MESA, Ariz. – After Game 161, Edwin Jackson stood at his locker inside Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse and summed it up this way: “It was a s----- year.”
Jackson had walked off the mound with athletic trainer PJ Mainville, feeling a tight lat muscle on his right side and leaving his team trailing the hated St. Louis Cardinals by six runs in the third inning. His 18 losses wound up leading the majors.
That’s not what the Cubs envisioned when they handed Jackson a four-year, $52 million deal, making him a signature free agent for the Theo Epstein administration.
“Last year was never about pressure,” Jackson said. “That was just one of those seasons. Anything that could go wrong, did. But there’s definitely no excuses. Pressure or no pressure, whether you sign for a big contract or whether you’re a rookie, you still have to go out and win ballgames.”
To his credit, Jackson didn’t hide from the media or withdraw from teammates. There was that shouting match with Dale Sveum – a manager on the hot seat about to get fired – inside the visiting dugout at Milwaukee’s Miller Park. But besides that moment of frustration last September, Jackson always kept his cool.
You got the sense Jackson deleted last season from his memory long before he arrived in Arizona and pitchers and catchers reported to Cubs Park.
“That’s part of being a professional,” Jackson said. “As a professional athlete, we should be able to go out and someone who doesn’t know us won’t be able to tell if we had our best day or our worst day.
“I’m a big believer in staying even keel, so no one can ever tell if you’re having your best day or your worst day. Just walk the line.”
That attitude underlines why the Cubs could salvage that back-loaded contract, which still looks like a mistake but now has three years and $33 million remaining. In this market, those are reasonable terms for a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter.
There was an element of bad luck in Jackson’s 4.98 ERA last season. Maybe new manager Rick Renteria will complement pitching coach Chris Bosio.
Jackson has made at least 31 starts in each of the last seven seasons. He had won at least 10 games every year between 2008 and 2012. He represented the Detroit Tigers at the 2009 All-Star Game and earned a World Series ring with the Cardinals in 2011.
The Cubs will reboot this week when they open their new Mesa stadium and start Cactus League play. But if this is another “s----- year,” it won’t be long before talk of another summer sell-off begins.
“The Cubs are a great organization to play for,” Jackson said. “We have some of the best fans in the game, for sure. For whatever the record’s been – whatever the losing seasons been – we still have fans come around. In every city you go to, you see Cubs fans.
“It would just be real nice if we could go out and put together some good seasons for the fans and for the city to come together and have something positive to talk about instead of something negative.”