Talking baseball while the Bulls keep playing tough defense:
1. One thing about guys who put together baseball teams for a living: They are open-minded in their approach to evaluating talent. They strip away reputations and examine contributions. They study the signs of improvement and regression.
They’re not always going to reach the right conclusions, of course, and certainly they don’t always chart the right course, as they’re not operating in a vacuum. They’re dealing with an ever-changing inventory of players and a landscape that is impacted by 29 other teams.
It was reported late Tuesday by ESPN and Sirius-SM’s Jim Bowden that the Cubs and Rangers are finalists for the services of Edwin Jackson, with a suggestion that one of them might do what his previous frontrunner, the Padres, would not: give Jackson a four-year contract.
EJax? Four years, maybe $50 million? Even three years, $36 million? Either way, isn’t that a lot for a guy who will be going to his eighth team, the seventh in his last six seasons?
Jackson has been the sort of player that you rent when you need him, not buy for the long haul. But if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are open-minded to Jackson – and the Cubs have not confirmed their involvement with Jackson – then there must be a reason, just as there was when they offered Anibal Sanchez $75 million over five years last week.
Sure enough, there is. In terms of regular-season performance, Jackson has been almost exactly the same pitcher as Sanchez since July 31, 2010, when he was traded from the Diamondbacks to the White Sox.
At 29, he is older than Sanchez – by less than six months, however – and while Sanchez pitched very well against the Orioles, Yankees and Giants in the just-completed postseason, Jackson was hit hard by the Cardinals. You can argue that Jackson’s regular-season numbers are a tick better than Sanchez’s, however.
Since August, 2010, Sanchez has gone 22-28 with a 3.79 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 75 starts for the Marlins and Tigers, working 462 2/3 innings. While with the White Sox, Cardinals and Nationals, Jackson was 26-22 with a 3.80 ERA and 1.31 WHIP in 74 starts, working 464 1/3 innings.
Both pitched primarily in the National League, but Jackson made 14 more starts against American League lineups than Sanchez (34-20) in this time. Adjusted for league differential, his ERA and WHIP would be lower than Sanchez’s over the last 2 1/3 seasons.
Jackson’s slider is about as good of a put-away pitch as anything Sanchez has, and he throws harder – a lot harder – than Sanchez. According to the PitchFX information at Fangraphs.com, Jackson hit 100 on a radar gun as recently as 2010 and last year peaked at 97.6 mph with an average of 93.4 on his fastball (fourth best in the NL among qualifiers, behind Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Zimmermann and Edinson Volquez). Sanchez topped out at 96.9 and his fastball averaged 91.5.Sanchez has shown more pitchability than Jackson. He throws more strikes and uses his secondary pitches (especially a changeup) much more often. But stack the numbers side by side and it’s hard to see why one guy is an emerging star and the other is considered a tease and disappointment waiting to happen.
It’s amazing to me that Jackson has bounced around so much and not become walking scar tissue. He has an even demeanor in the clubhouse and seems popular among his ever-changing cast of teammates.
Last night, I asked an executive who knows Jackson well about him. “Like him,’’ he said. “Been on some good teams. Athletic. Competes well.’’
As for the improvement he’s shown the last two years, he said: “Command better now that he has learned how to harness his fastball. Slider always (his) out pitch. Solid No. 3, 4 starter. Takes ball. I like him personally.’’
How would Jackson respond if he got another chance to spend a few years in the same spot? It seems that Epstein and Hoyer believe he’d be just fine, maybe better.
2. A.J. Pierzynski’s fate could be tied to Jackson. He visited the Rangers on Tuesday but there was no indication that a deal was near. Perhaps the Rangers could add both Jackson and Pierzynski after losing Josh Hamilton and trading Michael Young to the Phillies (although they had to pay $10 million to get rid of the fading icon), but if they commit three or four years at $12-14 million for Jackson it could make it tougher for Pierzynski to get the multi-year contract he’s seeking.
It’s a mystery why the Yankees haven’t gobbled up Pierzynski, as they continue to sit there with only Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli as their catchers, but they haven’t. If Texas passes on Pierzynski, it could force the White Sox’s hands. They really want to use 2013 to determine if Tyler Flowers can be their regular catcher in 2014 and beyond, and the only way they’ll know that is to give him 250-400 at-bats. That’s not going to happen if Pierzynski returns for a ninth season. It’s a dilemma, and it becomes a bigger one if the market continues to turn its back on the 36-year-old Pierzynski, coming off a career year. As for Jackson, people I spoke with in Texas knew he was on the Rangers’ radar but felt they were only interested in a one-year commitment.
3. According to Bowden, the Marlins are interested in trading Ricky Nolasco to the Angels for Peter Bourjos. But can’t the Angels do better than Nolasco if they’re going to move the outfielder who is squeezed out by Hamilton? While the White Sox are hoping to contend in 2012, they would figure to be positioned to get a nice return if they deal Gavin Floyd, who like Nolasco is eligible for free agency after 2013. Consider the WARs compiled by the two pitchers over the last four seasons. Nolasco: 1.5, 0.5, 1.3, 0.5; Floyd, 2.3, 2.5, 3.1, 3.9. There’s no comparison. If a Nolasco-for-Bourjos trade is a possibility, then the White Sox should engage the Angels in a deal that could bring them Bourjos and maybe another prospect or two, with first baseman C.J. Cron high on the list of guys worth getting. It’s late in the transaction winter, but there’s still plenty of steam coming off the hot stove.