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Cubs, Brewers look like best hopes for Padres to get Peavy deal done

By the time a trade involving Jake Peavy is finally completed and Peavy is somewhere other than San Diego, there will have been more stories, more rumors and more anxiety connected to talks involving Peavy than any previous trade talks. That is the only prediction regarding Peavy that's safe now.

With Peavy's rejection of a surprise trade to the struggling White Sox, frustration on the part of both teams seemed palpable late Thursday. Peavy, meanwhile, kept his remarks positive, saying in explanation for his decision not to go to Chicago's South Side, "Right now, San Diego is the place for us.''

That sounds great. But word is the Padres aren't too thrilled that they are back to square one after six months of wheeling and dealing.

But while that's understandable, generally speaking it's tough to have much sympathy for San Diego in this case. The Padres are the ones who signed off on the deal to pay Peavy $60 million more through 2012 and give him a no-trade clause not all that long before deciding that they did indeed want to trade him. For that (and many other things, including having a stadium built with taxpayer dollars only to try to tear down his team), the outgoing owner, John Moores, is the real villain in this ongoing debacle. Moores will be gone soon, but this mess may require some more cleanup.

So where do the principal players go from here?

1) Peavy. He is well within his right to reject any team. He took a below-market deal at the time with the stipulation that he would have a full no-trade clause this year and next, so why not use his veto powers as needed? Peavy says he wants to stay in San Diego, and that's a nice way of saying he prefers the Padres to the White Sox of the American League.

Peavy's "strong preference'' (agent Barry Axelrod's words via phone on Thursday) is to remain in the National League, and that was clear from the day he handed in his original, very unofficial, roster of teams that he would consider, listing the Cubs, Cardinals, Braves, Astros and Dodgers. The San Diego Union-Tribune quoted an unnamed Padres player as suggesting that Peavy might be reluctant to play for White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, but Axelrod said, "There is no issue with Ozzie Guillen,'' and I tend to believe that. That would be a dumb reason to stay put. The issues were surely the league and possibly the ballpark (U.S. Cellular Field annually yields the most or second-most home runs).

Peavy is under no obligation to tell the Padres where he would go (or really, to go anywhere, either). The one quibble I would have with Peavy came this winter, when he suggested that he might consider the Braves, then started to backtrack when he wondered whether Atlanta was about to give the Padres too much in a deal for him, thus weakening their team. The man is from Alabama, the Braves were on his list (yes, it was an unofficial list, but still, it's his hometown team) and frankly he should have been flattered that Atlanta wanted him that badly.

2. White Sox. I don't like to second-guess Ken Williams, who's a brilliant GM and one of the greatest chance-takers in a game of cautious players. This appeared to be a better deal on paper than the ones the Cubs and Braves were talking about. But this still seems to have been quite a large risk for a team currently playing as poorly as the White Sox (20-1 losers on Thursday to the Twins). Williams is a fighter, and he obviously isn't giving up in the mostly mediocre AL Central.

But if Peavy himself has such reservations about the American League, perhaps he's right that he'd be better off staying in PETCO Park, where he has a career ERA of 2.71 (vs. 3.71 away from the pitcher-friendly yard). While White Sox people were said to be practically unanimous in support of taking this chance, and it's true that they currently look lost with a rotation of Mark Buehrle (6-1) and a quartet of disappointments (6-15 combined), that's still a lot of loot to spend for a team that spent all winter paring down and is currently 17-24. "I don't understand what they're doing,'' one competing executive says. "They did a good job of cutting down expenses and getting younger.''

Of course, historically Williams and the White Sox have been a smashing success defying critics and doing the opposite of what's expected. They do have $40 million coming off the books next year with Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, Jose Contreras and Octavio Dotel all having expiring contracts. And it's true that Peavy's considered a rare, true ace. Yet it still seems like an awfully big gamble to blow your whole wad while taking a pitcher out of his comfort zone.

