What $13.3 Million Is Worth Today
As the major league baseball off-season ramps up, it was announced in the press that the league average salary stands currently at $13.3 million. Qualifying offers to the Nationals two free agents–Adam LaRoche and Edwin Jackson—must meet or exceed that figure if the team is to receive draft pick compensation.
Adam LaRoche is worth the money and one can assume that any contract the Nationals and LaRoche reach will be just north of that neighborhood for three years. But Edwin Jackson pitched to a 4.03 ERA when the league average in the National League was 3.94. His 10-11 record is indicative of the inconsistent pitcher that Nationals fans watched this season, one who failed to scratch in the post-season when he might have earned his $11 million salary.
The downside of tendering Edwin Jackson an offer of $13.3 million is that he might take it and saddle the Nationals with a sub-par pitcher for next season. After his best season in the majors—2009—when his ERA was at a career best 3.63, Jackson signed a two-year deal with Arizona. Otherwise, Jackson has never had a multi-year deal. His chances of getting one for next season do not look any better.
If the Nationals make the offer there is far too much likelihood that he would take it. The Lerners have never been known for buying high, which is what a qualifying offer to Jackson would mean.
And what exactly could they get on the open market for league average salary? The Los Angeles Angels, never afraid to throw money around, refused to pick up Dan Haren’s $15.5 million option for 2013. Haren has been one of the better pitchers in either league until this past season. He averaged 225 innings over a seven-year stretch in which he was three times an All-Star.
The word on the street is that the Angels will not risk making an offer to Haren after his first sub-par season since 2005. Yet it seems to me that the risk of getting some kind of bounce-back year for Haren—if he is healthy—are greater by far than the chance that Edwin Jackson will break out of his career long inconsistency to do better than his 2012 showing in Washington. If the Angels would trade Haren and pay his $3.5 million option for 2013, the Nationals would have a better pitcher for less than the $13.3 million league average salary.
There are other “options” as well that would net the Nationals better value for their money than they will get with Jackson. Although the Tampa Bay Rays do not like to trade their pitching, they have as many quality starters as Mother Hubbard had children. The most expensive of the lot, James Shields, will make a meager $9 million this year. Shields’ 3.52 ERA and 15 wins make him one of the better pitchers in the AL this past season.
Tampa needs help in the outfield, at first base and at catcher. Surely there is some kind of fit between the Nationals talent and the Rays needs that would induce them to trade Shields. But even if that avenue is closed, there are numerous free agent pitchers who will sign for something just north of $13.3 million and who will provide better value than Edwin Jackson.
The free agent market for starting pitchers includes Zach Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, and Shaun Marcum. Perhaps the cream of the crop are not in the Nationals budget plans, but that is no excuse for over-paying for Edwin Jackson.
The Nationals should focus their salary attention on signing LaRoche and then bidding for a free agent outfielder like Michael Bourn. The market for pitching will work itself out later and there will be enough to choose from that is the equal of Jackson. And if they end up with Edwin Jackson again, then they are unlikely to be backed into paying him $2 million more than what he made in 2012 for a below average effort. My bet is that the same Lerner family that won’t pay Metro or the City fair money is unlikely to pay Edwin Jackson either.
Listen to this recent “Outta the Parkway” podcast: