Peavy trade won't be defined by this year
Cy Young winner's impact as much about future as present
SEATTLE -- The 2009 White Sox mission, if Ken Williams chose to accept it, centered on once again building his team into a World Series contender -- not solely a division winner.
In reality, that focus consumes Williams' every waking moment on the job, and probably even occupies a few dreams for the aggressive general manager.
So, when the chance to acquire Jake Peavy came up prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, make that the second chance this season to pry loose the Padres ace, after Peavy used his no-trade clause to temporarily turn down this five-player deal back on May 21, Williams didn't hesitate.
"If I had to do it all over again, I absolutely would," Williams told MLB.com of the Peavy deal in a recent interview. "No question about it."
And why wouldn't Williams want to add Peavy? The 28-year-old right-hander, who is scheduled to make his South Side debut on Saturday against the Royals, possesses true ace-hurler type of stuff, an intangible proving to be helpful in postseason series against the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox or Angels.
Although Peavy had not pitched since June 8, working his way back from a partially torn tendon in his right ankle suffered while running the bases on May 22 against the Cubs, the man had won a Cy Young Award and owned a 92-68 career record. Under the watchful eye of pitching coach Don Cooper and the exceptional White Sox training staff, Peavy was expected back sooner than later.
This weekend, when the White Sox play host to the Royals, clinging to their playoff hopes with two weeks remaining in the regular season, Peavy finally will make his debut for the South Siders. It has been a frustrating road traveled by Peavy, who seemed primed to make a start at Yankee Stadium during the last weekend of August, until he took a line drive off his pitching elbow in a Minor League rehab start on Aug. 24.
Getting caught flush with that line drive basically set back Peavy another three weeks. With this extended stretch of inactivity firmly in mind, let's revisit an aforementioned question and tweak it a bit. Why wouldn't Williams want to add Peavy? But did this deal hamper the White Sox 2009 playoff push?
Williams' decision to bring Peavy to the South Side of Chicago, a target in his sights since the 2008 Trade Deadline, clearly is as much, if not more so, about the future as it was the present. Peavy's contract calls for another $52 million over the next three years, so a healthy Peavy gives the White Sox as fearsome a rotation foursome in Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd, as any staff in baseball.
Remember, though, in the present, the White Sox had to give up Clayton Richard as part of the four-hurler package for Peavy. Richard, 26, won't be mistaken for Sandy Koufax or Steve Carlton, but prior to the deal, the southpaw had allowed a combined two runs over 16 innings in back-to-back starts.
Richard's stellar Sunday night effort at Comerica Park on July 26 helped the White Sox avoid a four-game Detroit sweep. By moving Richard, the White Sox lost a competent fifth starter, who could have made at least six-to-eight more starts.
Freddy Garcia stepped up to fill that void on Aug. 18. But with Jose Contreras' struggles factored in, the White Sox found themselves one starter short in the fight to claim an infinitely-winnable American League Central.
"I think the world of Clayton Richard and his future," said Williams, when asked about any risk in acquiring Peavy. "But where we were at the time and where we are now, even if we were to stage a comeback late in the game here, you get to the playoffs and you need horses at the top of the rotation if you are going to hope to win the World Series.
"Did it hurt us in the short term, in answer to the original question? The debate will go on for a long time on that one."
Since July 31, when Peavy came to the White Sox, the team has a 20-23 record. To put the onus of the sub-.500 showing on the Peavy deal would be absurd, considering the offense has struggled for consistency far more than the back end of the rotation. For example, outfielder Alex Rios, acquired from Toronto in a waiver-wire deal on Aug. 10, has seven hits in his last 67 at-bats.
Jermaine Dye, as consistent an American League hitter since joining the White Sox in 2005, has 10 hits in his last 79 at-bats. Richard might have helped the cause, but then again, so would have Peavy if not for the line drive to the elbow.
"Guys that have been filling in have done well," said Cooper, pointing out four quality starts from Garcia and another one from rookie, Carlos Torres. "I'm happy with our starting pitching."
"It's just one of those baseball deals," said Danks, adding that Richard was a popular clubhouse presence. "You add a guy like Peavy, an anchor for the Padres for nine years, and it's a huge deal. But you know you have to give something up and we did."
Barring an unforeseen setback, the long Peavy journey will lead to the U.S. Cellular Field mound on Saturday, finally giving White Sox fans a chance to see what Williams added. It will be a short look, with Peavy not expected to go more than four or five innings, but even without a September start or two, the White Sox know the immense upside they have with this talented pitcher.
Manager Ozzie Guillen joked about not liking Peavy very much when he saw him pitching during Spring Training, due to his boisterous mound antics. Guillen even started yelling back at Peavy. But in watching the ultra-competitive Peavy journey down this comeback trail with great determination, Guillen has dubbed him a "real bulldog, not a fake bulldog."
"You don't win the Cy Young just because," Guillen said. "Any time we are going to make a trade and move people to get to this ballclub, the first thing Kenny looks at is if he can fit in the clubhouse. So far, he has been great."
Coming up short in the 2009 AL Central race won't define the Peavy move made by Williams. As for Peavy, he just wants to pitch, knowing these 2009 starts won't come close to defining what he brings to the White Sox.
"I'm anxious for some normality in my life because it's been crazy," Peavy said. "I've been here, there, catching planes here and there, trying to make the best of every situation I've been in. I came off of a pretty traumatic injury.
"Just trying to jump and go from 0 to 60, it's tough on all aspects of my body and the mental side of thing as well. I can promise you this: On Feb. 15 or whatever day it is I report, I'll be in as good of shape as anybody and be ready to pitch and expect nothing less than what I've done in years past, which is giving my team a chance to win and work 200-plus innings."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.