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Epstein: Signing Jackson worth the risk

Published: Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 9:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — The Cubs' decision to spend $52 million on Edwin Jackson raised eyebrows, though President Theo Epstein said the team always will be open to adding an expensive free agent, despite the rebuilding project.

Before serving meals to the military Wednesday at the Cubs Caravan stop at the U.S. Marine Corps base on the Northwest Side, Epstein said the lack of pitching in the farm system led to the pursuit of one of the more expensive free-agent starters.

"There's a bit of an imbalance in the organization between position players and pitchers," Epstein said. "We feel really good about a lot of our position-player depth and a lot of our potential impact players in the minor leagues. But frankly we can't say the same thing about our pitching in the prospect ranks.

"That's something we're going to try to address every year through the draft and trades, but unless you want to point to a year six or seven years from now when you want to compete, then you have to look at the major league avenue as well about ways to address that imbalance. You can't sit and wait until there's a perfect opportunity to acquire a pitcher or wait until right when you're ready to win a World Series and go and add 40 to 60 percent of your rotation. You have to seriously consider adding pitchers when they're there if they check a lot of the boxes of what you're looking for."

Epstein said Jackson's age was a factor in the decision to sign him.

"We weren't eager to make a significant investment in a player you'd have to sign for a good portion of their mid-30s, or who's had a significant injury history or hasn't been reliable in the past," Epstein said. "When a 29-year-old with a very consistent track record and a solid, effective, 200-inning-a-year, mid-rotation starter emerged and was available at what, relatively speaking, was a reasonable cost and a reasonable length of contract, we felt like it made a lot of sense."

When such an opportunity arises, Epstein said, "you sort of hold your breath and move forward."

"I say 'hold your breath' only because free-agent pitching is an inherently risky proposition," he said. "And in that risky pool, Edwin Jackson was, knock on wood, about as safe a bet as you can find."

When in Rome: Anthony Rizzo admitted he never has been to Italy and speaks only a little Italian, but the Cubs first baseman will represent the country in the World Baseball Classic.

"I would've loved to play for (Team) USA," he said. "That was my first choice. But they got all the 'monstars' on there. Also Italy is a great opportunity. I come from a strong Italian background, and to represent Italy is a pretty cool experience."

Rizzo said his dad's grandfather was from Sicily, which was enough to qualify for the team. The Italian team will practice and play its games in the Phoenix area, not far from the Cubs' spring training site in Mesa. Italy plays in the same bracket as the U.S., Mexico and Canada, so it would be a major upset to advance.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro is expected to play for the Dominican Republic. Rosters will be announced Thursday morning.

The quote: Epstein on whether the Cubs can compete: "It's postseason or bust every year. That's what our goal is. That said, we're obviously building for something greater, which is a time when we can expect to get into the postseason every year. Behind the scenes, regardless of the results, there's progress being made. But as far as 2013, you can define it as a success or failure by whether we make the postseason, and ultimately whether we win the World Series."

Extra Innings: Manager Dale Sveum reiterated that Carlos Marmol is his closer and Kyuji Fujikawa will be the setup man. He declined to say whether Nate Schierholtz will platoon with Dave Sappelt in right field. … Epstein said rehabbing pitchers Scott Baker and Matt Garza should be ready for opening day, though the Cubs won't rush them.

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