The Braves added some experience to their patchwork bullpen Friday by signing veteran right-hander Edwin Jackson to a free-agent contract for the remainder of the season. The Cubs released the 13-year veteran last month with nearly 1 1/2 seasons left on his four-year, $52 million contract.
He’ll make prorated portion of the major league minimum $507,000 salary by the Braves, which will work out to about $150,00o. The Cubs are paying the rest of his $13 million salary this season and will owe him $13 million in 2016 to complete a four-year, $52 million contract.
Jackson, a graduate of Shaw High School in Columbus, struggled mightily for two seasons as a starter for Chicago, but posted a 3.18 ERA in 23 relief appearances this season and held left-handed hitters to a .200 average (8-for-40) before being released on July 27.
“It’ll be good to have an opportunity to come and play close to the house,” Jackson said. “I have a lot of family around, and friends as well. Also, to be able to part of the Braves organization, the organization I grew up watching as a kid. It’s definitely fun to be able to play for a team that you grew up watching.”
The Braves nearly traded for Jackson last year, when they considered a swap of “bad contracts” that would’ve seen Melvin Upton Jr. to the Cubs.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Jackson would have a chance to show over the remainder of the 2015 season whether he’s a viable candidate for the Braves’ bullpen or rotation in 2016. Any team could sign him to a minimum salary next season and the Cubs would owe the rest of his $13 million salary.
“That’s what I told him when I met him,” Gonzalez said. “I said, it’s not fair right now to put you in the rotation. But if you can help us out of the bullpen and you like the way we do things here, there’s no reason why you can’t come back next year and do (either) role. Shoot, he might like the bullpen. But we’re open for him to be in the bullpen for us or even potentially in the rotation for us next year.”
To reiterate, Jackson is under contractual control with the Braves only through the 2015 season, but they or any other team could pursue him as a free agent for 2016.
Besides being close to his parents in Columbus and other family members in Montgomery, another appealing aspect of the Braves’ situation was pitching coach Roger McDowell, who was Jackson’s pitching coach on the Dodgers’ Single-A South Georgia team in 2002, a year before Jackson reached the majors.
“Rog knows what he’s doing,” Jackson said. “We have a relationship that goes way back, and we understand each other pretty well, so it’s going to be interesting to get back out and work with him and get back on track.”
Jackson debuted in the majors at age 20 in 2003, and has an 86-105 record and 4.61 ERA in 362 games (262 starts) over 13 major league seasons with eight teams, including a 14-win season with Tampa Bay in 2008 and a 13-9 season with a 3.62 ERA with Detroit in 2009.
After going 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for the Nationals in 2013, with 168 strikeouts in 189 2/3 innings, Jackson landed his big contract with the Cubs. His performance went into steep decline, as Jackson went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA in 31 starts in 2013, then 6-15 with a 6.33 ERA in 28 games (27 starts) in 2014.
He was vague when asked about the improvement in his performance this season after moving to the bullpen.
“It was a matter of just fine-tuning,” he said. “It’s the game of baseball. You can go from Cy Young one year to getting talked about in the media and not performing as well one year. The main thing is not giving up. I did have two years that didn’t go the way I planned, but I know myself, I’m not really one to get slapped in the face and just lay on the ground and do nothing about it. I went in the offseason and worked harder — even if I thought I was working hard (before), just work harder to get back to where I know I can be.”