NEW YORK – The Cubs will be going big-game hunting this offseason, maybe even walking out of the winter meetings with the deer antlers Jed Hoyer once joked about, signing a pitcher to a megadeal that makes the entire industry take notice.
So looking back now, what’s the takeaway from Edwin Jackson’s $52 million contract? Where did the Cubs go off the track? The general manager didn’t want to touch those questions yet.
“We’re trying to give him an opportunity to right the ship,” Hoyer said before Friday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field.
Jackson has gone 14-31 with a 5.31 ERA through 56 starts in a Cubs uniform, and you wonder how much longer he’ll be in this rotation with Dan Straily, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront all expected to get looks in the season’s final six weeks.
No doubt, the Cubs have built a strong pitching infrastructure, hitting on several change-of-scenery guys while whiffing on the biggest free agent signed by the Theo Epstein administration.
This is not trying to second-guess the Jackson deal, which has two years and $22 million remaining after this season. It just makes you wonder what that says about The Plan – and which direction it should go next.
“Candidly, I feel like that’s a question that’s probably more appropriate at a different time than now,” Hoyer said. “Going back to the signing, he’s a 29-year-old guy at the time, and for the most part with pitchers, they usually get better and better as long as they’re healthy and they keep their stuff, because they learn how to command the ball better.
“A big part of our attraction to him was his durability. He had always stayed healthy. He had always been in the rotation and taken his innings and that part hasn’t changed. That’s sort of the head-scratcher. Usually, guys that do stay healthy and stay on the mound keep getting better and better. Obviously, we’ve taken a step back here.”
Jackson made 31-plus starts every year between 2007 and 2012, posting five seasons with at least 10 wins, helping the Tampa Bay Rays get to the World Series and earning a championship ring with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“He was always pretty consistent in terms of innings and performance,” Hoyer said. “This has really been a change from what he had established, and it’s been frustrating to him and frustrating to us. I think he’s been searching for answers and obviously we have been as well.
“He’s been a great teammate. We know he cares. He’s accountable. The results just haven’t been there yet.”
Using Jackson for a quick burst out of the bullpen would be a bad fit – look at his 7.92 ERA in the first inning this season. Ex-manager Dale Sveum used to talk about wanting to see Jackson throw “with conviction” from the first pitch. A teammate observed that Jackson seems to get stronger later in games.
“The stuff is still there, the velocity’s there, he’s still got a good slider," Hoyer said. "Really, I think his issues have been location. When he pitches up in the zone, he gets hit. The times he’s been able to stay down in the zone, locate his fastball away, he’s had some success. I don’t think it’s stuff-related. It’s location-related. Whether you’re a starter or a reliever, that’s really the focus."
Hoyer talked about a rough draft to the pitching plan for the rest of this season, how the Cubs might have to get creative to get innings for everyone.
So where does that leave Jackson?
“We haven’t talked through that yet,” Hoyer said. “It seems like the first inning, we’re in a hole right away and he’s battling right away. We haven’t been able to solve that problem, so hopefully we’ll be able to find a solution by the end of the year. That would be our goal, to go into the offseason with a little momentum.”