Could the Pirates Afford Edwin Jackson?

 

Edwin Jackson is looking for a five year deal at $12 M a year.

At the start of the off-season I had Edwin Jackson listed as a pitcher that I liked, but one that I never thought would be a possibility for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A few weeks ago I pointed out that the market for the 28 year old right hander has been surprisingly quiet. There were talks that Jackson’s asking price was high, although we didn’t really have any solid numbers.

Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York reports that Jackson is asking for five years and $12 M a year. That figure makes sense for the Scott Boras client. John Danks just signed a five year, $65 M contract with the Chicago White Sox. Danks is a year younger than Jackson, and has put up better numbers over the last three years, although the results are close enough to put the two starters in the same class. Danks has a 3.92 ERA in 583.2 innings over the last three years, with a 6.9 K/9 and a 2.9 BB/9 ratio. Jackson has a 3.96 ERA in 623 innings over the last three years, with a 7.1 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9.

Matthews points out that Boras has been pushing Jackson to the Yankees, but the Yankees are balking due to money. That seems to be the case with a lot of other teams this off-season. The Pirates aren’t known for making big splashes on the free agent market, so asking if they have a shot at Jackson in a down market seems unrealistic. The logic would be: If the Yankees can’t afford Jackson, then how could the Pirates afford him? But without dismissing the possibility, let’s explore whether the Pirates can afford him and how realistic Edwin Jackson could be.

The first question is how Jackson would fit in the 2012 payroll. The Pirates are currently projected for a payroll of around $46 M. The Pirates could arrange a deal to fit Jackson in to the 2012 payroll and still end up in the $55 M range. So there’s definitely room in the budget. Looking at the long term, the Pirates don’t have much committed in payroll. From 2013-2016 the Pirates have no more than $6.5 M committed in a single year. The Pirates will add to those figures with arbitration payments, but they should be in a position where they could work around a big contract.

The next question has to do with the length of the deal. A five year deal is a big risk for any player. If something happens to Jackson, either injury-wise or with his performance, the Pirates would have that dead weight taking up about 20-25% of their payroll. Jackson has been a steady pitcher, making 31+ starts in each of his last five seasons. He’s also thrown 200 innings or more in each of the last three years. He’s 28, so he should be in his prime, rather than heading towards a decline. Jackson seems like a safe bet for a five year deal.

The risks of a high salary and a long term deal are risks the Pirates will have to take at some point if they want to be competitive. But they have to make the right move with the right player. Is Jackson that player?

I pointed out the similarities with Jackson and Danks earlier. Jackson had a rough start to his career. He was called up way too young at the age of 19. After parts of three seasons in the majors with the Dodgers he was traded to Tampa Bay. He struggled in his first year with the Rays, at the age of 22. He made 31 starts at the age of 23, although he had a 5.76 ERA in 161 innings. The next year he had a bit of a breakout season, making 31 starts and putting up a 4.42 ERA in 183.1 innings, which was a huge turnaround from his previous numbers.

After that 2008 season, which came at the age of 24, Jackson started showing his potential. He struggled in Arizona in 2010, but outside of that his last three years have been excellent. He’s an innings eater who gets strikeouts and limits walks. He’s not a number one, although he’d be the ace of the Pirates’ staff. His numbers shouldn’t decline just yet, so he looks like a safe and productive option for the next few years.

Despite his success the last few years, Jackson hasn’t been in high demand. He’s been with five teams in the last four seasons, traded mid-season in each of the last two years. His numbers have been strong, and he’s been a 200 inning a year guy. That combination is usually something in high demand on the free agent market. He’s averaged a 3.7 WAR per year over the last three years, which is $18.5 M in value at $5 M per win. So would Jackson be worth it for the Pirates?

Looking at the market for Jackson, it seems that if a team steps forward with $60 M over five years, they’ll get him. That kind of a contract would be a huge commitment for the Pirates. They would pretty much be relying on Jackson to be a key member of the team. There probably wouldn’t be any room for an additional big splash in the future, unless the team saw a major payroll increase. Jackson isn’t a flashy player, but he’s not a bad player either.

The Pirates haven’t been linked to Jackson. They are prioritizing a starting pitcher, but no word on whether they’re looking for a big addition like Jackson, or a smaller addition like Paul Maholm, Jeff Francis, or Wei-Yin Chen. Signing Jackson would be a good move for the Pirates. His five year and $60 M asking price might be a little high, but it’s not outrageous. The Pirates were comfortable over-paying for Clint Barmes and Rod Barajas earlier this off-season. That was on a smaller scale in each case — a raise for Barajas over his 2011 salary, and an extra year for Barmes — but they realized that this was necessary for them to get their player.

