Big developments have a funny way of involving Cubs’ Edwin Jackson
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org February 12, 2013 9:57PM
New Chicago Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson was introduced during a press conference Wednesday January 2, 2013 at Wrigley Field. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times
Updated: March 14, 2013 6:49AM
MESA, Ariz. — His bench coach, Randy Knorr, physically held him back. His manager, Davey Johnson, got in his face to try to settle him down. And even after he seemed done pointing, jumping and shouting on the field, he started shouting again from the dugout.
‘‘Edwin Jackson’s very hot,’’ said the voice on the Washington Nationals broadcast even as that Sept. 6 melee between the Cubs and Nationals had settled down.
Five months later, during his first day on the other side, the Cubs’ newest big-ticket free agent gets kind of fuzzy on the details.
‘‘I was a peacemaker,’’ Jackson said, not quite convincingly, as he spoke Tuesday after the Cubs’ first spring workouts, ‘‘but I was right there. Somehow I end up in the middle, regardless of whether I’m doing anything or not. I could just be standing around, just watching, observing, and find out, man, I’m in the middle.’’
If any fences needed mending in Jackson’s new clubhouse, it’s clearly been done — teammates to a man talk about what a great guy he is. And it’s not like the Cubs have very many players on the roster left from that night, anyway.
But make no mistake: For all the fuzzy details, Jackson is right about being the guy in the middle.
His four-year, $52 million deal, which might have been the surprise signing of the winter in baseball, puts the 29-year-old right-hander at the center of the Cubs’ plans just one year into the rebuilding process.
And for about a year leading up to that, he was right in the middle of one of the biggest stories in payroll economics in the big leagues — a Forrest Gump in a world of changing free-agency rules and strategies.
It’s why he can relate like no one else to former St. Louis Cardinals teammate Kyle Lohse, who remains unsigned despite a dominating 2012 season largely because he declined the Cardinals’ $13.3 million ‘‘qualifying offer’’ of a one-year contract — meaning any team that signs him as a free agent forfeits a high draft pick as compensation.
‘‘I definitely know how it feels,’’ Jackson said.
The qualifying-offer rule, which gives the player’s original team the compensation pick if he signs elsewhere, is new this winter.
Though Jackson wasn’t hamstrung by the rule, he — like Lohse — went into February last year as a free agent without a deal, despite a strong season, after turning down a three-year, $30 million offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates early in the free-agent period.
Like Lohse, Jackson’s agent at the time was Scott Boras, who eventually advised the pitcher to take a one-year, $11 million deal with the Nationals and reboot his free agency, even as the new rules were being instituted.
If the Cubs do what they’re trying to do in the next few years, they might have the Nationals to thank for surprisingly not making Jackson a qualifying offer this time around.
Whether that had anything to do with Jackson switching agents over the summer, the fact is that three of the final four unsigned free agents among the nine who received qualifying offers were clients of Boras, the man baseball insiders say was the target of the rules changes.
Jackson seems to get fuzzy again when asked about the agent switch and about Boras’ reputation as a hard negotiator creating a possible issue with teams.
‘‘I’m not sure,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s gotten people paid. He’s gotten people good money. You can’t argue with that. . . . It’s just change. I just needed a change.’’
If nothing else, six trades and seven different teams before this have put him in the middle of a lot of things.
‘‘I’ve learned a lot at a young age in this game,’’
he said. ‘‘I’ve been on the move at a young age, I’ve been through adversity at a young age. I just worry about what I can control.’’
He says he’s not sure why the Nats didn’t make a qualifying offer —“I never asked them.’’ But he’s sure of one thing after finally landing his first multiyear deal.
‘‘I’m definitely happy right here,’’ he said.
NOTES: Kerry Wood was back in a Cubs uniform Tuesday as a special instructor, a role he’s expected to fill for stretches of spring training and the regular season.
† Manager Dale Sveum said nobody was held back for any reason on pitchers’ and catchers’ first day.