The Most Influential Player in This Year’s Playoffs is…Edwin Jackson?

Edwin Jackson

When it comes to the most inflluential players in this year’s LDS, there are plenty of big, bold names that come to mind.

Ryan Braun, Curtis Granderson, Roy Halladay, Adrian Beltre and others are all fine players in their own right. But none have had the kind of impact on the shaping of this year’s playoffs that Cardinals pitcher Edwin Jackson has. And it’s not just because he pulled off an improbable win in Game 4 over the Phillies that sent the series back to Philadelphia for a deciding Game 5.

That’s not a misprint by the way, although coming to that conclusion took a bit of work. Joe and I were talking about this on Twitter last night and the further back we went, the more we realized that Jackson has inadvertantly been a critical factor in shaping nearly half of this year’s playoff rosters.

With a little help from Retrosheet and Baseball Reference, let’s make like Hansel and Gretel and take a trip down the bread crumb trail that leads us from the beginning of Jackson’s career to where we are today, shall we?

Jackson’s career began as a 6th round pick with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers traded him to Tampa Bay prior to the 2006 season for Danys Baez and Lance Carter, two relievers who never really did much in a Dodgers uniform.

It was in Tampa Bay where his career really took off. Jackson made a name for himself in 2008 by going 14-11 with a 4.42 ERA, helping the surprising Rays earn their first World Series bid. For his troubles, he was traded after the season to Detroit for Matt Joyce. It didn’t take long for Joyce to make GM Andrew Friedman look great for pulling the trigger on that deal. All he did this season was hit .277 with 19 HR and 75 RBI, posting an on-base percentage of .347 in helping lead the Rays past the Red Sox on the final day of the regular season to clinch one of the more surprising playoff berths in baseball history. Without that deal, Tampa Bay doesn’t make the playoffs and doesn’t have a future that looks nearly as bright as it does today.

But Jackson’s impact doesn’t stop there. No, he was just getting started in his role as the ultimate trade bait.

After going 13-9 with a 3.62 ERA and making his first career All-Star appearance for the Tigers in 2009, Jackson once again found himself on the move as part of a trade that would have the greatest impact on this year’s playoffs. As part of a three team deal, the Tigers sent Jackson to the Diamondbacks and Curtis Granderson to the Yankees in exchange for Phil Coke and Austin Jackson from the Yankees and Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks in turn got Ian Kennedy from the Yankees as part of that deal.

Look at all the names involved in that trade. It’s one of the few in baseball history where every single team wound up getting something of value. The Yankees got Granderson, who turned himself into an MVP candidate this season by improving drastically both offensively and defensively. Jackson has proven to be a force in the Tigers lineup and a stellar defensive presence in the outfield. Scherzer went 15-9 this season in 33 starts, giving the Tigers a solid no. 2 starter behind Justin Verlander. Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth both have given the team significant contributions out of the bullpen, combining for 15 holds on the year. All Ian Kennedy did for the Diamondbacks this year was win 21 games and put them in a position to make a surprise run to the NL West title.

As for Jackson’s impact on the Diamondbacks playoff run? Fast forward to the 2010 trade deadline. Jackson’s value was high yet again after he no-hit his former Rays teammates and the Chicago White Sox were looking for another veteran arm to aid their playoff run. That combination meant Jackson was on the move yet again, in one of the shrewdest deadline deals made in the past ten years. The Diamondbacks sent him to the White Sox in exchange for Daniel Hudson and minor leaguer David Holmberg.

Hudson’s impact on the Diamondbacks was immediate and immeasurable. Down the stretch in 2010, he established himself as one of the game’s best young pitchers, going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. This year, he showed those numbers were no fluke as the DBacks’ no. 2 starter. Hudson went 16-12 with a 3.49 ERA, posting a strikeout to walk ratio just north of 3-1. Jackson on the other hand went 11-9 in 30 starts for the White Sox, never living up to the expectations that GM Kenny Williams had when he traded one of his best young pitchers to get the journeyman right hander.

Which brings us to this season. At this year’s trade deadline, Williams decided to wave the white flag and Jackson once again found himself on the mood. The White Sox traded him and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays in exchange for pitchers Jason Frasor and Zach Stewart. Jackson would never put on a Blue Jays uniform though largely because the Cardinals, who were at the time in contention to wrest the NL Central crown away from the Brewers, desperately needed starting pitching help. Toronto would deal Jackson along with Octavio Dotel, Corey Patterson, Marc Rzepczynski and three players to be named or cash to St. Louis in exchange for Trever Miller, Brian Tallet, Colby Rasmus and P.J. Walters.

The Cardinals are where Jackson had the biggest impact on a team he played for’s playoff fortunes. Down the stretch, he went 5-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts, giving the Cardinals some much needed stability in the middle of that rotation. Dotel and Rzepczynski would both make the Cardinals’ postseason roster as well and have done wonders to help improve a shaky bullpen.

So what about 2012? Whether or not Jackson is able to have a similar impact on next year’s pennant race remains to be seen. The Blue Jays clearly made this deal to get Rasmus, an exciting young slugger who has a lot of Blue Jays fans excited about the possibility of him leading the team back to relevance. Miller, Tallet and Walters are all no longer with the Blue Jays, having either been released or granted free agency within two months of the deal taking place. As for the players to be named (presuming the Jays just don’t take the cash), they’re all expected to be low-to-mid level minor leaguers who likely won’t have much of an impact on the big league level. That being said, if GM Alex Anthopolous can add another bat or two to that lineup to give Rasmus and Jose Bautista more protection, look for the Blue Jays to do big things next season.

And this time next year, continue to look for the legend of Edwin Jackson: The Ultimate Trade Chip to grow as well if he’s part of another major playoff roster shaping deal.