Commentary

Padres pitcher misses boat

Trade would have been masterstroke

Originally Published: May 21, 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.

If you haven't felt the good old-fashioned White Sox inferiority complex in a while, just talk to a Sox fan today. Better yet, call Kenny Williams or Ozzie Guillen.

If the ubiquitous chip on the shoulder of the entire White Sox nation wasn't heavy before, it is now. Can you feel it, Sox fans? Is it ruffling your sleeveless T-shirt?

Jake Peavy went from out-of-nowhere Sox savior to just another suburban dude who didn't want to go to the South Side.

Williams, White Sox GM/unofficial VP of snark, noted the disintegration of the deal in a statement:

"It was communicated to me earlier this evening that Jake Peavy is simply not yet ready to make a commitment to join the Chicago White Sox. I understand where Jake is coming from given the unusually early timing of this type of event …" -- and so on.

The "not yet ready to make a commitment" line cracked me up. I'm "sure" (air quotes, please) Kenny was just being honest -- other players have said that's his best quality, although none of them was named Frank Thomas -- but he has that ever-present edge to him that I just love. Williams said he's been tinkering with this deal for almost a year and, with this statement, he seemed to be saying, to my fractured mind anyway: "Hey, Jake, maybe you're not ready to be a White Sox pitcher. Have fun at the beach, we'll send you a postcard from Relevancy."

Let's go back to the halcyon days of Thursday morning. By the time people were trudging to work early on a beautiful sunny spring day, the news was out from San Diego: 27-year-old Cy Young winner Jake Peavy to the White Sox. A four-for-one deal was quickly reached between the Padres and Sox before you finished your Dunkin' Donuts coffee. All it needed was his Jake Hancock to void his no-trade clause.

Simple, right? Even a guy from Alabama would see the Sox are a better option than the morass in San Diego. And it's not as if all those National League teams were beating down the door for him.

All of a sudden, the recurring nightmare about Sox pitchers giving up 20 runs a game was out the window, wasn't it? Just like that, the Sox had a pulse in a very winnable division, and a league without a true front-runner. The reason we follow sports is the love of the unexpected, and this was as predictable as Ozzie's doing Shakespeare or Rod Blagojevich's joining the Peace Corps.

Plus, there was the felicitous Cubs snub factor. Peavy was supposed to be the next great Cubs pitcher to blow his shoulder out, but for the grace of Tom Ricketts' inability to close out his deal for the franchise, they couldn't get a deal done. (By the way, Tom, if you have to ask the star of "According to Jim" for $25 million, maybe this wasn't a good idea. Cubs fans, you can thank Sam Zell and Bud Selig for this.)

This would be a masterstroke, balls-to-the-wall move by Williams, who has cleared salary from the White Sox like would-be Cubs owner Bill Murray clearing out Bushwood with his weed whacker. Most recently, Williams rid the team of the excess baggage that was Javier Vazquez and Nick Swisher -- and their combined salaries of $45 million due over the next few years. Another $60 million could come off the books this year, and although a lot of that will go to players already on the team, such as John Danks and Carlos Quentin -- not to mention the $15.5 million recently promised to Gavin Floyd -- the team has money to spend.

Williams and boss Jerry Reinsdorf aren't afraid to spend money to keep the team competitive, even if they had to pick up Peavy's preposterous $22 million club option for 2013.

Peavy just found out about the deal Wednesday night and was understandably flummoxed. It was dizzying for everyone. After the initial news, there were rumors that Peavy was worried about pitching for voluble Guillen. (Maybe his Google Reader updates him on only the Magglio Ordonez and Jay Mariotti stories.)

Then it was being said that he didn't want to pitch in the American League, especially at homer-happy U.S. Cellular Field. It was theorized that he didn't want to learn new hitters or new parks.

Then it was rumored -- by me, mostly -- that he was mad Jerry Springer had left, scared that traffic sucked on the Dan Ryan and furious the city is screwing us on the parking meters.

The whole situation was up in the air as the Sox faced the Twins. Soon enough, every batted ball from a Twins bat was in the air and over the fence in the Sox's ludicrous 20-1 loss.

One Cubs blogger sent me this e-mail after it went down: "You have to love the Sox timing. The day they're trying to convince Jake Peavy to drop his no-trade and come play for them for the next six seasons, they prove what a pitcher's haven U.S. Comiskular is, by getting beaten 20-1."

It was almost too funny, the team's going from the heights of adding one of the best pitchers in baseball to giving up 20 runs to the Twins. Maybe it wasn't the best message to send to Peavy.

"I hope he don't watch the scoreboard because he might say no," Guillen told reporters.

In the end, the beatdown didn't matter. The Padres stink, and the Cubs could always get shelled on a windy day.

Peavy either couldn't pull the trigger that quickly -- he has a wife and three sons -- or just didn't want to play for the White Sox. I'm guessing it was a mix of the two, heavily weighted toward the latter. Remember when the Sox tried to lure Ken Griffey Jr. to DH in 2005? He said no then, too, and he played in Cincinnati. Sure, he agreed to play here in 2008 when he could've been mistaken for Sue the T-Rex, but it was his loss. Maybe Griffey was scared of Ozzie, too.

Peavy's old teammate Scott Linebrink told Peavy that Ozzie was crazy in an "Ozzie being Ozzie" way, but crazy has a skewed definition in the white-bread world of 21st-century baseball. Pitching on LSD, like Dock Ellis did, is crazy. The Mad Hungarian was a little nuts. Dave Kingman? Bonkers. Ozzie? He just swears like a Quentin Tarantino character and talks more trash than Gary Payton and Oscar the Grouch. If you get to know him, he's a pretty good guy.

Maybe Peavy just doesn't want to risk his legacy by polluting his numbers in the AL. He has put up great lines in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. His career home/road splits aren't particularly inspiring. Peavy has given up only 41 home runs in 87 starts (36 wins) at Petco Park, according to baseballreference.com, but he has allowed 84 in 100 career starts on the road.

There are a lot of other, more SABR-y stats that prove Petco has aided his career, but let's face it, he's not combing through teams' OPS stats at the Cell. It's this simple: No one likes to get lit up, and, in case you missed it, the Twins scored 20 on Thursday. And with two months left before the trade deadline, Peavy didn't have to make a quick decision. He has a no-trade clause for a reason.

It's funny how that no-trade clause worked. Peavy, a 15th-round pick in 1999, has turned himself into a Cy Young winner and the face of a failing franchise. The team, eager to shed salary, was more than happy to take four prospects in return for its ace, including 2007 first-round pick Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard, both left-handers who, depending whom you believe, either have bright futures or are potential lefty specialists/swingmen.

The Padres are now partially owned by former agent Jeffrey Moorad's group after John Moores was forced to sell a major stake in the franchise because of his particularly costly divorce. You get the feeling the new regime would've dealt Peavy for Hawk Harrelson's best Rico Petrocelli anecdotes, a box of Big Hurt candy bars and a night out with Ozzie Jr.

But it wasn't meant to be. For whatever reason, be it family, geography or just simple indifference toward the White Sox, Peavy will stay put in San Diego. He starts against the Cubs on Friday. Wish him luck.

And while you're at it, wish the White Sox luck, too. They're starting Floyd against the Pirates on Friday.

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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