David Banks-US PRESSWIRE
Jake Peavy's surprising two-year deal with the White Sox tells us something about the pitcher, the organization, and what the future might hold.
Back when I previewed Jake Peavy's then-impending free agency, I took a stab at guessing his eventual contract and settled on three years and $40 million, although he might field a few two-year offers with a higher salary.
Am I calling them out? Absolutely not (maybealittle). Seriously, they're right. Two-year deals are not at all normal for a pitcher of Peavy's caliber, age, and lofty status among a fairly thin pool of free agents. In fact, if he had another 200-inning season under his belt over the last four years, it would be an insult to even suggest it.
But Peavy wasn't going to be a normal free agent. In fact, he didn't even get to free agency. Not only did he sign a two-year, $29 million extension before free agency began, but he didn't even require the buyout from his previous contract to be paid upfront. He agreed to delay payment until 2016, and he'd get it in four equal installments through 2019.
That's pretty nuts. Then again, as Peavy said in the conference call, "Free agency wasn't something I was interested in unless I had to be." He sure showed us.
In fact, this contract tells us a thing or two about a thing or two. How about six of one, and a half-dozen of the other?
1. It says a lot about Peavy.
Peavy didn't always seem enthusiastic about Chicago. He rejected Kenny Williams' first attempt to bring him here, and during a slow start in 2011, he implied that he'd want to be traded if the Sox started selling off parts. Throw in his on-again-off-again relationship with the disabled list, and he rubbed some fans the wrong way, because he's talked a far better game than he's pitched over 3½ years.
With this contract, Peavy sure seems a lot more earnest.
Granted, we have to remind ourselves that $29 million isn't any kind of sacrifice in the real world, and this is speaking purely in relation to this absurd economic model we like to fart around in, but ... Peavy did give up a lot of ground to fit into the Sox's plans.
Moreover, he backed up a lot of pro-Chicago talk over the course of the season. A few samples:
May 20: "I love being here, and this is the place I want to play. [...] If I had it my way, this is where I'd play until I couldn't play no more. I love it, I love Robin and his staff, and I love my teammates. We'll see what happens. I certainly understand the game. I want to play in Chicago, that's for sure."
July 10: ‘‘I do love Chicago, and when the time comes and we do have that conversation ... with Kenny and with the rest of the staff, I will let them know that I want to stay if I can stay. I would love to end my career right here."
Sept. 21: "But [the contract] is not in the forefront of my mind at all. There’s nothing that I’m worried about other than trying to get this team in the playoffs. I wouldn’t even know where to start with finances and how any of that works out. This will be my first time in this position, but I’ve made it clear that I’d like to be here in Chicago, for what it’s worth."
During the conference call, Peavy described himself as "a relationship guy" with a small but close circle of friends. And hearing him congratulate specific Giants -- Bruce Bochy and Tim Flannery from his San Diego days, and Barry Zito from his charity work -- confidence in people may very well play a bigger role in Peavy's decision compared to most athletes.
So when you consider everything over the course of the previous months and years, it makes a lot of sense that the same guy who would reject a trade to Chicago in 2009 would accept a below-market extension to stay in Chicago on Tuesday. Once you're in, you're in.
2. It says a lot about the White Sox.
Peavy hasn't had a baby-smooth time with the White Sox organization. It took a while for Peavy and Don Cooper to see eye-to-eye with his mechanics. He and Ozzie Guillen pointed fingers at each other when it came to his bizarre handling in spring training of 2011. He butted heads with A.J. Pierzynski in the dugout more than once.
In the offseason after Guillen escaped to Miami, Peavy engaged in some politicking and posturing against his former manager, first saying that Guillen didn't approve of Peavy for his September shutdown that year, then later suggesting to Chris Rongey that Guillen quit on the White Sox. That part was pretty much true, but considering Peavy was equally culpable for his own downfall due to his stubborn nature, his high horse was maybe a couple of miniature ponies stacked on top of each other.
That said, he didn't have the same problems with Cooper despite their own differences because they had an "open relationship." And with Cooper around for Robin Ventura's regime, Peavy's 2012 was by and large frictionless. He pointed it out in August while making a subtler jab at Guillen:
"The organization has to be smart about things, and they will," Peavy said. "I think this organization has handled Chris Sale brilliantly. When you look at how Washington seems to be all over the map (with Stephen Strasburg), 'Hey, we've got this many innings, there's no number, I'm in control, this and that,' we've had an open line of communication from the front office, from Kenny (Williams) to Rick Hahn to what's going on in this clubhouse, with all of us.
"That's something that hasn't happened here in the past and it's so nice to see an organization work as a cohesive group from the top of the chain all the way down to us and make good decisions for all the players involved."
