Given the AL Centreal-leading Tigers' acquisition of Mariners left-hander Jarrod Washburn and the second-place Twins' deal for shortstop Orlando Cabrera, the White Sox's trade for Jake Peavy appears on its surface to be a trump card designed to keep them in the division race. It is not that.
To begin with, Peavy is hurt. He tore a tendon in his right ankle in early June, hasn't pitched since, and isn't expected back for several of weeks -- if at all this season. Certainly the White Sox could benefit from activating Peavy down the stretch if they're still within striking distance (they're 2½ games out entering the weekend), and would benefit from his presence in the postseason should they get there. But more likely, the Tigers, with Washburn, are going to win the division.
The White Sox will instead have to settle for having the 2007 NL Cy Young Award winner around for at least three more years as Peavy is signed through 2012 with a $22 million option for 2013. That contract is a large part of the reason why Peavy was so attractive to White Sox general manager Ken Williams, who tried to execute a similar trade for Peavy in late May only to have Peavy reject the deal per his no-trade clause. This version of the deal sends left-handers Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda and righties Adam Russell and Dexter Carter to San Diego, and brings Peavy to the south side where he and Mark Buehrle will form a formidable lefty-righty combo atop the White Sox rotation, just ahead of opposite-handed youngsters John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
Yet, there are reasons to temper one's excitement over Peavy's move to the second city. In addition coming from the weaker league, Peavy has spent most of his career pitching his home games in Petco Park, one of the most extreme pitchers parks in recent history and the most extreme pitchers park in the game today. Peavy's road ERA over his entire career is 3.84, a full run higher than his home mark. Pitching in the NL West, the hitters parks he's pitched in most have been Arizona's Chase Field and Colorado's Coors Field. In the latter, he has posted a 4.59 ERA. In the former, he's 5-7 with a 5.77 ERA. Peavy has never pitched in U.S. Cellular. In fact, he's never faced the White Sox outside of spring training, but there are reasons to be concerned about how he'll fair in the White Sox's run-happy ballpark.
One might also be concerned about the fact that Peavy was 18-18 with a 4.25 ERA before the Padres moved into Petco, and is 74-50 with a 3.02 ERA across five-plus seasons since, but that's not entirely fair. Peavy was just 22 when the Padres moved into Petco, so that first set of numbers comes from his age-21 and -22 seasons, and he did show improvement in the latter. Also, Qualcomm Stadium was also a very favorable ballpark for pitchers, and Peavy went 7-4 with a 3.23 ERA in 21 career starts there over his first two major league seasons. Still, that does point to the fact that Peavy has always pitched his home games in an extreme pitchers park, giving him frequent respite from the travails of the road.
Another item of concern is the quality of the White Sox's defense. Peavy is a strikeout pitcher (prior to his injury, he was striking out 10.1 men per nine innings this season), so he's less reliant on his fielders than the average hurler, but he has nonetheless benefitted from the Padres above-average ability to turn balls in play into outs behind him. When he won the Cy Young, his opponents' batting average on balls in play was .276. Last year, it was .284. In those two seasons he posted a combined ERA of 2.68. This year and in 2006, his BABIP was closer to league average (a pinch over .300) and his combined ERA from those two seasons has been 4.06. Some of that is team defense and some of it is luck, but when the luck runs out he's been just a tick better than average, and the White Sox aren't going to help him much in the field.
The league change itself is a tertiary concern at worst. Peavy has acquitted himself well in interleague play over the years (3.29 ERA, 3.42 K/BB), and now that the Indians have flipped Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko, the best offense in his new division has been defanged. Still, many of his interleague starts came at Petco with the pitcher in the opposing lineup.
The one advantage Peavy would seem to gain in joining the White Sox is a significant increase in run support. The White Sox's attack has been sputtering this season, but the emergence of Gordon Beckham and Carlos Quentin's return to health should help there. Besides, with Peavy now in his pocket, Williams can spend the offseason trying to fill center field and otherwise improve on the other side of the ball. Peavy will give some of those runs back for the reasons outlined above, but he'll no doubt benefit from escaping the team that has been dead last in the majors in runs scored per game over the past two seasons.
So Peavy isn't a pennant-race fix, and he isn't likely to be the dominant pitcher he was for the Padres, but he's still a 28-year-old with a Cy Young and a sick strikeout rate who should anchor the White Sox rotation beside the 30-year-old Buehrle for the next few years. So what did the White Sox give up to get him?
Clayton Richard is a 25-year-old sinkerballing lefty who was holding down a spot in the rotation with Bartolo Colon back on the disabled list yet again. Richard is exactly the sort of middling-yet-established youngster designed to be dealt in deals like this one. Organizationally, he's not a loss, though he does leave a vacated rotation spot in the middle of a pennant race (D.J. Carrasco was the White Sox's starter against the Yankees on Friday night). Adam Russell is a tall, 26-year-old righty with a low-three-quarters delivery who has pitched well in Triple-A since being converted to relief last year, but struggled in the major league pen last year and hasn't been back. Dexter Carter is a hard-throwing righty starter drafted out of Old Dominion in the middle-rounds last year. He has pitched well in his full-season debut this year, but his lack of a promotion seems telling for a 22-year-old in the Sally League. Those three pitchers were all expendable.
Which brings us to Aaron Poreda. A 22-year-old, 6-foot-6 lefty who throws in the upper 90s with movement and has already had a brief tast of the majors in the White Sox's bullpen, he was the Sox's top pitching prospect and second-best overall farmhand behind Beckham. Though his secondary pitches are well behind his fastball, he could thrive as a starter in Petco Park and, failing that, would make one heck of a closer. He's a top prospect on the cusp of the major leagues, ready to join the Padres rotation in April if not before. San Diego thus gets all of Poreda's team-controlled years without having to wait out his further development in the minors. It is Poreda's performance that will ultimately determine the success of this deal for either team. Though Poreda seems unlikely to out-perform Peavy even in the best-case scenario for the Padres, he could come close at a small fraction of the cost. Given that the White Sox are trying to win now and the Padres are trying to rebuild, the trade makes sense for both teams, but it's what they do this winter and beyond to build around Peavy and Poreda that will ultimately determine the success of this deal.