You can’t blame Edwin Jackson for feeling just a little bit self conscious. Despite being widely regarded as a very talented pitcher, the right hander has nonetheless become a journeyman before his age-28 season.
When Jackson toes the rubber as a Washington National in 2011, it will be the seventh different ballpark he has called home since beginning his major league career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. What makes his frequent travels even more surprising is that unlike the early part of his career when he struggled to live up to his advanced billing, Jackson has been a relatively valuable pitcher over the past five seasons. Considering he has pitched for five teams over that span, it’s no wonder his accomplishments have gone unnoticed.
Even with seven uniforms hanging in his closet, Jackson still has a long way to go to catch Octavio Dotel, who will count 13 different teams on his resume once he throws a pitch for the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Then again, Dotel will be 38 next year, a full decade older than Jackson. Among his own age-class, Jackson’s seven teams rank second to Bruce Chen, Dennys Reyes, Jeff Juden, and Orlando Mercado, who all pitched for eight teams before turning 29.
Besides his relative youth, what also makes Jackson’s nomadic ways somewhat curious is his durability. Over the last five seasons, the Nationals’ right hander ranks 19th with 967 1/3 innings pitched, and over those innings, he posted an ERA+ of 100. There’s nothing special about being league average, but when you can provide baseline performance over 200 innings per season, value starts to accrue. According to fangraph’s valuations, Jackson has been worth approximately $15 million per season over the past three years. Although that amount seems exaggerated (or maybe not when you consider how much money A.J. Burnett and John Lackey make), what seems certain is the Nationals did very well by inking the righy to a one-year deal worth only $10 million. Even if Jackson only performs to that level in 2012, fair-value deals in free agency are, in fact, bargains, and when they only include a one-year commitment, they become absolute steals.
Considering the abundance of young talent on the Nationals, there’s no reason why they can’t contend for a wild card spot in 2012, especially now that the addition of Jackson gives them a rotation that runs four deep. It may not be the Phillies trio of aces, but with Jackson, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals’ rotation is pretty flush. Don’t blame Edwin Jackson for not get too excited, however. If he has a standout season in Washington, he might be able to parlay it into a long-term deal as the “veteran leader” of a promising young staff. Then again, if things don’t work out (or, considering his past, even if they do), Jackson could be on the road again next offseason (or sooner).