Much has been discussed about Edwin Jackson‘s decision to sign a one-year pact with the Washington Nationals over the security of a long-term, three-year deal worth $30 million with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jackson is a 28-year-old pitcher who is projected as a 3.5 WAR starter next season, and pitchers who rely on their slider 30% of the time could flame out at any moment. Jackson has actually been among the most durable pitchers in baseball in his career and has started in at least 31 games during each season of his career. However, it is always interesting to look at why a quality starter would turn down $30 million in guaranteed money.
Using 2011 WAR totals, only one pitcher in this year’s free agency was worth more wins above replacement than Edwin Jackson. That man is newly minted Los Angeles Angels starter C.J. Wilson. Next season, there will be five starting pitchers who were worth at least 3.8 WAR (Jackson’s WAR in 2011) last season: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, and Zack Greinke. The reason for Jackson taking a shorter deal has nothing to do with a weaker free agent crop next season, because there is a long list of high-priced arms ready to be snapped up in 2012-2013. At least one of those pitchers will re-sign with their current team, but it should be noted that Wilson was the only qualifying pitcher in this year’s free agency (re-signed or not).
In a way, Edwin Jackson must have felt like Aaron Rodgers, because he had to wait far too long to get a contract. Jackson is a solid starting pitcher, but it took until February for him to receive his $11 million. Thus, he received less money due to an increased time spent as a free agent. It’s simple. Unless if you are a marquee free agent, like Prince Fielder, you will receive less money than you would have three months into free agency, as opposed to one month into the FA period.
What happened to Jackson this year is unlikely to repeat in the next Hot Stove season, which means that he should make at least the same amount of money as he did this year. Assuming that Jackson is a 3.5 WAR pitcher (3.8 WAR in each of the past two seasons), he will be worth about $16 million on the open market in next year’s free agency. If we scale that to a 3.2 WAR total to take into account decline, he is a $15 million player.
That’s well within his range, because Mark Buehrle received a four-year $58 million deal ($14.5 million per year) as a 32-year-old this year and has been worth 0.7 WAR less than Jackson over the past three seasons. In fact, he is projected to be a 3 WAR player in 2012, whereas Jackson is a 3.5 WAR player.
Due to the inconsistencies with market value projections, Edwin Jackson’s expected return per year should be somewhere around $13-14 million per year when he hits free agency next season.
One must remember that the contract the Pittsburgh Pirates were offering was a poor one, because the sacrifices for security just aren’t worth it for one of the more durable pitchers in baseball. $10 million per year is 2.3 WAR pitcher value, which is basically a pitcher who is barely above the league average. Jackson is definitely above the league average and has consistently been one of the best 25 pitchers each season in terms of WAR.
He basically gained $1 million this season in the short-term with the Washington Nationals, even though his deal is still below market-value. However, Jackson can recoup those losses with a deal after the 2012 season. Jackson seems like a pitcher who can be durable for quite some time, so I would suggest a two or three year deal for him next season. This gives him the flexibility to cash in on that pay day if things go wrong in the future, but it also gives him the ability to sign another quality deal afterwards if he can maintain at least a 2.5 WAR level of production.
If Edwin Jackson took that three-year contract with the Pirates, he would have been stuck with a well below-average market value deal on one of the worst teams in baseball. The deal would have taken him through his best years, and he would have lost $15 million if he made that deal. Instead, he loses only a couple of million dollars, in terms of market value, with the Nationals. And, he also gets to play for the better team.
Signing on with the Washington Nationals to the shorter deal made more sense for Edwin Jackson than signing a three-year contract with the Pirates. The job security is nice, but it’s not worth getting underpaid during the best years of a player’s career. Scott Boras and Jackson made the correct decision this year, and they will likely cash in, to a certain extent, next season. Jackson is slated to make a few million dollars more per season in, at the very least, the 2013 season. For now, Jackson will enjoy his extra $1 million, more flexibility, and the chance to compete for the second Wild Card spot on his new ballclub. After winning the World Series, Jackson wants be on a team that actually has a chance at getting over .500. But more importantly, Jackson stands to make more money in the future.
Follow Joe Soriano on Twitter here, and be sure to check back on Call to the Pen for season previews of every team, including the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Check out District on Deck and Rum Bunter for everything about the Nats and Buccos.
Topics: Aaron Rodgers, Anibal Sanchez, Brandon McCarthy, C.J. Wilson, Cole Hamels, Edwin Jackson, LA Angels, Mark Buehrle, Matt Cain, Miami Marlins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Prince Fielder, Scott Boras, Washington Nationals, Zack Greinke