Boston needs help in the rotation, but could Edwin Jackson give them what they need?
There are quite a few free agents that should be attractive to the Red Sox this off-season. Because of that, we'll take them one at a time, and profile those who Boston might be a match with. Just because they're covered here, though, doesn't mean they're endorsed: this is meant to be an exercise in finding out whether or not the players in question should be future Red Sox.
The Red Sox need a starting pitcher, and though Hiroki Kuroda is likely atop the wish list, it's no sure thing that he takes his free agency to Boston. Because of this, the Red Sox also have backup plans in mind. One such Plan B could be Edwin Jackson, whom the Red Sox were reportedly interested in less than a year ago, the last time he was available to sign.
Jackson did not receive a qualifying offer, despite the belief that he made sense as one of those players. For one, he was paid $11 million in 2012 on a one-year deal, and while his performance didn't merit a raise, just $2.3 million more made a lot of sense for the Nationals, who would get a pitcher back to fill a hole that's now in their rotation, or, when someone else signed Jackson for multiple years, Washington would get a bonus pick in 2013. That's all pointless for Jackson at this stage, though, as the deadline came and went, and now he's just a typical free agent, with no compensation strings attached.
Jackson has shown flashes of being a great pitcher in the past, but it might be time to re-calibrate expectations. He's heading into his age-29 season, and, over the last three years, has been exactly average according to ERA+. He's also averaged 200 innings and 31 starts per year in that stretch, and that has definite value, but the seasons in which he's much better than average are far outnumbered by those in which he's just a little better or worse. Jackson has nearly 1,300 innings in the majors on his arm, and it's likely this is who he is at this point.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, as 200 innings of average pitching has huge value. Jackson has averaged 203 frames per year since he was 25, back in 2009, the first time he crossed the 200-inning threshold. The fewest he's thrown since came this year, at 189, but that has more to do with Washington holding him back to 31 starts than it does any injury issues. In fact, Jackson has been incredibly durable in that regard over the years, with just one single injury reported since 2007. That injury, by the way, was a hamstring cramp in 2011 that cost him zero time.
Jackson looked for multiple years and big money last winter, and it didn't work out. Given the opportunity to prove he was worth that in 2012, he pitched very much like Edwin Jackson once more, and that will most likely make him a one- or two-year contract offer candidate for many clubs. Boston could be one of those teams, as they attempt to find a reliable arm for the middle of the rotation. They have the space, the money, and the need, and since Washington didn't give Jackson the qualifying offer, they would also get to keep their draft pick.
Comparatively speaking, Jackson is not the best Boston could do. Kuroda most likely is that pitcher, since he actually performs in the way that people keep hoping Jackson to. Kuroda could end up costing Boston as much as $30 million over two years, though, and their second-round selection from the 2013 draft. Jackson is cheaper in that regard, but that lower price tag comes with less ability, unless Boston lucked into one of Jackson's high-end campaigns. Betting on that is a tad risky, though, especially in a rotation with as many question marks as Boston's. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey could all come out sunshine and puppy dogs and lead the Sox to victory every five days, but if anything goes awry, having someone around to pick up the slack will be key.
Jackson shouldn't be at the top of the wish list, since it's not clear he can be everything the Red Sox need. But if Boston fails to lure Hiroki Kuroda away from New York or a return to Los Angeles, then Jackson's stock does shoot up. There are other options out there, some with more upside, but Jackson, thanks to his combination of durability and ability to be consistently good enough, is once again one of the more attractive and sensible options on the market.