Until recently, it seemed likely the White Sox would be buyers. They are still just 4.5 games back in the middling AL Central. But Ozzie Guillen’s most recent tantrum, the diminished performance of Alex Rios and Adam Dunn, and a general impression of growing tension within the clubhouse has some, including Ken Rosenthal, speculating that Kenny Williams may dangle some interesting players during the next week.
Unlike Carlos Quentin, a trade including E-Jax could be spun as something other than a white flag, as the White Sox have been using a six-man rotation for much of the season. If Williams can get a major-league ready hitter in the deal, it might even help both teams involved over the short term.
Although his traditional stats (6-7, 3.97 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) don’t necessarily show it, E-Jax has been Chicago’s best starter in 2011. He leads the rotation in WAR (2.8), FIP (3.18), xFIP (3.39), SIERA (3.62), K/9 (7.31), and HR/9 (0.62). He has been mighty unlucky, as his BABIP is currently the highest in baseball (.336). WAR, FIP, and xFIP all rank him as one of the top thirteen pitchers in the AL, while SIERA puts him at seventeen.
Which isn’t to say Jackson should be treated as an ideal complement to C. C. Sabathia at the top of the rotation. At 27, E-Jax may still be on the upward swing of his career, but he has been very streaky thusfar. He is capable of pitching like an Ace over extended stretches, as he did in the summer of 2009 (7-3, 2.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and after joining the White Sox at the tail end of 2010 (4-2, 3.24 ERA, 9.24 K/9). He can also wreak havoc on teams that depend upon him. When Detroit was fighting for the playoffs in September of ’09, Jackson gave them a 6.08 ERA and 1.51 WHIP in his last eight starts. He had similarly disastrous implosions in Arizona and Tampa Bay.
Jackson’s inconsistency makes comprising a trade for him even more anxiety-provoking. If Jackson recaptures the form he showed last fall, or merely continues to pitch as he has in 2011 while playing in front of a superior defense and with superior run support, he could be well worth a top prospect. If he fails to be anything more than another innings-eater and is happily shuffled into free agency this winter, such a loss would sting.
I, personally, am encouraged by the slow but sure progression we’ve seen from Jackson over his first five seasons in the big leagues. There’s no denying that his stuff is impressive and he has proven himself extremely durable (in fact, he has never missed a start due to injury). He is also a much calmer and more resilient pitcher than he was in his early twenties. I’d be willing to bet that Jackson has five or six really good seasons in front of him, and probably a couple more All-Star invites. If he were to blossom in the Big Apple and dominate in the playoff fishbowl, it would mean millions of dollars to him a few months from now. I would not, however, trade one of the Yankees top three prospects on that possibility.