Surely somebody posed the would-you-rather question to Jake Peavy(notes) on Monday. You know how it normally goes. Take two equally horrifying scenarios, squirm while considering the lesser of two ills, offer a begrudging answer.
Peavy's choice wasn't nearly as difficult.
a) Go to an unfamiliar city in an unfamiliar league with a manager apt to Vesuvian blow-ups, a roster set to shed two of its biggest bats this offseason, a young nucleus with atoms more Cu than Au and a general manager who shows no qualms in trading young talent – the lifeblood of a successful modern-day franchise – for veterans.
b) Live in paradise for, at most, the next 2½ months, then join a pennant race.
No wonder it took Peavy less than 24 hours to invoke his no-trade clause after the San Diego Padres agreed to send him to the Chicago White Sox for four prospects. Whether the volatility of Ozzie Guillen or the White Sox's instability heading forward or their questionable farm system or Kenny Williams doing his best Jack McKeon impression caused Peavy's hesitance matters not.
When Peavy signed a below-market extension with the Padres after the 2007 season that secured him through 2012, he essentially bought the trade provision that teams are so loath to hand out. If he would settle for $52 million over three years – Carlos Zambrano(notes) got two more seasons and almost $1 million more in average annual value without the Cy Young plaque Peavy owns – he deserved some control over a trade destination.
And for Chicago's recent success – hey, Guillen and Williams do wear World Series rings – the fact remains: Even with Peavy, the White Sox aren't guaranteed anything, and that's in a sorta-kinda-maybe halfway-decent American League Central. It was a bold maneuver by Williams, certainly, though as one competing executive once observed: "Kenny is like Rob Deer. He misses a lot, but when he gets one – wow."
Williams played the right hand with Padres GM Kevin Towers, something neither the Atlanta Braves nor the Chicago Cubs could manage during the offseason, when Peavy was the baseball Britney, the center of a never-ending carousel of rumors. Atlanta's offer was almost certainly better than the White Sox's four-pitcher package that included top prospects Aaron Poreda(notes) and Clayton Richard(notes). The market for $17.3 million-a-year pitchers ain't what it once was.
And that's the only issue for Peavy: This is a gamble, albeit a small one. He could get hurt and remain in San Diego, which, for all of its aesthetics, is something of a baseball Hades these days. Or he could run into a group of teams whose first- and second-quarter balance sheets dry up the red-ink cartridge in the printer. Already over the winter he restricted his list of desired teams to the Braves, the Cubs, the St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Cubs? New owner Tom Ricketts reportedly doesn't want to pony up.
The Dodgers? Makes sense, except a source said Towers does not want to trade Peavy within the division and would expect a more significant package accordingly.
Atlanta and St. Louis neither need nor can afford pitching, and Houston isn't contending anytime soon.
Should Peavy expand his list, the options don't look much better.
The Mets need a starter but can't afford Peavy, not with a $150 million payroll already and less than $30 million coming off the books next year. The Angels' rotation is set, so long as John Lackey(notes) and Ervin Santana(notes) stay healthy, as is the Yankees' and Red Sox's.
Texas needs an ace, boasts baseball's best farm system and will drop $18.2 million in contracts this offseason with Vicente Padilla(notes) and Hank Blalock(notes) leaving. However, Peavy doesn't want to play in the AL, though the Rangers being a short plane flight from Peavy's home in Mobile, Ala., can't hurt.
Untenable situations always work themselves out, and come the trade deadline at least one team will forget that 2010 and 2011 and 2012 exist. Short-term puppy love has cost reputations and jobs, and executives fall for it every year anyway.
Peavy, of course, can complicate things as he did Monday, and that's the wild card. He said in a short prepared statement that San Diego is the best place for him … "right now." Which was doublespeak for, "Sorry, but if I'm taking the Red Line, make sure it's going north."
The better Peavy pitches, the heavier the speculation becomes. And he's been dealing lately: a complete game last time out, eight scoreless innings three starts earlier, and a 3.82 earned-run average marred by a few rocky early starts. When healthy, he is one of the best, and that the Padres are selling him reflects their desire to get better long-term – and, perhaps more important, cheaper.
So the games continue. As hours pass and Towers kills his cell phone battery twice a day, Peavy will have to play those would-you-rather games again and again.
Soon enough, paradise – and all that accompanies it – won't sound so great anymore.