ATLANTA — Two and a half seasons into a four-year, $52 million deal, the Cubs are saying goodbye to Edwin Jackson.
Reliever Rafael Soriano will join the Cubs for Monday’s series opener against the Cincinnati Reds, and to make room for the right-hander with 207 career saves, the Cubs will designate Jackson for assignment. The 31-year-old finished his Cubs career with a 16-34 record and 5.37 ERA in 82 games (58 starts), though he did have a 3.19 ERA in 31 innings out of the bullpen in 2015.
“I wasn’t really expecting it, but at this point in my career, it’s hard for me to say I’m surprised about anything that happens,” Jackson said. “It sucks, but it’s just the business part of the game. I’ll be all right, the team will be all right. Hopefully throughout my time here I left some kind of positive influence on the guys that they can continue to keep it going.”
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With Soriano re-gaining his arm strength in the farm system — he signed a minor league deal with the Cubs in June and pitched in seven games between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa — the organization was faced with a difficult decision on who he’d replace in the major league bullpen. Despite having two years and a pro-rated $26 million left on his contract, Jackson was the guy jettisoned.
Soriano saved 32 games for Washington in 2014 — though he had a 7.56 ERA in September — and racked up 40 or more saves three times, including in 2010 with Joe Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays.
Maddon, who managed Jackson from 2006-08 with Tampa Bay, was effusive in his praise of his departing pitcher.
“What a professional athlete and person that Edwin is,” Maddon said. “I’ve known him for a long time, I wasn’t here when he went through some tough moments here, but everybody speaks so well of how he handled those and how accountable he was to (the media) and to his teammates.
“The word class often time for me is absolutely thrown out there way too readily, too easily — I really believe it applies to him and how he handles himself and his decorum among professionals. He’s a good friend, I really believe he’s going to get another opportunity and I really wish him nothing but the best in that this next opportunity really blossoms for him.
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“First-rate human being.”
Added starter Jake Arrieta, who was close with Jackson and his family: “He’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever been around. It’s hard to see him go.”
Jackson will hang back in Atlanta — he went to high school just down I-85 in Columbus, Ga. — and said he won’t worry about what’s next since it’s out of his control. The Cubs have 10 days to place him on waivers, trade him, release him or outright him to the minor leagues, though Jackson could decline that assignment and become a free agent.
“It’s just a waiting game now,” Jackson said. “Wait and see. Something will happen. Just not sure when, where, or who.”