CHICAGO – One way or another, the Cubs were determined to add a young, impact starting pitcher this offseason.
Right-hander Edwin Jackson fit the requirements and boosted a starting rotation that now boasts depth. Wednesday’s announcement of Jackson’s four-year, $52 million deal provides a solid framework for the Cubs, who weren’t going to miss out on a quality starter.
General manager Jed Hoyer revealed Wednesday he and manager Dale Sveum secretly met in mid-December with Jackson in Newport Beach, Calif., the same day president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and chairman Tom Ricketts met with free-agent pitcher Anibal Sanchez in Florida. Sanchez ultimately re-signed with the Tigers for five years and $80 million, and Hoyer made it clear the Cubs would not have signed both pitchers.
“If you look at free-agent markets in general, you can’t really go out and snap your fingers and ‘OK, now we’re ready, now we’re going to spend money,’ ” Hoyer said. “I think you have to look at it as a gradual process each offseason. Looking at the free-agent markets going forward for starting pitching, there’s not many guys out there [like Jackson].”
In the end, the Cubs saved at least $28 million by signing Jackson instead of Sanchez, both of whom will be 29 on Opening Day. Jackson’s appeal to the Cubs extended beyond his age, however. It’s rare to find quality starting pitching talent through free agency, and though Jackson struggles at times to harness his potential, he gives the Cubs a solid front of the rotation, joining former Tampa Bay teammate Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.
The Cubs are investing a decent chunk of their payroll for Jackson, which, given their 101-loss season in 2012, may seem confounding. But with a minor league system that lacks starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues – and those talented, but young pitchers in the lower tiers in the minors are no sure things either – signing Jackson was a move the Cubs needed to make despite what likely will be another win-starved season this year.
“I’ve been on a lot of teams that, on paper, nobody expected you to do anything and you end up going to the World Series or making the playoffs,” Jackson said. “It’s definitely one of those teams that’s a few pieces away from being where you want to be. I feel like the additions we have and the team that we have right now, we can go out and win ballgames and have fun.”
The Cubs wisely took into account the upcoming free-agent markets and realized limited starting pitcher options await them in the 2013 and 2014 offseasons. Of the projected free-agent pitchers available the next two years, only four premier starters under the age of 30 will hit the open market. Jackson’s durability and positive clubhouse attributes are exactly what they need considering the circumstances. As the Cubs’ rotation proved last year, at their best they can stay in games with solid, consistent starts.
“[Jackson’s] proven, so that was a big factor, trying to time everything up well,” Hoyer said. “You can’t always in one offseason do it. We knew it was going to be a gradual process to build that core.”
• Meghan Montemurro covers the White Sox and Cubs for Shaw Media. Write to her at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter: @M_Montemurro.