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July 30, 2010

Transaction Action

The Edwin Jackson Trade

by Christina Kahrl

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Acquired RHP Edwin Jackson from the Diamondbacks for RHP Dan Hudson and LHP David Holmberg; recalled RHP Lucas Harrell from Charlotte (Triple-A). [7/30]

Having had to scratch Jake Peavy for the season, the Sox apparently weren't going to settle for Hudson in the fifth slot, although this deal does create the logistical inconvenience of hauling out Hudson and having to run with organizational soldier Lucas Harrell in tonight's ballgame.

Generally speaking, the expectation that Jackson is going to pitch better in the season's final third is more than reasonable-his 4.24 SIERA is well below his 5.16 ERA, and like the Haren deal, Jackson was being pushed later into his games in part out of the understandable fear of the worst bullpen of all time, leading to four of his quality starts through the first six innings getting subsequently blown after the sixth. Add in a pitcher-unfriendly home park; Jackson allowed 5.9 runs per nine in Phoenix. And to add to this tale of woe, the fact that the Snakes' defense is execrable, ranking 26th in PADE and 28th in Defensive Efficiency. Add in that he managed six quality starts through six in his 10 turns away from the non-BOB, and you can see somebody close to the guy the Tigers enjoyed employing last season.

But his overall performance hasn't been great, for all that. His .441 SNWP with Arizona obviously isn't a big positive, and his road record wasn't all that impressive (4.8 RA/9, 4.6 BB/9). Thanks in part to his no-hitter, he was just barely giving up less than a hit per inning, while striking out seven men per nine. The more ominous factor is that he hasn't managed a quality start in any of his five spins since that no-hitter against the Rays on June 25; Hudson at least gave the Sox one before getting dealt. The beatings Jackson has received since that big of vengeance against one of his several former employers have been ugly, as he's given up 54 baserunners and 24 runs in 27 1/3 IP. While his velocity hasn't dropped in this five-pack of whoop-ass, his walk rate since the no-hitter has spiked from 3.7 in the 107 innings he threw through June to 4.6 in his five July starts.

Now, maybe it's all a matter of rescuing him from the mess in Phoenix, and he'll be fine now that he's with a team that has useful big-league accoutrements, like a bullpen, or a sense of purpose. But for a rescue of a guy who's having a rough year with a bad team, this really isn't coming all that cheaply. Hudson was the Sox' top prospect coming into the season, and he's better than anything the Snakes got for Haren, and he was packaged with a nifty parting gift in Holmberg. Jackson's signed through 2011 (for $8.35 million), so he's not simply a rental, nor is he cheap, nor is he settled into the South Side for nearly as long as Haren will be in Anaheim.

Which brings up the question of whether or not Williams has acquired Jackson to re-gift him, since there's heavy speculation that the Sox will eject E-Jack toward the nation's capitol to acquire Adam Dunn for DH duties. Doing that would naturally do wonders for the offense, but it would leave the rotation down a man all over again, without Hudson to turn to. If Kenny Williams is about to flip Jackson, he can't really stop at acquiring Dunn. Could we see Livan Hernandez joining the men in black as well? Harrell generates a good number of grounders, but he wasn't overpowering the International League, walking four batters per nine and a hit per inning pitched, and he generally gets lit up the third time through the order, averaging a 7.41 RA/9 after the fourth.

While it's sensible of Kenny Williams to look at this team and decide that it needs help if it's going to win the AL Central, let alone have a shot at an upset in an LDS against an AL East team, this move doesn't radically improve their chances on the face of it. In the broad strokes, if the Sox stop right here and only wind up with Jackson, then it's an expensive gamble on the proposition that he can resume being a quality mid-rotation starter, right here and right now. The flashes of greatness that Jackson has delivered for years, the fastball that can touch the high 90s, the fact that he's just 26 years old... you can see why so many people take the upside risk with Jackson. Unfortunately, there's been far too much of the downside in evidence as well, and the Sox might get the less happy version of Jackson, unless they don't keep him, or unless this is a situation like their famous salvage operation with Jose Contreras, where they saw somebody they could fix, and were vindicated.

Looking forward to 2011, between the uncertain future of Jake Peavy after what's been deemed a successful surgery on his shoulder, and Freddy Garcia's mere utility as a back-end rotation piece and his impending free agency, you could interpret a scenario where they're left with Jackson adding up to a calculation that they're going to need a starter for next season as well as now.


ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

Traded RHP Edwin Jackson to the White Sox for RHP Dan Hudson and LHP David Holmberg. [7/30]

The interesting thing here is that it seems as if the D'backs got a better deal for Jackson than they did for Haren, which suggests the critical importance of money in both exchanges-Haren costs more for longer, and that can be seen as much as a negative in negotiations as a positive. Jackson's deal only runs through 2011 for less, making him a more affordable addition.

Put in those terms, the fact that they managed to add Hudson might surprise you less. He's a pitcher very like Ian Kennedy in terms of his capacity to throw strikes, but with low-90s heat that touches 96 and with outstanding command. His key off-speed pitch is a plus changeup, but his slider has its moments. As noted upon his promotion, he struggled in April, but he'd earned the call to take Jake Peavy's place in the White Sox rotation with how he'd pitched subsequently for Charlotte, averaging 10.1 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 while giving up just 56 hits in 77 IP.

That's not to say there aren't negatives. His three-quarters delivery draws comparisons to Jered Weaver's, and not entirely in a good way, since some term it "slingy," helping hitters get under balls. Which contributes to the other major concern: he's homer-prone and a relatively fly ball-oriented pitcher going to a ballpark where fly balls become cheap-seat souvenirs more often than in most other big-league venues. So there's risk, but more fundamentally, there's an excellent opportunity that the breakout minor-league pitcher of 2009 will be a quality mid-rotation starter for the Diamondbacks in relatively short order. Skip any commentary about Joe Saunders' winning percentage, Hudson is the second-best starter in the Snakes' rotation right now, behind Kennedy.

The add-on isn't just that, as Holmberg was the second-round pick of the Sox in the 2009 draft. As Kevin Goldstein noted in his pre-season Top 11 list, the big lefty was the "one of the most polished high school pitchers in the draft," mixing in a quality curve and change with relatively normal southpaw velocity. After debuting in the Appy League last season, he's moved up to the Pioneer League this year, having just turned 19. There, he's got a 3-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, twice as many grounders as flies, and a lot of people wondering if he'll add velocity as he matures. In some respects, I'd say there's not a ton separating him from Pat Corbin (but behind Tyler Skaggs) from the Haren deal-he's interesting, as they are, but his ceiling isn't any better than theirs, pending any development with his velocity.


Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

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