Commentary

Here's a real crosstown classic

Forget a trophy; take the Cubs-Sox wager up a notch: Peavy for Zambrano

Updated: April 29, 2010, 11:24 AM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

Jake Peavy and Carlos ZambranoGetty ImagesPerhaps Jake Peavy and Carlos Zambrano could benefit from trading places.

Like my contemporaries Ozzie Guillen, Jerry Reinsdorf and Mayor Richard Daley, I missed Monday's news conference announcing the creation of a trophy awarded to the winner of the two crosstown series between the Cubs and the White Sox. Much like in 2008, when I decided to not get a pass to President Obama's election night speech, I missed history in the making.

How often do you get to see a company responsible for an ecological disaster get together with two teams in the midst of baseball disasters? Not to mention the trophy, which is yet to be completed, but is reportedly "awesome," according to A.J. Pierzynski.

Sadly, the trophy isn't sponsored by local companies like Todd Ricketts' Higher Gear bicycle shops or Home Run Inn Pizza or Old Style, but rather by oil company BP. Maybe Guillen skipped the news conference out of loyalty for Venezuelan-owned Citgo. Just kidding. Ozzie probably skipped it because he wasn't being paid. The man cherishes his off days. You would too if your team was hitting .222.

Personally, I think they should cater to the players and have a club like Hub 51 or the Underground sponsor the bauble, with free bottle service as the ultimate prize.

No one has seen the trophy's design yet, but I'm holding out hope they name it after a media member, much like my fantasy football league, which is made up of local baseball writers and awards the coveted Joe Goddard Trophy, named after the retired popular baseball writer for the Chicago Sun-Times.

With that in mind, I'd say make it an old-school kids' trophy with a little guy on top to honor the game's humble roots. That little guy should be ESPN 1000 baseball guru Bruce Levine, complete with ESPN Chicago microphone flag and cumbersome recorder strapped to his side.

I wish I would have made the presser at Millennium Park to ask Pierzynski if each player was going to get a day with the BP Crosstown Cup, a la the Stanley Cup. If the Sox win, was he planning on taking it to a wrestling match or a University of Florida football game? Would Gordon Beckham fill it with all-natural yogurt, since he is a spokesdude for Berry Chill? Maybe the Cubs will put it in left field and see if it gets to more balls in the corner than Alfonso Soriano?

Pierzynski was a perfect person to attend this news conference, because he represents the animus between the two fan bases. It was Pierzynski who, in 2006 at U.S. Cellular Field, collided with catcher Michael Barrett while scoring and then slapped the plate. The tempestuous Barrett jacked Pierzynski in the chin, inciting a bases-clearing incident that spawned a famous T-shirt in 2006 that signified the Cubs' dominance in fights, as opposed to their horrendous record on the field, and an All-Star voting campaign titled "Punch A.J."

(Aside from the T-shirts, of which I saw former Cub David Aardsma pack several in his bag at the end of the 2006 season, the best thing to come out of the 2006 fight was this quote from Guillen about Ryan Dempster's accusations that his three sons were trying to fight Cubs players: "One is a baby, one is too little, another one, the only thing he can do is eat somebody or drink somebody.")

Pierzynski is a happy Cubs killer since joining the White Sox in 2005. He's hit .291 with five home runs and 21 RBIs in 29 of these games, and has had at least four RBIs against the Cubs every year.

So, in honor of Pierzynski, maybe you have two interchangeable heads, one of him getting punched by a trophy Barrett if the Cubs win, and one of him admiring his 2007 grand slam in Wrigley, if the Sox win.

But in the spirit of real competition, let's put something more valuable than a trophy at stake. How about two highly paid pitchers?

That's right, Jake Peavy and Carlos Zambrano.

No one doubts Peavy's talent or his focus, but his early performance either is the result of fixable mechanical flaws or proves how hard it is to go from a career National League pitcher to the American League. Peavy was solid in his truncated 2010 Sox debut, but that was with little pressure. Now his initial reluctance last year to leave San Diego, and the world of No. 9 hitters waving in vain at changeups, makes more sense.

