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White Sox exchange risks in Jake Peavy-Avisail Garcia trade

Rick Hahn freed himself from the possibility of dead money on the payroll, but they're going to need this toolsy prospect to pan out

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The three-way swap that sent Jake Peavy to Boston and brought Avisail Garcia to the White Sox from Detroit is a fascinating deal, and I think the Baseball Think Factory discussion sums it up -- this comment in particular:

Pretty sure every possible position on this trade has been staked out within the first 22 posts in this thread.

Everybody involved had different motivations for making the trade, and the talents involved elicit varying reactions based on previous decision-making. The Red Sox had the least to lose -- only money, really -- but they're scarred by pitchers with injury histories. The Tigers needed a shortstop with a big Biogenesis suspension looming, and that forced Dave Dombrowski's hand.

The White Sox were dealing from a position of strength, but they could only exercise their leverage to a certain degree without sounding silly. I mean, Buster Olney floated the notion that the Sox suggested they could build around Peavy, and everybody laughed. They're 24 games under .500 and falling. Peavy is 32, expensive, not as reliable as he'd like to be, and has voiced repeated concerns of being on a rebuilding roster. It never added up.

Given the moving parts, I'm not compelled to make a final judgment on the trade itself in 24 or 48 hours. The Sox got a lot of value simply from moving Peavy without paying cash, but they used a marketable asset on a risky proposition.

The cost

When it comes to trading Peavy, part of what the Sox gained was peace of mind. Well out of contention and with no clear path toward a reversal next season, the Sox did not need to pay $20 million through 2014 to any veteran pitcher, especially with what they have underneath.

Andre Rienzo isn't going to allow three runs (zero earned) over seven innings every time out like he did in his debut on Tuesday, but the Sox gain more from Rienzo and Erik Johnson getting reps than they would have with Peavy playing out his string. Even Scott Snodgress is a possibility.

And that's assuming Peavy could stay healthy, which is never safe. While he threw 219 innings for the Sox in 2012, that was as many innings as he threw in 2010 and 2011 combined. The lat problem is behind him, but that fractured rib sure came out of nowhere. The Sox did make some strides to lessen his exposure to situations conducive to injury, but he still runs a noteworthy risk of something failing him, given the other injuries he's battled over the last five years.

So let's say Rick Hahn plays hardball and holds out for a better return than the No. 75 prospect and a low-minors grab bag. If he's left holding Peavy at the end of the round, he's paying money for big-picture nothing, and running the risk of paying money for stretches of no production whatsoever.

There's a substantial cost and opportunity cost in play for the White Sox, so much so that while they didn't have to get out from under Peavy, they pretty much had to. He's worth the money individually, but it's cash down the money pit on a non-contender.

The limits

Hahn said he exhausted all possibilities in direct talks with Boston, and given the number of potential Peavy landing spots that rose and fell over the days and weeks leading up to the deal, I'm guessing all roads were explored.

In Mark Gonzales' story, he said talks with the Diamondbacks never became serious, and while Oakland was a contender, the return may not have looked much different:

The Athletics’ interest in Peavy was legitimate, but Peavy feared that he would be acquired as no more than a rental and be traded to another team in the off-season. The Athletics, according to two scouting sources, were unwilling to part with shortstop Addison Russell (their top prospect) and pitcher Sonny Gray. The Sox liked outfielder Michael Choice but weren’t overwhelmed with some of their other minor league prospects.

The Sox also evaluated Oakland infielder Grant Green, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels for infielder Alberto Callaspo.

It's unclear who the Pirates would've traded, but the rumor mills reported repeated refusals to part with Gregory Polanco, who is considered a tier above Garcia on prospect rankings. So there seemed to be a certain ceiling Hahn could attain without including cash, and that's a big gray area at our distance -- especially since future deals (Alex Rios? Alexei Ramirez?) might need a cash infusion to acquire somebody with a future.

The White Sox might've been able to take safer plays at the Garcia tier, but in choosing Garcia himself, they're taking a shot with the guy who could bust through the ceiling.

