Jackson could fill two needs for Cubs

Edwin Jackson has pitched at least 189 2/3 innings in each of the past five seasons. Brad Mills/US Presswire

The Chicago Cubs veered from their recent conservative path by signing free agent pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, according to sources.

It's the first contract longer than two years they've given out this offseason. Is Jackson the next Cy Young award winner? Probably not. After all this will be his eighth team since 2003. But Jackson has always had decent stuff. Last year he went 10-11 with a 4.03 ERA for the first-place Washington Nationals.

He has been plagued by inconsistency his whole career but he is still better than much of the options for the Cubs, and at least he represents a willingness by management to do something to improve the team now as well as potentially the future. Until now, it was mostly only about the future and that's represented in all the one- and two-year deals they've given out as well as the quantity of prospects they've acquired.

Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Ian Stewart and Nate Schierholtz, for example, are no guarantees to be with the Cubs after next season -- and that might be a good thing. If they prove themselves they can always get a new deal. If not, they open room for others who come along either through the system or elsewhere.

Jackson will be here, unless of course he's traded for more prospects. But he marks the first signing of a player outside the organization in the Theo Epstein era who has the chance to bridge the gap between the Cubs now and when they turn the corner -- if they turn the corner. It's been well-documented the Cubs were seeking Anibal Sanchez as that guy, but he signed with Detroit for a reported $80 million.

Jackson is decent enough. He's not a No.1 starter, but certainly a guy that makes the Cubs better. And while Cubs management hasn't spoken about the deal yet (or the pursuit of Sanchez) their strategy became apparent: take care of a huge need even if they're not ready to win now.

And that's the rub about the Cubs' offseason: After 101 losses it's not hard to improve. Instead of a starting staff that was top-heavy last season with Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza, next year's group will have more depth. With Garza and recent addition Scott Baker starting the year coming off injuries, the Cubs will need it.

The competition after Garza, Jackson and holdover Jeff Samardzija could be decent. Baker and newcomers Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva will battle with Travis Wood for those final spots. And that's without any spring training surprises. Health might determine the starting five on Opening Day, but either way, at least the Cubs have more major league bodies than last season. That's a start.

And remember Garza is more likely to be traded next season so extra arms will help. The Cubs got caught short last season after trades and injuries which turned the second half into a death march. If the Cubs want to be somewhat respectable they've made some decent moves. If they want to be a contender, they have a long way to go. But we knew that already.

Heading into and out of the winter meetings earlier this month the Cubs seemed destined for baby steps, but general manager Jed Hoyer cautioned the meetings were only the beginning of the offseason, not the end.

On Thursday, he backed up those words with two more signings -- and one of them actually has a chance to have some meaning for the Cubs when they're good.