I'm not suggesting this trade to insult Peavy, who is 0-2 with a 7.85 ERA in five starts. I think five starts is too soon to panic, especially when the guy has a pretty good history. But it would make sense as a predictive move. Heck, it's almost humanitarian the way Peavy is getting beat up.

The Cubs seem to disagree that four starts is too soon to judge a veteran, moving Zambrano from the rotation to its shell of a bullpen, to make room for Ted Lilly to rejoin the rotation. While Zambrano gets a lot of heat for his behavior in the past, imagine how an intense competitor like Lilly would act in a similar situation? Or Peavy?

Zambrano (1-2 with a 6.85 ERA in six games, four starts) is admittedly not "happy happy" to be demoted from Opening Day starter to the eighth-inning setup man.

This unorthodox move will be the talk of the sport until it is settled. Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said there were no ulterior motives in the move, just a baseball decision, but then again, why would he cop to one? That's why it's called an "ulterior" motive, because it's meant to be secret.

And while I find it perfectly reasonable they did this to shore up the bullpen, first and foremost, I fully believe the Cubs brain trust was hoping that a byproduct of this demotion would be for Zambrano to either shape up or ship out. It's a no-lose situation when you look at it that way. Either he focuses his immense talent and starts putting together consistent performances or he offers to peel back part of his no-trade clause and allows the team to find a new home for Zambrano.

Zambrano has said in the past that one place he would be amenable to moving is the South Side, where he could pitch for Guillen, his countryman. Talk about your reality-show material. Maybe a change of scenery is overdue for Zambrano and prophetic for Peavy.

But would the White Sox want Zambrano? If Peavy is having trouble adapting to the AL, how would Zambrano do? Well, the Sox feel like they can fix anyone -- especially pitchers, with Don Cooper in charge. You're telling me Zambrano can't be the fifth man in the Sox rotation ahead of Freddy Garcia?

While Peavy to the Cubs is a no-brainer (The Cubs would gladly throw in Soriano or Kosuke Fukudome, too), Zambrano-to-the-White Sox is a harder sell. First there's the money. Zambrano is making $18.875 million in each of the next two seasons and $19 million in 2012.

(Seriously, if I'm a friend or relative of Hendry and he doesn't give me a lavish birthday or wedding gift, I'm seriously angry. What does he tip at a nice restaurant when it's on the team, $200 on a hamburger and water?)

Peavy is making $15 million this year and $37 million through 2013 (including a $4 million buyout in 2013).

This brings me to the actual bet, seeing as in my fantasy world, the deal makes sense for both sides. Let's say if the Cubs win, they deal Zambrano for Peavy straight-up. If the Sox win, they get money back with the deal, let's say $10 million, with another $5 million deferred in case Zambrano's 2013 option gets activated. I know commissioner Bud Selig would veto this on the spot -- MLB forbids gambling -- but as we all know, if Reinsdorf is for it, well, it's got a shot.

It could work, I'm telling you. And wouldn't that be some drama? How hard would Peavy compete against the Cubs, for a chance to pitch for them? Where would Zambrano's loyalties lie if he's called to pitch in relief? The armchair psychologists would have a field day.

Of course this isn't fantasy baseball. People have feelings. This "Trading Places" bet would be demeaning to both pitchers and would make the teams the laughingstock of sports. (Why do I get the feeling Mark Cuban would like it?) A straight-up deal, however it's worked out, wouldn't be that crazy, would it? So in this age of reality TV, why can't you add a little drama to an otherwise normal trade scenario?

Would this be tackier than BP's sponsoring a sports deal after one of its leased rigs exploded in the Gulf of Mexico? Is it less realpolitik than moving a proven starting pitcher to the bullpen after four bad starts and claiming there's no clandestine reason?

Embarrassing as it would be, I bet both pitchers would be amenable to the move. Maybe it could be an every-year thing. If that happens, I move to rename the trophy after Neal Cotts, the World Series hero turned Cubs washout. The Cotts Cup -- I like the sound of that.

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.

ALSO SEE