Jake Peavy's White Sox career should've gone much better. It could've been much worse.
For years, a mix of shortsightedness and testosterone undercut Peavy's potential at every turn. Taking on too much too soon nearly cut short his entire career. A little common sense would've gone a long way over his first two seasons, but we had to wait until his third full year to finally see what he could do.
A good hypothetical question: What if Peavy didn't reject the first trade between the White Sox and Padres?
At the very least, his South Side career would've gotten off to a much smoother start. That trade was born from good sense, as Kenny Williams got the jump on the competition by coming to a deal with San Diego GM Kevin Towers in May of 2009 -- two months before the deadline.
The problem was, he surprised Peavy, too. That wasn't good, because Peavy held a no-trade clause, and he ended up exercising it after a couple of tense days, politely declining the trade but leaving the door open.
Two months later, Williams surprised everybody by inquiring about Peavy again an hour before the trade deadline, because Peavy was on the DL with an ankle injury. With the Padres heading toward irrelevance and some previous consideration of Chicago, Peavy took Williams up on the offer.
Perhaps if Peavy hit the ground healthy, he and the coaches might've had a much firmer idea of what he could do much earlier. Instead, Peavy had to wait until September to make his White Sox debut, and even then, acquiring an injured pitcher had consequences.
Peavy made his White Sox debut too late to change the team's course, but he won all three starts and seemed to set himself up nicely for a full-blown arrival in 2010. But there were some problems underneath the surface. The ankle injury screwed up his mechanics, which caused some conflict with Don Cooper as they tried to get back on track. The altered delivery led to some physical problems, which culminated in a moment that is indelible for all the wrong reasons. On a 2-2 pitch to Mike Napoli, Peavy fired a 94-mph fastball high and wide, and then spun off the mound in agony, his arm dangling from his side.
The prognosis was as bad as it looked -- he'd torn his latissimus dorsi muscle straight off the bone. It was an unusual injury that required an unprecedented surgery, and it was unclear whether Peavy would be able to pitch again, at least with major-league effectiveness.
He returned to the mound 10 months later, which was an impressive turnaround time from such a scary injury. Funny thing was, he could've returned even earlier had he not blown through stop signs in spring training. He tried pitching through soreness and a stomach bug, and the resulting tendinitis cost him the rest of his preseason.
And it wasn't the first time Peavy and the Sox showed poor sense in handling a guy coming back from such a drastic surgery. He threw a 111-pitch complete game in his second outing back, and didn't look sharp the next time out. Ozzie Guillen formed a six-man rotation to give Peavy extra rest, only to bump Peavy up in the order while he was battling a groin strain that ultimately required a DL stint.
When he came back, he threw an amazing(ly ill-advised) four-inning relief outing on two days' rest against the Nationals, and that knocked him off course for the next month. Nobody showed good sense until September, when the Sox decided to shut the flagging Peavy down. And even that became a point of contention between Peavy, Guillen and Don Cooper after Guillen fled to Miami.
Over the number of incidents, it became clear that management was more to blame than Peavy. Sure, his mouth kept writing checks his body couldn't cash -- and it got pretty annoying after a while -- but it was evident that his competitive instincts overrode common sense at every opportunity. The Sox should've figured that out by the third time they were burned, but Guillen had other preoccupations, and nobody stepped up to address the void.
Had his contract ended after the 2011 season, his tenure on the South Side would've been remembered first and foremost as exasperating. There's some solace in the fact that the package Williams traded to San Diego didn't really amount to anything, but that's about it.
But his 2012 turnaround ultimately showed us why the Sox went to such great lengths to acquire him. He threw 219 innings of 3.37-ERA ball (no point in looking at his record, which was 11-12). He won a Gold Glove for his defense, which included great progress in slowing down the running game. He owned one of the game's best strikeout-to-walk ratios, but also found a way to limit hits, too. His second half wasn't as fine as his first, but he didn't exactly wear down.
With Peavy putting up, there wasn't the need for him to shut up. His snarling, snorting and self-reflexive profanity on the mound became its own form of entertainment, and the nonstop vow-making was endearingly imitated. The fact that he could stay on the field made it easier to teammates to accept what he said. He wasn't any less stubborn, but its detrimental effects were limited to staying a batter (or four) too long. The unforgettable injury was no longer a concern.
Everything worked well enough that Peavy, who rejected his first opportunity to join the White Sox, refused to entertain free-agent offers after his contract year. Instead, he signed a below-market, two-year contract to stay with the team that helped him bounce back from a career-threatening injury. He'd spent the entire season saying that he didn't want to leave, and he backed it up.
Unfortunately, he couldn't quite repeat the performance in 2013. An out-of-nowhere fractured rib sidelined him for six weeks as the Sox slid out of contention. By the time he returned, the Sox had to confront a rebuilding, which Peavy had said in years past he wanted to avoid. Rick Hahn returned Peavy's goodwill by finding a contender for him at the deadline -- and one that wouldn't flip him at the earliest opportunity. In the end, Peavy's most important performances might've been the two starts after his injury that allowed him to be traded. Avisail Garcia could turn out to be a fine parting gift.
Suffice it to say, that's not what Peavy nor the Sox had in mind when they acquired him, but it wasn't for a lack of desire. In fact, both sides probably wanted it too much. They had this idea of what he was supposed to be, but failed to admit that his body might need more time to meet the task. A freak injury and radical surgery have a way of providing some perspective.
Peavy made his Boston debut on Saturday night, throwing seven innings of one-run ball in a victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. He departed to a standing ovation. It sure would've been nice if Peavy's White Sox career could've started so seamlessly.