Looking at how the market is shaping up, it seems like the Pirates could get Jackson just by meeting his asking price. They can afford him, as seen in the payroll links above. He would upgrade the rotation in 2012, giving it a 200 inning pitcher and a likely sub-4.00 ERA. In the following years he’d be a great addition to Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon as they made their way to the majors. If he maintains his 2009-2011 numbers, the Pirates could probably deal him with a year or two remaining on his contract, should they need the payroll room in 2015-2016. Jackson makes a lot of sense for the Pirates, both in the short term and long term. It’s only speculation that he’d be available to them, but that speculation comes from a market where the only reports on Jackson are reports of teams balking at his asking price. That asking price is affordable for the Pirates, which is why it would make sense for them to look to Jackson to upgrade the rotation.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • Brian Bernard

    Perhaps another point not made above is that the PBC is a team that has few starters with swing and miss stuff – Jackson is not overpowering by any means, but he has a track record of consistency with solid K numbers.
    I think a starter like Jackson would be a solid acquisition if the team pursues him.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_AGRPLJJRC5GNBYXDY6LHF2U6DU white angus

    its tricky when it comes to jackson…  he used to throw very hard now has taken that back down a notch, plus he throws his slider considerably more than he did in the past.  he doesnt miss the bats too much, and his GB% isnt fantastic.  he gives up both hits AND plenty of walks which inflates his WHIP.

    some say he is worth the 5 year deal because hes entering his prime.  i would say, buyer beware.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Jackson’s average velocity by year:

      2007: 95.0
      2008: 94.2
      2009: 94.5
      2010: 94.4
      2011: 94.7

      He’s pretty much remained in the same range. His slider totals were strange. They went up to 42.8% in 2011, after being in the 20-25% range throughout his career. I’m not sure I trust those numbers though. If you add up his 2011 percentages on FanGraphs, they don’t equal 100%. I think it’s more likely that those numbers are wrong, rather than Jackson going from throwing a reasonable amount of sliders to throwing them 42.8% of the time. He’s not much on the ground ball front. He’s average for his career.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      On second thought, just checked around and saw that the slider number was legit. That can be a concern if it continues, since the slider can lead to injuries when used excessively.

      • F Lang

        …plus Jackson throws a lot of pitches.  I haven’t checked the numbers but i remember 2 years ago Guillen leaving him out there for 130+ pitches when he was with the white sox. He’s a horse but even horses break down after overuse. I am not a fan of more than a 3 year deal for him.

  • Anonymous

    Any rumors/reports on why Jackson has been traded so often – problems with attitude, poor teammate, etc? I can see why he would be in demand but you would think some team would have tried to hold on to him after acquiring him.

  • http://twitter.com/vabarletta Vicente Barletta

    I think the real question is: does EJax wants to play in Pittsburgh?

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    Of course they can afford him.  But unless he has no other options, he wouldn’t come here.

  • Anonymous

    They could afford anyone on a 1 year deal. Question is is he worth the investment. If they paid no more than 4/40 I think he’d be great for the team. I would think hes certainly better than Karstens Correia Lincoln Jeff Locke and probably McPherson. As far as wanting to sign here I thnk he’ll take the most guaranteed $ regardless of team. He has a ring, played a bunch of places, and could be looking for some stability as far as rotation spot.
    I wouldnt being against throwing in a high $ 5 option year as an incentive either.

    Trading Hanrahan, Garret Jones, Karstens, and/or try to get anything for Correia could go a long way in freeeing up $ for not only him but possibly a FA 1b.  

    • http://twitter.com/rinsana11 Ross

      okay yeah ANY team can afford ANY player out there. but you need to use common sense that free agents have to approve of places they want to go, which is usually only yearly contenders. and right now the pirates arent one so they arent going to be on any of the top free agents’ lists

      • Anonymous

        I understand that but I’m not sure the rest of the league looks at E Jax as  a top FA. If a team will come close to the price that it appears the Yankees and red Sox have not yet been willing to make he may have no other choice than to come to a team like the Pirates. I think they could get him by offering similar $ but for more years.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t see the Pirates commiting themselves for 5 yrs to somebody like Jackson ,I ‘m not saying that it is a bad move …I just can’t see it happening…. somebody like a McCutchen yeah but not a Jackson. 

     

  • Anonymous

    Now the word is that Boras is seeking 15-17 million a year? I wouldn’t hold it against any team not signing him at that number!!! PASS!!!!

  • James S

    There is no way I would give this guy a 5 year contract like Boras is asking, and while being a good starter no doubt, he’s become overpriced. I still think if you can get Jeff Francis or Joe Saunders for 1 or 2 years at reasonable price, it would be a much better gamble. Joel Pineiro & Chris Young are still out there too. I wouldn’t go more than a 2 yr contract on any of the pitchers though.
    In fact I’m more of the opinion that a good hitting first baseman would be the better move.

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