Szwaja's Sports Blog

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In May, White Sox fans were treated to a brutal 36-hour waiting period as Jake Peavy decided whether to waive a no trade clause that would have finalized a deal between the White Sox and the Padres. We heard all the excuses. He wanted to stay in the National League. He wanted to stay close to his family on the West Coast. He didn't want to pitch at US Cellular Launching Pa... ahh, sorry, Field. It all led to one decision: Peavy was staying in San Diego.

Kenny Williams, White Sox GM, became an ESPN whipping boy. The PTI guys said Williams made a fool out of himself and his baseball team. Karl Ravich asked the Baseball Tonight crew if Williams should be embarrassed. Even if the answer to that question was "Yes" at the time, Williams is the one man in baseball who doesn't care what people say about him. As one anonymous MLB exec told Fox Sports analyst Ken Rosenthal Friday, Williams has the "biggest balls in baseball."

Back in May, after Peavy declined the trade, if you had prudent knowledge of the way Williams does business, you knew he would get his way in the end. The second the Padres agreed to the deal in May, Peavy was headed to the Sox. It just became a matter of when it would actually happen. (We learned on Friday that Williams has been trying to make this happen since the 2008 trade deadline.) He's the best GM in Chicago. He's far from the new skool GMs, who are taking over baseball. He could care less about sabremetrics. He wants to win, nothing else. Brad Pitt is slotted to portray Billy Beane in an upcoming movie about how Beane "revolutionized" the GM position in baseball. Who cares? When they start gathering props for the film, "replica World Series trophy" won't be on the list.

Could Williams have paid less for Jarrod Washburn? No doubt. Adam Russell and Dexter Carter alone probably could have gotten him Wasburn, but Williams thinks big. Washburn will help the Tigers immensely in their pursuit of the playoffs, but he will inevitably end up with the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Angels this off season when he becomes a free agent. Think the Tigers are going to have the money to resign him at season's end? There were whispers this spring they were trying to unload Miguel Cabrera because they're worried about his price tag in the one American city that's been hit hardest by the declining economy.

Meanwhile, on Chicago's South Side, Williams has built the best starting rotation in the AL Central for the foreseeable future: Buehrle, Peavy, Danks, Floyd. (Note: Peavy is signed through 2012.) Doesn't matter who ends up as number five. Who can compete with that in the American League, let alone the AL Central? Nobody can, one through four. It's exactly what you want in a rotation. Crafty, slow-throwing lefty? Buehrle, check. Power righty with five great pitches? Peavy, check. Lefty with ideal fastball/change-up/curve combo? Danks, check. Best right-handed curveball in the American League, combined with 94-mph heat? Floyd, check. It's almost too good to be true on paper.

And some will tell you it might be. They'll say that Peavy's injury might prevent him from ever being the Cy Young pitcher he once was. All I can say to that is that it's hard to imagine an ankle injury ending a 28-year-old pitcher's career as we once knew it.

They'll say Peavy simply won't be the same away from Petco Park, especially in hitter-friendly US Cellular Field. Peavy's career road ERA is 3.84, hardly as bad as the experts make it sound when they caution optimistic White Sox fans about his struggles away from Petco. Over his last two seasons, Peavy has averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. I understand he faces one less quality batter per nine innings in the National League, but if he's striking out three innings worth of outs, how much should we worry about the stadium where he's pitching?

And there's one thing I've heard nobody mention in their analysis of Peavy's future US Cellular Field endeavors. He'll get more run support. His team goes to bat at US Cellular too. You've got to like the idea of a healthy Carlos Quentin and rising star Gordon Beckham as the emerging one-two punch. And you'll still have veterans like Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye as an above-average supporting cast. And with guys like Alexei Ramirez, AJ Pierzynski and young, hard-hitting Tyler Flowers waiting in the wings, this shouldn't be a team that struggles to score runs, like, say, the Padres of recent years.

Are there holes? Always. Who will be the lead-off man? College World Series MVP Jared Mitchell looks like the stud-in-waiting to fill that spot, but when will he be ready? Probably not until 2011. Williams usually finds a way, even if it's by dumb luck (see the Scott Podsednik aberration of 2009). Who will be the DH after Jim Thome departs this fall? Flowers seems to be the choice, but White Sox fans should be ready at the bit when free agency opens this winter and Williams has some money to play with for the first time in recent years - Thome's $16-million-plus salary comes off the books at season's end.

What about the guys Williams mortgaged for the future? All I can say is, what about them? Some had deemed left-handed-pitcher Aaron Poreda as an untouchable pitching prospect. Poreda was all hype. White Sox fans consistently heard about his 97-mph fastball, and that was about it. Turns out it was more like 93 or 94, which is still good but much closer to normal, not to mention Poreda still doesn't have a Major League number two pitch. One trick ponies never make it to the center ring.

Clayton Richard may very well end up being the biggest loss in this trade, but Williams was done dealing with the inconsistency. He wants to win now. No time to wait around for Richard to figure it out. Let him do it in the National League.

Adam Russell got rocked every time the White Sox called him up and placed him in the bullpen. Enough said.

And I know very little about Dexter Carter, except for the fact that he played A-ball for nearly two seasons and never once got promoted to AA. Take that for what it's worth.

The bottom line is that Kenny Williams knows pitching wins championships, and, barring major injury, he's got a starting rotation that will be the envy of every other GM come next spring. And who knows? The bonus in the deal might be the little extra boost the White Sox need this season. The handful of starts Williams hopes Peavy can offer him this season might just end up being the extra one or two games the White Sox need to win their division. And all you need to go far in the postseason is a hot pitching staff.

I'm not saying this deal guarantees the White Sox a trip back to the World Series some time in the next four seasons, but it puts them in a much better position to do so, and that's all White Sox fans can ask for.

Call me greedy, whatever you'd like, but now that Jake Peavy is finally a member of the Chicago White Sox, I can't help but think about what Williams is planning next.

If Friday was any indication, I can't wait to find out...


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