3. Padres. San Diego seems intent on paring its payroll to $40 million (even as it has now won six straight) in an effort to become the West Coast version of the Marlins. So the Padres will almost surely keep trying to trade Peavy. Decent left-handed prospects Aaron Poreda and Clayton Richard, plus two more minor league pitchers would have made a respectable take in a rough environment to trade big contracts -- though some see Poreda as a future reliever.

The Padres wanted to avoid what GM Kevin Towers called a "public fiasco'' this winter by keeping things secret, and they seemed to do a good job of keeping these talks out of the public until there was an agreement on players. Although, that it got out at all (in San Diego's two outlets -- the Union-Tribune and MLB.com) led ex-Padre Trevor Hoffman to speculate, "This is just San Diego's way to force it ... [to] make him look bad. To do it the way they did it, they're trying to force his hand.'' Even if that's true, that's well within their rights. (I can't be against news getting out, not in my business.)

The Padres are believed to be getting annoyed at how little room Peavy's giving them to deal, and if Hoffman's right that they are playing hardball, that feeling of frustration would explain it. But they have no one to blame but themselves. It was their idea to alter courses so quickly.

The Cubs and Brewers now look like the Padres' two best hopes. Axelrod has said Peavy loves "Middle America,'' so presumably the White Sox' issue was not their location. The two other teams on Lake Michigan are aggressive traders (though maybe not as aggressive as the White Sox), and Peavy would almost surely accept the Cubs and possibly the Brewers -- though in this trading game, there are obviously no guarantees.

The Tigers have to be baseball's most unpredictable team. Last year everyone loved them, and they bombed, finishing last. This year, nobody expected anything, and they are leading the AL Central.

What's more, their supposedly iffy pitching has often been dominating, with a 3.99 ERA (third best in the AL). They came into the season relying on an underachieving ace (Justin Verlander) and a 20-year-old (Rick Porcello), while hoping for the best from a lost former star (Dontrelle Willis). Yet it's all working now. Willis provided inspiration when he pitched superbly in his second game back. And if he can keep it going, the Tigers' pitching may be as good as anyone's.

The resurgence of Verlander (4-2, 3.99) is vital. He had gained a rep for pigheadedness in his clubhouse but seems to have rediscovered his third pitch while curtailing his propensity to overthrow. Now that he's at his best he's living at 93-95 mph while saving the hard stuff for crucial times. Asked whether Verlander has matured, GM Dave Dombrowski said, "It looks like it ... he's pitching rather than throwing.''

Porcello (4-3, 3.86), whom no less than David Cone predicted great things for, is tied for the team lead in victories just two years out of Seton Hall (N.J.) Prep.

Edwin Jackson (4-2, 2.55), whom Dombrowski acquired in a great trade for spare outfielder Matt Joyce, has thrived in spacious Comerica National Park. But Willis is the biggest story. He allowed only one hit, and even better, two walks, in 6 1/3 innings in the win over Texas.

Willis couldn't throw strikes at all last year, then began this one on the disabled list with an anxiety disorder, and he has spent more time lately with doctors than pitching coaches. "They told me he'd have results,'' Dombrowski said. "He's not over the hump yet, though.''

It's still a nice story in a city that needs more of them.

Mark DeRosa's versatility should draw decent trade interest, perhaps from the Mets and a few others. Some took issue with my calling DeRosa a "poor man's Casey Blake'' in the last Daily Scoop, citing DeRosa's better numbers. However, Blake is playing in a pitchers park (Dodger Stadium), has had way more big hits and has at least one position at which he is major league average (third base). Still, DeRosa's ability to hit and play almost anywhere is a selling point.

• There's no indication that Indians star Victor Martinez is or will be available. But if he is, the Red Sox will be at the front of the line.

• As to whether David Ortiz may be nearing the end (he finally hit a home run on Wednesday), one scout said that while Ortiz looked bad to him, "You never know. [Carlos] Delgado turned it around.''

• Among the teams that say they cannot add payroll ... the Indians and Yankees (yes, that's what they say -- well, at least until they need someone).

