MESA, Ariz. – Business and baseball collided on Tuesday at Hohokam Park where Kris Bryant hit his spring leading ninth home run of the month while pitcher Edwin Jackson arrived late to the park -- then left the mound early -- after surrendering eight runs on nine hits in just 1.2 innings.
As you know by now, though it’s only for a matter of a few games, Bryant could start the season at Triple-A Iowa so the Cubs can gain an additional full year of his employment later in his career. Meanwhile, Jackson is guaranteed a total of $22 million over the next two seasons no matter what the Cubs do with him.
So the best hitter in every league he has played in since and including college – as well as this spring – has to wait his turn to play in the big leagues while the one who has failed miserably as a Cub continues to have a role and make big money. So is the way of professional sports.
Jackson is actually the trickier question for the Cubs, as we know Bryant is going to be in Chicago soon enough. Even though the right-hander has been a good soldier and had a few good moments this spring it’s going to be near impossible to let him pitch in a Cubs uniform in Chicago. After being late to the game on Tuesday due to going to the wrong ballpark – that’s not a joke -- then getting lit up, Jackson is lucky the Cubs aren’t back home now. There would have been no reason for mercy in the minds’ of Cubs fans.
That was true at the end of last season and it’s still true now. The Cubs can talk about creative ways to keep him, but why? If the goal is to win, he’s not nearly one of the Cubs best 12 pitchers. We know it, the Cubs front office knows it, everyone in baseball knows it. If you want to complain about the Cubs being concerned about money then point to Jackson – not Bryant. Keeping Bryant in the minors for nine games is good baseball sense considering there’s a chance he enters the market anyway. Why not let him do it a year later? Jackson isn’t performing and once the boos start at Wrigley Field they won’t stop. Back-to-back years with ERAs of 4.98 and 6.33 have sealed his fate.
Think about it. He wanted so desperately to rebound from 2013 and it only got worse the following year. This is no one’s fault. Jackson is seemingly putting the work in but he just doesn’t have it anymore. Scouts will simply say there is “no life” to his pitches. That was evident once again on Tuesday – Arizona climate or not. If the Cubs want to win, how can they employ the starter with the worst ERA in the entire league last season? They can’t, for his sake as much as the teams.
No longer should he have to hear those boos, they should be directed at the Cubs front office -- but not for signing him. Bad acquisitions are going to be made. That’s the risk of free agency which Theo Epstein has discussed in the past. It was a bad signing. Fine. Now it’s time to move past it no matter the cost. Why do you think Kyle Hendricks has pitched in “B” games lately while Jackson has started the regular games on the same day for the Cubs? It’s for the scouts. And for every good pitch, for every good appearance, Jackson has followed it up with a bad one. It has been the same story since the day he arrived in Chicago. It just hasn’t worked out. If a scout can recommend Jackson to his team while the Cubs pick up the entire salary then so be it. If the Cubs can get someone to pay $1 million of the $22 million owed they should buy the plane ticket today. But they probably can’t.
Here is the simple truth, and it’s always the same for a player you’re thinking about releasing: You have to pay him either way. Pay him to stay away or pay him to mess up your season. Which is better? The Cubs did it with a much cheaper pitcher in Jose Veras last season and they designated and paid Darwin Barney among other players as well. They’re not against it, it’s just that this one will cost much more. And remember, Jackson’s replacement can be paid the bare minimum. The Cubs need to ask themselves this question, is it worth $500,000 to keep Jackson away from the mound once the regular season begins? Cubs fans know the answer. So do the Cubs.