted to an overrated reliever and an utterly crappy one.
Here’s where Jackson’s story becomes relevant to the Yankees’ interest in him. Once he was out of options, in 2007, the Rays made him a full-time starter. In each year since then he has made at least 31 starts. That makes him seem a durable pitcher, something teams value on the free agent market. But in those five full-time seasons Jackson has displayed a measure of inconsistency. His ERA has fluctuated wildly, moving 1.00 or more in three of the last four off-seasons (and 0.85 in the fourth).
Yet we know that ERA tends to fluctuate year-to-year, at least to some degree. That’s why we have FIP: to look at a pitcher through events over which he has most control. In this manner Jackson has shown inconsistency too, especially in his strikeout rate. Here are Jackson’s K/9 numbers from the last five years:
Again, we’re not talking small fluctuations here. We’re talking a change of at least 1.00 per nine every season. That should make wary anyone with a long-term contract offer in hand.
There are a number of things to like about Jackson. He’s still just 28 years old, so there shouldn’t be any decline-related worries. As mentioned, he’s also made at least 31 starts in each of the last five seasons, so he’s proven himself durable. He’s also seen his FIP pretty consistently decline over the last three seasons. from from 4.88 in 2008 to 3.55 this past season. His xFIP has also dropped a bit, to around 3.70 in each of the last two seasons. He pitched plenty of those seasons in the AL as well — in fact, you could say that he pitched better in Chicago than he did at either of his NL stops.
In terms of a deal, chances are Jackson would command three to four years. Normally I’d say three, but the market works in strange ways when it comes to starters — especially those that Scott Boras represents. Only nine free agent pitchers in history have signed deals longer than four years, and given how few of them have worked out it’s pretty safe to say that four years is the max. If the Yankees were going to offer Jackson a contract I’d prefer three years at max, with a $33-$35 million ceiling. I’m not sure that gets the job done, but anything more could be a big mistake.
That said, I’m not sure the Yankees seriously consider Jackson this winter. They have a number of in-house options for the 2012 rotation. They might not be better than Jackson right now, but I suspect that the Yankees think they’ll be close enough in the near future that signing him makes little sense. He’s not a terrible get, especially on a three-year contract (that expires when he turns 31). But given the market, which I think will provide him a fourth year, and the current number of righties on the brink of the rotation, I think the Yankees pass on Jackson. He’s not a bad idea as a backup plan, though.