Peavy comfortable as the ChiSox chai guy

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The latest in performance-enhancing drugs sits in Jake Peavy’s(notes) locker. It comes in individual packets. He ingests it when he feels a lull. It could very easily be called the new greenie.

And he takes his with a dollop of honey, thank you.

“Green chai tea,” Peavy said. “It’s not an Alabama thing.”

If Peavy’s friends back in his hometown of Mobile knew a tall, smiling, half-full, plastic honey bear stood in the locker of the former National League Cy Young winner, they would never relent. He’d be known as Winnie the Peav, or Jake Teavy, or Chai-Town Jake, or something else that highlights the incongruence of a good Southern boy partaking in such a bourgeois Yankee drink.

The White Sox traded for Peavy twice last season.
(Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

“The cool nights in Chicago, I’ll sit on a bench and sip a chai tea,” Peavy said. “It’s good for you. It actually gives you some energy. Chai tea speeds up your metabolism.”

See, it does help his performance, certainly more than a cup of traditional Southern sweet tea might, and it’s why three years ago he started drinking it. Peavy pitched for the San Diego Padres then, and he was coming off the worst season of his career. He wanted something that combined two contrasting feelings – calm and energy – and Padres strength and conditioning coach Jim Malone suggested chai tea.

Peavy won his Cy Young that year, nearly catapulting the Padres to the playoffs if not for the whiskers on Matt Holliday’s(notes) chinny chin chin. He was healthy for the entire season, the one time in seven years he made his full complement of starts, and as Peavy was traded to the Chicago White Sox in the middle of last season, his green chai wasn’t all that accompanied him.

The question remains: Can the fragile Peavy hold up under the stress of a full year? Because if so, the White Sox may find themselves atop a division without a clear-cut favorite, particularly after Minnesota lost closer Joe Nathan(notes) for the season. The American League Central’s redolent mediocrity year after year leaves it ripe for a surprise team to thieve its crown, and any team with a rotation including Peavy, Mark Buehrle(notes), John Danks(notes) and Gavin Floyd(notes) should compete.

It compelled White Sox general manager Kenny Williams to trade for Peavy twice last year. The first time, in May, Peavy invoked a no-trade clause and chose to stay in San Diego. Whether it was reticence to play in the American League or worries about manager Ozzie Guillen’s stewardship or fear of long-term oblivion with a team that often deals its best prospects, Peavy was spooked.

At the trade deadline, the Padres and White Sox struck a deal again, and this time Peavy couldn’t say no. He needed to squelch any qualms about Chicago, because another full year of dealing with trade rumors – every day the previous offseason included a juicy new tidbit on Peavy, who felt more like tabloid fodder than pitcher – was incompatible with his laid-back style.

“I knew I was going to be traded, and that’s a big reason I accepted it,” he said. “I needed to get it out of the way. I wasn’t going to sit through another winter the way I did the previous one. An organization that tries to win every year wanted me to be a part of it, and I was excited about that.

“I didn’t want to leave San Diego. I’ve said that. But it’s baseball. And I realized that a good organization wanted me.”

The end of Peavy’s time in San Diego vexed him. He lived in paradise, played at the beautiful Petco Park, found himself in the perfect position to play an entire career. Peavy could have been the new Tony Gwynn(notes), and he was prepared to in 2007, signing a way-under-market three-year, $52 million contract extension that would have kept him in San Diego until 2013.

Then owner John Moores went through a wretched divorce, sold the team and watched the new bosses run it more like a small-market club than one that operates in the middle tier. The Padres let all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman(notes) walk. They dealt third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes) to Oakland. Heath Bell(notes) isn’t so much a closer as a perpetual trade rumor. And then there’s Adrian Gonzalez(notes), the Padres’ best player, a hometown kid to boot, one signed to an incredibly club-friendly deal, and in all likelihood heading somewhere else this summer when pennant-contending teams get desperate and start bidding against each other for impact players.

“You’re probably going to have to watch another guy leave in Adrian Gonzalez,” Peavy said, “and that’s going to be another tough one to swallow.

“It’s sad for the fans and the city, frustrating. And they’ve got good reason to be. There’s not much you can do.”

Except escape, which Peavy did just in time. A bum ankle kept him out until September, where he started and won three games for the White Sox while striking out 18 in 20 innings. Peavy seemed a shoo-in for opening day on April 5 – until he said he didn’t want to start the game. Buehrle had pitched seven opening days for the White Sox, and his eighth would be a record, and the new guy, even if he wasn’t all that new, didn’t want to tromp on tradition.

Buehrle appreciated and accepted the gesture, and it was just another way Peavy has ingratiated himself.

“Just being yourself,” he said. “We all have similar ways. We come from different backgrounds and upbringings, but you get in here and you understand each other. It says more about the atmosphere here than it does anything about us.

“Other than a couple Venezuelan guys. Freddy Garcia(notes). I don’t care for him.”

Peavy said it just loud enough for Garcia to hear. Both of them grinned. The White Sox’s new ace may be a chai guy, but he’s no wallflower.

Jeff Passan is a national writer for Yahoo! Sports. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jeff a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010