News broke today that the Cubs and the Rangers are the final two suitors in the Edwin Jackson regretstravaganza, after the failed pursuit of Anibal Sanchez last week. Now, reports are indicating that the Rangers will not be the high bid. The reported figures are somewhere in the 4 to 5 year range at around 12 to 13 per. If the Cubs were willing to go 5/75 for Sanchez, they shouldn't really hesitate to go 5/60 for Jackson either.
Sanchez is a better pitcher to be certain, but a cursory glance at the two pitchers does Jackson a real disservice. Sanchez has pitched 195.2 innings on average the past 3 years, and at a FIP of 3.40. That's studly, but also misleading. Sanchez missed time due to injury as recently as spring training this year, and has had more than his share of injuries throughout his career.
On the other hand, Edwin Jackson has been nothing short of a workhorse. He's averaged 32 starts a season ever since he's had a full season in the big leagues, 6 years ago. While he was no good at all his first couple seasons, you can attribute some of that to his being new. In the past 3 years, Jackson has had a marked improvement in first pitch strikes (from an average of 54% to 59%), and that's allowed him to work out of the zone deeper into the count. Working ahead of the count is a primary driver of getting strikeouts and ground balls (people just want to put it in play at that point), and those are sustainable recipes of success. Over the last 3 seasons, Jackson has thrown an average of 199.2 innings of 3.75 FIP ball. That's demonstrably worse than Sanchez but still very valuable.
A 5-year contract would bring Jackson into his age-33 season, which is not very far from a peak year. As an injury concern, Jackson has to be pretty low on your list of concerns. He's proven (repeatedly) that he has the stuff to consistenly work in the middle of a rotation. I don't set a TON of value by pitching WAR, but it seems to me that Jackson is a very good bet to give you 3 WAR a year on average over the next 5 years. If a win this year is worth 4.5 million (and I'd like to think it's around there), you'd expect a contract of 5/60 to provide you with 14.6 million in surplus value (5% inflation) over the next 5 years. That sounds right around what I'd expect, considering the non-neglible risk of injury and/or regression.
One last point to remember: free agency is only going to get more competitive (as the new CBA closes down avenues to outspend in other ways). We might not get another chance to add a mid-rotation piece this cheaply again. Next year's FA pitching class looks like David Weathers when we consider that most of those big names will get re-signed or extended. The Cubs have money, and their time for contention is sooner than you might think (we might put together a non-embarrassment in 2014, here's to hoping). We should get good players while they are available.
Last note: obviously I'd much rather have Jackson for 4 years/48 million. I don't think that will happen now, though if the rumors are true about where Sanchez might have signed had the Cubs not stepped in, that would have been an easy sign.