The Sox lacked a clear chain of command as Guillen turned into an absentee landlord. With Ventura, it's become more of a top-down process that allows for feedback. I'm a little leery that Peavy is a fan of the arrangement because he still gets too much leeway (Ventura let Peavy pull the Jedi Mind Trick during a couple of mound visits, but I'll get to that in a future post), but ultimately, this is a positive. Peavy wasn't the only veteran player to reject a trade -- or the thought of a trade -- to the White Sox, and that he's bought into it likely bodes well for future sales jobs.
3. It's a good first move for Rick Hahn.
As noted in the Rick Hahn timeline, he garnered acclaim during his rise to prominence for his ability to creatively structure contracts to fit rather rigid financial/organizational frameworks. So Hahn beginning his tenure by signing what would've been the second-best free-agent pitcher to a shorter-than-expected deal and pushing his buyout back to 2016 ... well, that's like Pete Townshend windmilling his opening chord.
It's also worth noting that Jeff Berry is Peavy's new agent. Hahn had worked with Berry in the past to extend Paul Konerko thrice and solve Mark Buehrle's no-trade conundrum in July of 2007, but Berry didn't have bargains in store during other recent negotiations. After all, Buehrle took an eye-popping offer to head to Miami, and Mark Teahen. Just Mark Teahen. In other words, he's might be more flexible than some agents, but he's not a pushover.
Serving as Williams' main negotiator, Hahn had built up longstanding relationships with agents and agencies. That was one of his chief selling points as a GM candidate, and it's encouraging to see that pay dividends immediately, even if the Sox can't count on future free agents being so darn amenable.
4. The Sox now have a lot of money coming off the books after 2014.
If Peavy doesn't pitch enough to trigger his $15 million player option for 2015, then you can remove his $14.5 million obligation from the budget at the same time the Alex Rios ($12.5 million) and Adam Dunn ($15 million) contracts expire.
Looking at it that way, it's easier to understand why Hahn is opting to continue down the patchwork contender path, rather than rebuild. Aside from Chris Sale, the Sox don't have trading chits with a ton of surplus value. The Sox have reduced the amount of smoldering craters on the roster, but they're still paying retail prices in too many places.
Therein lies the rub. A guy like Alex Rios might yield one good prospect, but pinning hopes on individual prospects leads to situations where Gordon Beckham isn't nearly enough to anchor the next young core. You can't engineer an aggressive rebuilding with a one-ply farm system -- you need multiples of prospects (and some duplicates) in order to make it as painless as possible.
The good news is that, as Hahn described to Chris Rongey over the weekend, the Sox really stepped up their amateur spending this past year. By committing $10 million in the draft and international market, they're finally serious about developing bunches of players, and not just one at a time. By the time that hopefully starts to yield fruit, the big, one-dimensional contracts will cycle off the payroll, allowing the Sox a much better chance at reshaping their roster with fewer mishits and lost seasons. For now, the lack of an upswing will have to be tolerated.
5. The Sox have a set rotation.
With Gavin Floyd's option exercised, the Sox can roll out their 2013 rotation tomorrow -- Peavy, Sale, Floyd, John Danks and Jose Quintana (or Hector Santiago). That's a starting five that makes a cross-your-fingers lineup more palatable. The Sox's staff can hang with the rest of the league on paper, and while setbacks may mess up their on-paper plans, that's the nature of pitching. Every rotation has cracks with the same amount of scrutiny.
6. The Sox can still deal from their rotation.
Even though the Sox picked up Floyd's option, he's not a bet to stick around. The Sox need a third baseman if Kevin Youkilis doesn't come back, and a guy like Floyd can be enough to pick up a useful veteran that may be blocking a prospect on somebody else's depth chart. Hell, the Youkilis trade didn't even require close to that much, but I'm thinking something like a Jon Garland-Orlando Cabrera trade might be more reasonable to expect. Likewise, Matt Thornton's expiring contract could be the catalyst for another excess swap, since the Sox have more depth in the bullpen-lefty department than they do in the rotation.
This all said, the Peavy isn't guaranteed, dead-red money well spent. He was a poor investment in his first two seasons on the South Side, and if you're still apprehensive, recent history is a fine argument.
Nevertheless, at least we can see how Hahn thinks the Sox can continue swinging for the postseason despite evidence to the contrary (read: standings). If Hahn was going to push for 90 wins in 2013 regardless of Peavy's presence, he would have to take a sizable risk or two elsewhere on the roster. In this case, the Sox (and one Dr. Romeo) know Peavy inside and out, so if they're going to invest heavily in breakable humans, it's hard to pass up one they've already brought back from the dead to much success. Especially if it's a reduced salary, and for an unreasonably short commitment.