ST. LOUIS – Edwin Jackson summed up his season this way: “It was a s----- year.”
Cubs fans won’t argue the point after watching Jackson fail to live up to his big contract. The final image from Year 1 was Jackson walking off the mound with athletic trainer PJ Mainville on Saturday afternoon, leaving his team trailing by six runs in the third inning at Busch Stadium.
Jackson didn’t think the lat muscle tightness on his right side was all that serious after a 6-2 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. Fixing Jackson (8-18, 4.98 ERA) – who was supposed to be a building-block piece at Wrigley Field – will be one of several keys if the 95-loss Cubs hope to avoid another “sh#!$y” season in 2014.
President of baseball operations Theo Epstein has signaled that the Cubs will likely be able to add only one high-impact, big-name free agent this winter. The Cubs are waiting for the new television deals and Wrigley Field renovations that are supposed to be game-changers.
The Cubs can opt out of their WGN contract and cash in after the 2014 season. Construction that was supposed to begin now at Clark and Addison has been delayed, leaving the $500 million project in a holding pattern. The new clubhouse and training facilities once promised to be done by Opening Day 2014 will not be ready next season.
There are a lot of moving parts here, meaning it’s unclear when the Cubs will be able to go all-in again with the kind of four-year, $52 million commitment they gave Jackson last winter.
“We’re not sure exactly when yet,” Epstein said, “but I think the general business plan for the organization and the general baseball plan are more or less synched up.
“Do we have it down to an exact year on when we’re going to be achieving a certain number of wins or when we’re going to have X-amount of additional dollars to spend? No, we’ve had to remain somewhat flexible because there are a lot of variables involved.”
If the Cubs have only one bullet to fire this offseason, they better be right – and hope top prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant come fast.
“On the baseball side, there are a lot of variables with the development pace of certain players,” Epstein said, “how long it takes them to reach a point where they can be real assets in the big leagues.
“On the business side, you guys (in the media) can write volumes about the variables involved, from the political process with the stadium renovations and the nature of TV negotiations in this game. So we have to stay somewhat flexible. (That’s) why we have to work hard on what we can control to make the organization as healthy as possible.”
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The Cubs felt Jackson made sense because of his age (30), mid-90s velocity and durability (30 or more starts in each of his last seven seasons). He won a World Series ring here with the Cardinals in 2011 and had seen rebuilding pay off with the Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals.
“I don’t feel like I pressed,” Jackson said. “A lot of times I was overanalyzing things and thinking too much and not allowing myself to go out and do what I’m capable of doing athletically.
“A new contract, a new team and all that – I don’t really feel like there was a lot of pressure. It may have looked like it. When you’re not pitching well, it’s easy to make excuses and it’s easy to (pick) out things that could be happening. But it’s just one of those things…the craziest year I’ve had in baseball.”
Jackson leads the majors in losses but will earn $19 million this year. The signing bonus for a frontloaded deal, plus the club’s policy of not giving out no-trade clauses, could make him a moveable asset if he can again become the guy that wins 10 games, pitches 190 innings and puts up a 4.00-plus ERA.
“I know my potential,” Jackson said. “I know what I’m capable of doing. I look forward to three more years and going out and pitching like I know I can pitch.”
But Jackson has been maddeningly inconsistent, and you saw it again on Saturday as he pitched through the discomfort. Matt Holliday crushed a first-inning pitch 427 feet into the right-center field seats, the two-run homer landing just beyond the new sign for the National League Central champs.
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Two walks in the third inning set up Yadier Molina’s two-run double, and manager Dale Sveum has repeatedly called out Jackson for not pitching “with conviction.”
“You’re always going to be putting pressure on yourself,” Sveum said. “A veteran guy coming to another city, especially a big-market city, trying to do too much too early – those things have happened quite a bit in the history of the game.”
So whenever the money starts flowing again and the Cubs are in position to do another Jackson-type deal, they better know if he can handle it, and if he’s worth it.