It’s easy to understand why free-agent right-hander Edwin Jackson signed a one-year contract with the Washington Nationals rather than a three-year deal with say, the Baltimore Orioles.
The Nationals look like contenders. They play in the pitcher-friendly National League. They should give Jackson a strong platform to attain a multiyear deal when he hits the open market again next offseason.
For Jackson, the upside remains greater than what he turned down — at least one three-year deal in the $20 million to $30 million range, according to major league sources.
Still, there is risk for Jackson on a one-year deal, just as there is risk for two other Scott Boras clients, free-agent relievers Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez, both of whom also signed for just one year.
Boras coined the term, “pillow contract,” in 2010 to describe the soft, temporary landing he negotiated for free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, who signed a one-year, $10 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.
The deal worked out splendidly for Beltre, who had a big year with the Red Sox and signed a five-year, $80 million contract with the Texas Rangers the following offseason.
First baseman Carlos Pena, another Boras client, didn’t realize the same benefit — he signed a one-year, $10 million free-agent contract with the Chicago Cubs a year ago, then another one-year deal for $7.25 million with the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason.
In Jackson’s perfect world, he’ll build on his performance over the past three seasons, when he averaged nearly 208 innings and produced a 3.96 ERA. His age is not an issue; he still is only 28.
What’s more, the next free-agent market for starting pitchers could be even thinner than this offseason’s if pitchers such as San Francisco Giants right-hander Matt Cain and Milwaukee Brewers righty Zack Greinke agree to extensions.
Then again, there are no guarantees for Jackson — or Madson and Rodriguez, for that matter. Remember, all three appeared strong candidates for solid multiyear deals this offseason. And the possibility of injury or decline looms more prominently for players — and especially pitchers — who sign short-term.
Jackson must handle the increased expectations that will come with a free-agent salary expected to be about $10 million; he earned $8.35 million on the back end of a two-year deal last season.
Madson, who only has closed successfully for one year, must adjust to his rejection by Philadelphia, his move to another hitter-friendly park in Cincinnati and his lower-than-expected guarantee of $8.5 million.
Rodriguez must set up again for closer John Axford in Milwaukee, albeit at a salary of $8 million that he received after accepting arbitration. Top setup men, however, average only about $5 million in free agency and K-Rod is unlikely to receive a one-year qualifying offer from the Brewers under the new collective-bargaining agreement.
The free-agent market was different this offseason — flooded with closers, disrupted for starting pitchers by a large number of trades involving young starters and the posting of Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.
Maybe next offseason will be different, and Boras will hit the jackpot with Jackson, Madson and Rodriguez. Then again, maybe this will be good as it gets for one or more of those three.
For pitchers in particular, the risk is higher on shorter deals.