Edwin Jackson, Nationals agree to deal

(Tony Gutierrez)

Jackson, a hard-throwing 28-year-old, gives the Nationals a crowded rotation with seven qualified starting pitchers, but the they do not plan on making major changes to the complexion of their staff before spring training, a Nationals official said.

The Nationals could ultimately look to trade John Lannan or Ross Detwiler but do not plan to not trade either before the start of spring training, the official said. The official also described talk of Lannan being shopped as “overblown.”

Still, the Nationals have a clear logjam in a formidable rotation, which now seems to line up as Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Jackson and Chien-Ming Wang. General Manager Mike Rizzo often uses the well-worn mantra of never having too much pitching. In spring, the Nationals will test that.

Jackson, who was born in West Germany, has some of the best pure stuff in baseball. Last season, his fastball averaged 94.5 miles per hour, fifth-fastest in the major leagues, and his slider zipped at 87.4 mph, sixth-fastest. In 2010, he threw a 149-pitch no-hitter for the Chicago White Sox.

But Jackson has also yet to produce a true breakout season while bouncing around with six different teams since 2003, most recently the St. Louis Cardinals in the second half of last season. Last year, with the White Sox and Cardinals, Jackson had a 3.79 ERA over 199 2/3 innings, striking out 148 batters and walking 62. His best season came with the Detroit Tigers in 2009, when he made the all-star team and had a 3.62 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 214 innings.

The disconnect in his stuff and results may derive from his delivery. Some scouts believe Jackson shows the ball to hitters early in his release, making it easier for hitters to pick the ball up — and limiting the effect of his velocity.

While Jackson gives the Nationals an abundance of starters, the Nationals are in position to require depth in their rotation. Pitching his first full season since Tommy John surgery, Strasburg will throw no more than about 160 innings. Last year, Wang returned from a shoulder operation that sidelined him for more than two years. Every team experiences attrition in its starting rotation, but the Nationals appear especially at risk.

Even after Lannan and Detwiler, the Nationals still have Tom Gorzelanny, who began last season in their rotation and spent the majority of the year as a starter.

Detwiler, because of his youth and the fact that he is under team control for four seasons, would have far more trade value than Lannan. Detwiler is out of minor league options, which means the Nationals cannot send him to the minors.

Jackson gives the Nationals another high-profile player represented by agent Scott Boras. He joins Strasburg, Danny Espinosa, Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, among others.

The Cardinals will receive the 58th choice in the draft as compensation for losing Jackson, but the pick will come in a sandwich round, not from the Nationals.

More to come.


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