Change of heart
Shifting baseball landscape causes Peavy to rethink trade to White Sox
Well, we know one thing: Jake Peavy sure talks like an ace.
Peavy, the biggest name to change teams at the non-waiver trade deadline Friday, exuded confidence at his Welcome to the South Side news conference Saturday afternoon, and seemed sure that he can return from a nasty ankle injury to pitch for the White Sox by late August.
He didn't even wait for a question to be asked, just diving right in with an opening statement.
"Guys, I'll first say a few words if that's all right," he said.
It was. Since he's new, even the most verbose radio guys let him continue.
"First off, I'm very excited to be here," he continued. "Obviously, I had mixed emotions over the last 24 hours simply because San Diego is a place that I've known since I've been a 17-year-old kid. So leaving there and the relationships I had there was tough. But when I got on that plane this morning, I left those loyalties and obligations in San Diego."
Out since early June with a strained tendon in his right ankle, Peavy was an afterthought on the trade market after being dangled all winter, ceding his spot as the must-have pitcher of 2009 to Toronto's Roy Halladay. He was taking a nap with his son Wyatt in his San Diego home when his agent, Barry Axelrod, came over with the trade request. After denying the Sox two months ago, a groggy Peavy acquiesced this time after a 20-minute discussion.
"I told Jake about the trade and said, 'Tell me no and we'll end it here,'" Axelrod told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
The news rocked baseball Friday, with some calling it brilliant, others brilliantly wacky. Most everyone agreed that it is vintage Williams, calling the Padres on the morning of the trade deadline to resurrect two-month-old talks on an injured pitcher and pulling it off without giving up anything of concrete value. Then again, the troubled San Diego franchise has been desperate to cut costs. Rumor is, the team tried to sell old bullpen cars in the "Cash for Clunkers" program.
While the Sox welcomed the news, some were a bit confused. Mr. Perfect, Mark Buehrle, was honest, telling the Chicago Tribune, "Some of us are confused figuring out what [Williams] is doing if [Peavy] is going to be another month away. I don't know what's helping us for this next month."
Scores of reporters showed up for Peavy's news conference, including filmmaker Spike Lee, who rolled in wearing a Yankees hat and exchanged hugs with Williams in the Sox's amphitheater. Maybe Lee was in town to shoot footage for his next movie, "Jake P," or a follow-up to his ESPN documentary "Kobe Doin' Work" about the laconic ace Buehrle, "Mark Kinda Doin' Work."
Because of Peavy's injury, the term "calculated risk" was the most popular phrase thrown around after Williams gave up four young pitchers and took in at least $56 million in salary from now until a possible $4 million buyout in 2013. The Union-Tribune also reported the Sox are kicking in "six figures" to help his family travel to and from San Diego (he has three young sons) and find a place to live in Chicago.
That might rub some the wrong way considering Peavy is making $11 million this season, but it was about the only leverage he had if he wanted to move now.
Peavy said he's moving fine on his injured ankle and will sit down with the Sox training staff to map out his rehab schedule. Some think a late-August return is optimistic, considering just two weeks ago, Padres general manager Kevin Towers rated Peavy's return this season at "50-50."
"I don't see why it couldn't be accomplished," Peavy said. "I've done everything pain free. I expect to be on the mound, throw a couple bullpen sessions, and then I assume I'm going to start. I'm not sure if I'm going to start or throw out of the bullpen."
"You're going to start," boomed Williams from the peanut gallery, as everyone laughed. Williams was dressed to the nines in a sharp gray suit and presented Peavy with a No. 44 jersey and Sox hat. Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Williams and assistant GM Rick Hahn had to talk their boss into this move. If it backfires, it will be a rare black mark on Williams' trade ledger.
It was just two months ago when the unexpected news hit that the Padres agreed to a deal with the White Sox, pending Peavy's approval. Two of the four pitchers who were dealt to San Diego on Friday, Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda, were reportedly in the deal then. The Padres wanted to cut salary then as much as they did Friday.
So what changed from Peavy's perspective?
"I just didn't think the timing was right in May," he said, starting a very long answer that would rival Paul Konerko for most complete sentences spoken by a baseball player consecutively. (Steve Stone is the all-time champion.)
"I think that when we spoke with Kenny and he spoke with the Padres, we certainly left the door open. But at the time, and I've said it time and time again about my family, being a big decision. And me being a daddy is, like I said, my No. 1 priority and the thing I love doing the most. I'm going to look after my children. At the time, I thought San Diego was the place to be for me. We were right in the thick of things, had won five or six in a row, eventually ran off 10 in a row. Injuries struck our team pretty hard. We obviously are in a different place right now than we were there then.
"The White Sox are in a totally different position than they were, not to say that anybody doubted where they would end up, just going through a rough stretch. But at that time, I was content in staying where I was, seeing if we could be competitive in the city and the town that I loved, and wanted to be a part of a winning team there. This time around, obviously, those things were different. Knowing that I was going to be on the blocks again this winter, having to endure another winter like I went through, I just didn't care to do that. Chicago is a city that I love. The White Sox are a franchise that is committed to winning, and I'm excited to be here not only for this year, but the next three years of my life."
In short, being a Padre for the next three years was sounding less fun by the day. Peavy is 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA this season. Last year he went 10-11 with a 2.85 ERA. At home, in spacious, pitcher-friendly Petco Park, he went 5-5 with a 1.74 ERA.
The Sox weren't much worse, record-wise, than they are now, but it's obvious this is a team that can compete in the AL Central, if not the playoffs. The Sox came into Saturday's game just 1½ games back of division-leading Detroit.
Peavy's home-road splits are a cause for concern. This season he has a 4.68 ERA in 31 1/3 innings away from San Diego. In 101 career road starts, he has a 3.84 ERA, compared with 2.83 in 90 starts at Petco and 21 starts at Qualcomm Stadium.
"I'm not worried one bit about playing in a non-pitchers' ballpark," Peavy said. "It doesn't matter where you pitch. You've got to make pitches. Certainly, Petco is a pitchers' ballpark, but in our division, we play in [Chase Field], I make four starts a year in Coors Field. You've just got to make pitches and get outs."It's true. Peavy has pitched in those hitters' parks before. Just not that well. He has a 5.77 ERA at Chase Field in Phoenix over 14 starts, and a 4.59 ERA in eight starts at Coors Field. He's never pitched at U.S. Cellular Field, which has a reputation for being a launching pad, and that was rumored to be one reason why he declined to move in May.
Peavy said he will likely be rusty. He hasn't thrown off a mound in almost two months, after wearing a boot to protect the ankle, which is good and bad. His arm's never been this strong in August.
"I understand there's going to be tough days," he said. "I can promise you this, and I promised Kenny on the phone that every five days I get the ball I'm going to be mentally and physically prepared to take the ball. I'm going to go out there for as long as Ozzie [Guillen] lets me have the ball and empty the tank. I'm going to give 150 percent."
No one had the heart to tell him that's impossible. Eighty-five percent of Jake Peavy is enough right now.
But while he's studying American League hitters -- he admitted to having almost no preparation for the league -- maybe the Sox marketing gurus could throw up a few palm trees to make him think he's pitching in San Diego.
But I guess that's in the past now. Chicago is Jake Peavy's new home. He seems excited to contribute to a winning team again, after winning two division titles and just missing a third in the previous four seasons with San Diego.
The clock is ticking on this season, and for the White Sox, this month can't go by quickly enough before they see if Peavy is as confident on the mound as he is at the podium.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPN Chicago.com