A week after general managers meetings in which a trade of Jake Peavy was widely considered inevitable and imminent, San Diego Padres decision-makers are reminding each other that a deal doesn't necessarily need to be made by the weekend. Yes, it would be best if they move Peavy and the remaining $60 million on his contract, but only if they make a very shrewd trade.
They have one chance to do this right, to obtain maximum value for a 27-year-old ace on a below-market contract for at least four years. In other words, they won't choose the better of the offers simply because it is the least unsatisfactory. The only rationale for making the trade immediately is that it would enable the Padres to get on with the rest of their offseason, to trade shortstop Khalil Greene if a deal with the Atlanta Braves includes shortstop Yunel Escobar, for example.
So the Braves and Chicago Cubs have maneuvered themselves into favorites. The St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros appeared to fall out. Peavy gave his list of clubs he'd play for another good, hard look, and the New York Yankees continued to push hard, despite failing to make Peavy's roster. Others have inserted themselves as well, including the Boston Red Sox and pitching-thin New York Mets. The Texas Rangers also tried, but were told Peavy would not consider pitching in Arlington under any circumstances.
One American League executive looked over the exceptions to Peavy's veto powers, noted the absence of AL teams, and surmised, “Looks like he doesn't want to pitch against those hairy guys,” meaning the superior lineups of the other league. He wouldn't be the first to conclude Peavy either loved hitting or loved his National League ERA.
Either way, after weeks of work, by Wednesday afternoon the Padres had plenty of options, according to one front-office staffer, but nothing he'd consider close. Obviously, an adjustment here or there – particularly by the Braves or Cubs – would end the negotiating and return the process to Peavy, who would accept or reject a trade, presumably with the final year of his contract ($22 million in 2013) guaranteed. Peavy's agent, Barry Axelrod, said the Padres have yet to ask them to approve a trade.
Ideally, Peavy would bring starting pitching. As general manager Kevin Towers said last week, the way the Padres set up without Peavy is “CY and CSB and that's about it,” meaning Chris Young and Cha Seung Baek and, well, that's about it, and CSB tends to pitch near the rear of the rotation. They understand they're not going to get the equivalent of Peavy in return, so they need starters in quantity, and they'll need them major-league ready. As one Padres insider said, “We're not looking for a bunch of A-ball guys, I will say that.”
So, the Padres fight the image they are selling off Peavy to fund owner John Moores' divorce, and they fight the perception they are desperate to get out from under a contract that is probably too much for them to carry anymore. Meantime, they confused everyone by picking up Brian Giles' $9 million option.
The fact is, Padres ownership and management considered the (radically downward) direction of the club, starting with the 99 losses it incurred last season, ending with little immediate hope for redirection. Sure, they want to trim payroll. They admit $75 million is too much for a last-place team in the worst division in baseball. But conversations with Padres officials typically come around to the notion that trading Peavy is not all about payroll and trading Peavy is not essential, but the best way to get better fast.
The plan is to fill organizational holes with players they get in return for Peavy, and fill more with the payroll room left behind by Peavy.
Maybe it works and maybe it doesn't. The one thing they have reestablished in their minds: It doesn't necessarily have to happen.
Even though it will.