Jackson not your average big league journeyman
Well-traveled right-hander proves durability, joins Cubs on multiyear deal
Envision a Major League pitcher who has started 30-plus games for six consecutive seasons and notched double-digit win totals in each of the past five. Then add to that list one All-Star appearance and an improbable eight-walk, 149-pitch no-hitter.
Now factor in he's on the verge of pitching for a new team for the sixth consecutive Opening Day and it produces one of the more unlikely resumes for a journeyman pitcher in recent memory.
Yet, that's exactly how Edwin Jackson's career has unfolded as he prepares for his first season with the Cubs after agreeing to a four-year, $52 million contract this offseason.
In the past six years alone, Jackson has started at least one season in every division except the American League West. Beginning with 2008, Jackson opened the season with the Rays (AL East), followed by the Tigers (AL Central), Diamondbacks (National League West), White Sox (AL Central), Nationals (NL East) and now the Cubs (NL Central). Overall, the Cubs will be Jackson's eighth team during his 11-year Major League career, and it marks his second stint in the NL Central.
And he doesn't turn 30 until September.
"I think everyone likes me," joked Jackson, who also spent the second half of the 2011 season with the Cardinals. "The only thing I take from it is that as long as people are going out and trying to get me on their team, it says a lot."
Jackson may be well-traveled, but there are 10 active pitchers -- including recognizable veterans such as Octavio Dotel, Livan Hernandez and Bruce Chen -- who have actually made more stops in their respective careers than Jackson. Though at 29, the right-hander certainly has time to catch them.
The difference between Jackson and the typical journeyman pitcher is Jackson has been relatively consistent throughout his career. He may not always put up ace-like numbers, but he has routinely provided a solid option every fifth day to whichever club he's on at the time.
"Edwin is 29 years old, and he's had six consecutive seasons making 30-plus starts," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "He's proven his durability and proven his talent, but he's also at an age where we think he can get even better and an age where he fits into what we're trying to do age-wise and talent-wise with our roster."
The same hasn't always held true for the other active pitchers -- Dotel, Hernandez, Chen, Miguel Batista, Brett Tomko, LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, Kip Wells, Jamey Wright and Chad Gaudin -- who have played for more than eight franchises.
Hernandez, who started 30-plus games in 13 straight seasons from 1998-2010, is the only pitcher on that list to start 30 or more games six times total in his career, let alone in consecutive years.
The more common theme among journeyman starters seems to be the one experienced by Chen: a mix of injuries and alternating between the rotation and bullpen, just hoping to impress enough for another team to offer an opportunity.
Prior to missing the entire 2008 season as a result of Tommy John surgery, Chen had already played for nine teams (Braves, Phillies, Mets, Expos, Reds, Astros, Red Sox, Orioles and Rangers) in 10 seasons. He started 30-plus games just once during that span, going 13-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 34 games (32 starts) with the O's in 2005.
The Royals decided to be next in line after Chen's surgery, but even then, he was almost in a constant tryout up until last season. He initially signed a Minor League contract on March 1, 2009. Despite going 1-6 with a 5.78 ERA in 17 appearances (nine starts), Kansas City brought Chen back on another Minor League contract.
Chen then notched 12 wins in 2010, prompting the Royals to offer him a one-year Major League deal heading into 2011. After another 12-win season (12-8, 3.77 ERA), Kansas City finally dished out a two-year, $9 million offer, of which Chen is currently entering his final year.
"I wanted to be back here. I like the organization, I love my teammates, I love the city, I like the fans and I believe in this team," Chen said at the time of his long-awaited multiyear deal. "I turned down more guaranteed money to sign with the Royals. I didn't quite explore the whole market because I knew where my heart was."
As for Jackson, his heart hasn't had time to settle on any one place. In fact, if Jackson plays out the entirety of his four-year contract with the Cubs, it would mark the longest stint of his career in one location.
Fortunately, Jackson hasn't let himself get too attached to any one franchise, and that's something he already was accustomed to back in 2011 during his other stint in Chicago with the White Sox.
"If I had a soft spot for teams I used to play for," Jackson said at the time before facing the Dodgers, who originally drafted him in 2001, "I'd have a soft spot for a lot of teams already."
A month later, Jackson was traded to the Blue Jays on July 27. Just hours later, he was traded again -- this time in a package that included Dotel, of all players -- to the eventual 2011 World Series champion Cardinals. That marked the sixth, and most recent, time he's been traded, all since the 2005-06 offseason.
"Most of the times I've been traded, it's to a playoff-contending team. I never looked at it as a negative," Jackson said. "As long as someone wants me and they want me on their team and around their players and in their clubhouse, it's not necessarily a bad thing."
Then again, Jackson isn't necessarily the typical Major League journeyman.