Cubs “now the front runner” for free agent Edwin Jackson

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That whole Anibal Sanchez thing didn’t quite work out, so the Northsiders are trying a different route.

According to Jim Bowden of ESPN and Sirius XM, the Cubs are “now the front runner” for free agent right-hander Edwin Jackson, who is also being courted currently by the Rangers. Bowden says the “ballpark” asking price is four years, $52 million.

Jackson, 29, registered a pretty solid 4.03 ERA and 1.22 WHIP across 31 starts this past season for the Nationals, fanning 168 batters in 189 2/3 innings.

In 2011, he had a 3.79 ERA in 199 2/3 frames between the White Sox and Cardinals.

If the Cubs land E-Jax, newly-signed right-hander Carlos Villanueva will presumably be pushed to the bullpen. That would leave a rotation of Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija, Jackson, Travis Wood and Scott Feldman. And then Scott Baker is expected to be recovered from elbow surgery by May.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.