Commentary

Peavy to Sox makes sense

Pitching ace shouldn't be afraid of Guillen

Originally Published: May 20, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

[+] EnlargeJake Peavy
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJake Peavy's agent says the right-hander prefers the NL and is comfortable in Southern California.
Jake Peavy wants to stay in the National League. That makes perfect sense.

Peavy claims he likes to bat, but what he really likes to do is get easy outs from pitchers, pinch-hitters and Punch-and-Judy No. 8 hitters. You can't buy easy outs.

The American League presents a stiffer challenge in theory, but perhaps it's not as much as you think. Through 40 games this season, AL pitchers have a 4.65 ERA, compared to 4.41 for NL pitchers. Last year it was 4.35 compared to 4.29. In 2007, when Peavy won the Cy Young, it was 4.51 and 4.43.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, after breaking the story Wednesday night that the San Diego Padres may trade Peavy to the Chicago White Sox, now is reporting the deal isn't imminent. But after word got out that Peavy was hesitant to play for manager Ozzie Guillen, Peavy's agent, Barry Axelrod, tried to squash that story line.

"The owner [Jerry Reinsdorf] lets his very adept baseball guy [Ken Williams] run the show," Axelrod told the paper. "I have a great deal of respect for how they operate. They allow their baseball people do what they are supposed to do. We have a great deal of respect for the organization, and the city of Chicago is a great place to play."

The paper reiterated that Peavy wants to stay in the NL, but that might not be as easy as he would like. Peavy has a full no-trade clause, but he doesn't have that much leverage. Who's willing to pay him the $52 million he's owed through 2012, not to mention the club option of $22 million (with a $4 million buyout) he wants exercised in 2013?

There aren't many suitors, and that may include his next scheduled opponent, the Chicago Cubs, who are still in limbo as potential owner Tom Ricketts tries to straighten out the team's nebulous broadcast deals with its current owner, the Tribune Company. Ricketts is going to have to rehab Wrigley Field and pay the exorbitant salaries owed in long-term deals without alienating his ticket base. Cubs tickets already are the third-most expensive in baseball, and they don't have any room to add pricey new sections or suites. Reports indicating that he's hitting up Jim Belushi for cash doesn't exactly fill a Cubs fan with optimism.

Who else is there? Half the teams in the league either can't afford Peavy or aren't competitive enough to need him.

The Padres won't trade him to division rival Los Angeles, and the Mets already have Johan Santana, among other big-money players. St. Louis? They're going to be in flux if manager Tony La Russa bolts, so maybe. Philadelphia? There's a possibility, but you wonder how the down-home Alabama native will deal with that high-stress environment. Houston could be a buyer, but if he's worried about pitching in the AL, try pitching in the Juice Box. The 10th time Alfonso Soriano hits that train in left field, he'll be wishing he was on the South Side.

Add all of this to the fact these teams have to provide the young talent San Diego is going to want for its top talent.

There was word that Guillen is a factor. The Union-Tribune reported that a teammate believes Peavy isn't sure about playing for the World Series-winning manager.

Isn't that precious? It's also way off base.

Guillen may be a little off-kilter, but he's a players' manager. He doesn't make excuses, and if he's going to rip a player he does it in the open, and he does it fairly. Some guys don't like playing for Guillen, and that's fair. But to me, this smacks of an excuse. If Peavy's more worried about his numbers going up or how his boss is going to treat him, maybe he's not man enough to pitch for the White Sox. Maybe he should stay in San Diego, where home runs go to die in spacious Petco Park.

I've always heard that Peavy is a competitor. Guys like Mike MacDougal don't last in Chicago. Guys like Mark Buehrle thrive here. Pitching coach Don Cooper is widely respected and has helped resurrect careers. Peavy would be in good hands with Cooper.

In truth, Peavy, just 27, will fit right in with a loose, veteran clubhouse. He can trade deer-killing stories with Buehrle, who will enjoy being the No. 2 starter, and work with the smartest catcher in baseball in A.J. Pierzynski. And Peavy can exchange old Bruce Bochy stories with former teammate Scott Linebrink.

Linebrink told the "Waddle & Silvy" show today on ESPN 1000, "the only conversation we had about Ozzie is he said, 'What's Ozzie like?' and I said, 'He's crazy.' I'm sure Jake has been around long enough and talked to enough people who played for him that he knows what's he's getting."

Linebrink elaborated that he meant Guillen's craziness is just his general personality. Guillen's main problem is his lack of filter. Not believing in dinosaurs is crazy. Guillen's just unique.

This deal makes sense for both sides, with the only caveat being Peavy's shoulder, which has supposedly bothered him this season, but not enough to really affect his performance. For the Sox to give up No. 1 pitching prospect Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard, and whatever other pitcher the Padres want out of the minor leagues, isn't too much to ask.

The White Sox need help in the rotation today. With Gavin Floyd struggling, Jose Contreras striving for the Triple-A All-Star game and Bartolo Colon a question mark, the Sox's biggest need is in the rotation. Just Wednesday, I suggested that Richard or Poreda could take Floyd's spot. Now they might be pitching in the vast expanse of Petco Park.

As the second team in the third-biggest market in the country, the White Sox are in a unique position. They're only four years off an historic World Series title, but they still fight to draw 30,000 a night to U.S. Cellular Field, while the Cubs cram 40,000 into Wrigley Field. A Sox employee told me recently the team doesn't worry about competing for fans with the Cubs, Blackhawks, Bulls or Bears. They compete against themselves. White Sox fans are a singular species, and they will support a winner. The 2005 World Series was a game-changer for them, and the organization, from Brooks Boyer to Kenny Williams, is under constant pressure to compete. Again, this is self-induced pressure. These guys drank from the chalice once, they're not about to go thirsty for another 80 years.

Reinsdorf admitted to reporters that he is worried about expiring sponsorship deals in a down economy. Bank of America and Pontiac left before this season, and Reinsdorf said he expects Chevrolet to do the same.

But the White Sox have creative minds in the front office. And they have one of the most underrated sports executives in the business -- if that's still possible given his success -- in Williams, who has managed to steal underpaid assets from other teams the past five years, without overpaying too many guys. He deserved a Better Business Bureau plaque for dumping Nick Swisher and Javier Vazquez this offseason and saving the team almost $17 million this season and $45 million in total salaries. Peavy is owed $52 million from 2010 to 2012 and has a $22 million club option for 2013 (with a $4 million buyout) that he wants guaranteed. He's worth about $11 million this season. That's a lot of money, but with Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome, Contreras and Octavio Dotel all expected to come off the books after this season, that's another $40 million in savings.

What I'm trying to get at is, the Sox can afford it. Their payroll is around $96 million this season. This is not a reckless team. Unlike, say, the Yankees, the Sox don't pay guys for career years just to dominate the headlines. Williams is an emotional guy, but he always has a plan. And trust me, the Sox brass would love to needle the Cubs with this deal.

Peavy was rumored to be heading to the North Side all offseason, especially after someone spotted him saying "Go Cubs Go" and signing autographs "Go Cubs" in Las Vegas during the Winter Meetings. As the theories go, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry started his cost-cutting to free up money to add Peavy, but that deal never materialized. So he threw money ($30 million) at Milton Bradley and got rid of Mark DeRosa to make do with Aaron Miles as his mini-Mark.

Peavy on the South Side will sell tickets, boost ratings and most importantly win games. If the Sox can't trust Floyd or Contreras, and won't wait for Poreda or Broadway to mature, this deal makes perfect sense.

And now we wait for Peavy's decision. What time is it on the West Coast, anyway?

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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