• One AL executive said he believes that Pedro Martinez would sign for $3 million plus incentives now. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Bill Chuck (from the Bill Chuck Files) notes that if Martinez doesn't pitch again, he'll finish with 99 losses (which doesn't look bad going with his 214 wins), and that he's one of 11 all-time with 99 defeats, including Andy Messersmith, Ross Grimsley and Ralph Terry. B.C. also notes that while Jason Kendall became the 253rd player to have 2,000 hits, he's only the eighth catcher. The others are Pudge, Ted Simmons, Carlton Fisk, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza and Gary Carter. Also from B.C.: With renewed interest in stealing home, only two players have stolen home at least 10 times since Jackie Robinson retired -- Rod Carew and Paul Molitor, who each had exactly 10. My own note: Perhaps that's the quickest way to get to the Hall of Fame, as both are Cooperstown inductees.

Scott Kazmir "doesn't look healthy,'' one exec says. Instead of throwing 95 with a power slider, he's throwing 90 with a limp slider.

• Got to give it up for the Astros' LaTroy Hawkins, who was released last year and this year plays in the WBC and becomes a closer (at least in Jose Valverde's absence).

• The Mets have to be the most optimistic crew ever. Jose Reyes isn't on the disabled list and is considered day-to-day (though don't expect him in there tonight). In any case the Mets will still need to acquire a defensive shortstop since Alex Cora is also out and Ramon Martinez's time has passed.

• Glad to see Mets manager Jerry Manuel taking my advice and trying Daniel Murphy at first base in Carlos Delgado's absence. (Of course other Mets people probably noticed that it was odd to have Murphy, an infielder, struggling in left field, especially when outfielder Jeremy Reed was occasionally being used at first base.) The almost-always-candid Manuel didn't exactly sound confident when he declared, "I'm scared to death,'' upon putting Murphy at first base. While his footwork needs work, Murphy made three nice plays at first in his first game there after making almost no nice plays in left.

• Sure, the Yankees are beating up on teams they usually beat (Twins and Orioles), but they are also playing beautiful fundamental baseball. Manager Joe Girardi takes a lot of heat, so this must be noted, as well.

Brian Bruney, who's throwing 96 mph, is back as the eighth-inning guy for the Yankees, a big plus. I have admiration for Bruney because he's a rare person to have taken off 30 pounds and kept them off. He was inspired by a poor season a few years back.

• The Rangers would listen to offers for Hank Blalock, since they have plenty of hitters (Andruw Jones, Max Ramirez, Justin Smoak). They would want relief in return.

• Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo has to get the credit for turning Jones around. Jaramillo worked with Jeff Francoeur this winter, but he seems to be falling back into his bad pattern.

• Bad news for the rest of the American League. Boston's John Smoltz has been activated to begin his rehab.

Adam Wainwright is underrated. As are many St. Louis Cardinals.

• The greening of shortstop. Both Cardinals shortstops are named Greene (you'd think a shortstop would want to lose the "E,'' however), Khalil and Tyler.

• Nice touch for the Padres to acquire Tony Gwynn Jr., who got to San Diego in time to participate in a game-winning rally. Not a bad publicity ploy, too, at a time that they're trying to trade Peavy.

Trevor Hoffman (11 for 11 after saving one on Thursday) may have been the best winter pickup.

• Condolences to Scott Schoeneweis, a great battler who's been through too much in his young life and lost his wife Gabrielle, 39, this week. Schoeneweis, who overcame testicular cancer while a star at Duke, issued a statement, which read in part: "On behalf of my and Gabrielle's entire family, I want to express my deepest appreciation for the prayers and support of my current and former teammates, front office and team personnel and dear friends, both inside and outside of the baseball community.''

• I have located Sonya Keller, a Cubs fan, great all-around person and winner of a valuable (actually token) prize for being my 2,500th Twitter follower. I will award other great (actually token) prizes in the future. If you'd like to follow along, and help me catch Twitter king Nick Swisher (actually no chance of that), I'm at si_jonheyman.

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