Revisiting the Nationals’ decision to not give Edwin Jackson a qualifying offer

(Dave Tulis / AP)

The Nationals never showed any intention of re-signing Edwin Jackson this winter, and formality of their fourth starter joining another team seems ready to be finalized. After making $11 million for the Nationals in 2012, Jackson is moving toward a four-year, $52 million deal with the Chicago Cubs, according to a report from ESPN’s Buster Olney. Jackson’s itinerant career will at last come to rest – only 22 more teams and Jackson will have played for them all.

[UPDATE, 4:05: According to various reports, starting with CSN Chicago, the Cubs and Jackson have agreed on the deal, pending a physical.]

The size of Jackson’s contract highlights a curious decision the Nationals made back in the early goings of the offseason. The Nationals did not offer Jackson a one-year qualifying offer at $13.3 million, which means now they will not receive a compensatory draft choice when he signs elsewhere.

“Those are decisions that you talk about internally,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said in early November. “We felt with the depth we had at the major league level and the depth of free agents that we had out there that we had as good or better options.”

The Nationals are justified in preferring Dan Haren over Jackson, who last year punched up a 4.03 ERA with 168 strikeouts and 58 walks in 189 2/3 innings. But that seems beside the point. The calculation should not have been based on the impact of having Jackson for another season, but rather on if Jackson would have accepted the offer.

Signs pointed to Jackson, still just 29, likely declining the offer. Jackson left agent Scott Boras in the middle of the season, and it would be unusual for Jackson to switch agents in order to repeat the previous offseason and sign a one-year contract.

The Nationals may have had indications that Jackson planned to accept the qualifying offer. But one unaffiliated agent said it would have made no sense for Jackson to take another one-year deal, and the Nationals’ decision to not offer him generally surprised people around the game.

In the end, the Nationals’ decision allowed them to freely pursue Haren. But it also cost them a chance at a sandwich round pick, somewhere around the No. 35 overall choice. Those picks are highly valued commodities, especially under the new collective bargaining agreement, which limits how much teams can spend in the draft. It is harder to stockpile talent using big bonuses late in the draft, and prospects chosen earlier do not cost as much to sign.

Not receiving an offer surely benefited Jackson, who did not run into the same obstacle currently hampering first baseman Adam LaRoche. The Nationals have not increased their two-year offer to LaRoche, and other teams have been lukewarm because signing him will cost them a first-round draft pick. Jackson could peddle himself without the caveat of costing a first-rounder, an enormous advantage.

Meanwhile, former Nationals reliever Tom Gorzelanny found a new home today. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported the Brewers and Gorzelanny agreed to a two-year deal. The Nationals non-tendered Gorzelanny three weeks ago, choosing instead to re-sign Zach Duke as their left-handed long reliever.

Gorzelanny gave the Nationals two seasons of solid service for little cost. The Nationals originally acquired him from the Cubs for minor leaguers Michael Burgess, A.J. Morris and Graham Hicks, which stands as one of Rizzo’s sneaky-good moves. For a total of $5.1 million and three prospects still far from the majors, Gorzelanny pitched 177 innings, toggling between starting and relief, with a 109 ERA+. He was an unheralded but valuable member of this year’s bullpen, logging 72 innings with a 2.88 ERA, 62 strikeouts and 30 walks.

The Brewers were desperate for relief help, and Gorzelanny, who grew up outside of Chicago, close to Milwaukee, can provide it and rotation depth if necessary.

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