But given his flaws, he could merely be a bust, and none of the three low-level guys from Boston are adequate insurance against that risk.

The gamble

If you look only at Garcia's rate stats, he looks like a hitter. He's 22 and hitting ..382/.414/.549. If you look at Garcia in action, he looks like a ballplayer, and not just an athlete. He's got power to all fields, he moves well in the field, and he throws well.

But if you look at the walks and strikeouts, therein lies the rub. He has the plate discipline of the classic White Sox prospect, as Jeff Sullivan explains:

This year, Garcia owns the highest BABIP at the Triple-A level. He also owns one of the highest swing rates, and one of the lowest contact rates. In the majors, he’s also been aggressive, and over bits of two years he’s posted a .290 wOBA. He’s too young and the sample’s too small to take that too seriously, but here’s the general message: Garcia’s the kind of prospect people don’t think of when they think of prospects with plate discipline, and while there’ such thing as effective aggressiveness, the burden of proof is on Garcia to demonstrate that he has the right idea.

Odds are, Garcia won’t become a big contributor in the field, and he’s unlikely to add much on the bases or walk very often. So to become a quality player, he’ll need to either up his contact or up his power, and while that’s all very projectable, Garcia has improvements left to make. As such, he’s a higher-risk prospect, as tends to be the case with toolsy guys. The ceiling is that he slugs somewhere around .500-.550. The floor is that he’s not a major leaguer. With a guy like this, there are no guarantees.

The burden of proof is also on the White Sox system, which has yet to develop a toolsy outfielder from start to finish. They have some projects with promise -- I like Trayce Thompson's progress, and Brandon Jacobs seems energized by the change of scenery -- but Jared Mitchell fell apart, they're watching Courtney Hawkins drown in Winston-Salem, and when sizing it all up, nobody looks like a good bet to become the first drafted-and-developed hitter since Aaron Rowand and Joe Crede.

The White Sox don't have the reputation of an organization that can finish hitters. They can work magic with pitchers. Give them the Avisail Garcia equivalent of a pitching prospect, and Don Cooper, Curt Hasler and Kirk Champion have ways to fill holes in such a talent's arsenal and approach. Although the Sox advance hitters with similar confidence, history says it's unwarranted.

The good news is that Garcia really can't be rushed. John Sickels says he's hitting Triple-A pitchers too well to make unnatural adjustments, and so the next step in his progression will be necessary.

But when I look at who's around, I wonder if Garcia is going to be on his own. Jeff Manto and Harold Baines are engineering the league's least productive offense. Maybe that's reflective of the players, but that's another problem. Nobody on the Sox outside of Adam Dunn walks with regularity -- Paul Konerko used to, but he probably won't be around for much longer. Moreover, a third of their lineup (Jeff Keppinger, Dayan Viciedo and Josh Phegley) started their White Sox careers with alarming walk droughts. Phegley's is ongoing, in fact, and might be the most hilarious of them all.

I'm not saying Garcia has to become a 70-walk guy to be productive. He seems to have the skill set that would make 40-50 walks go a long way. But there's a long way to go before he can even bridge that gap, and the White Sox haven't proven themselves capable of providing the instruction to make it happen. Unless Jim Thome has something to say in his new role, there aren't any models to be found.

There's a lot up in the air about this deal, and a lot we'll never know. The incentive to trade Peavy without taking on any cash has benefits outside of this swap, and it's hard to say what paying for some of Peavy's contract might have added to a return. With those conditions in place, if the White Sox had a better history of finishing hitters, I'd be excited at the possibility of using a dynamic Detroit prospect against his former organization 19 times a year. The Sox needed a genuine position player prospect, and Garcia is that.

As it stands, I think Garcia has the talent to generate optimism, the Sox have a reputation to warrant immense skepticism, and you're welcome to take any position in between. If Garcia doesn't pan out, though, it should finally force the Sox to reevaluate how they approach hitters. It's one thing to write off a standard Double-A prospect as a guy that "never figured it out," but Garcia's cost -- the best pitcher on the trade market -- and his advancement thus far should elevate him above any them's-the-breaks rationalization.