Why Padres should trade Peavy
The San Diego Padres are shopping ace pitcher Jake Peavy
Peavy is likely going to be traded this winter to an NL team
Several teams in recent years have benefitted from trading their ace
These are not sunny days for Kevin Towers, the likeable yet harried general manager of the Padres. His team is coming off a 99-loss season, his ownership is disintegrating, his payroll is getting slashed, the team's longtime closer has just been given a bum's rush and what's the GM been doing?
Trying to trade away the team's best player. Its ace. One of the few reasons anyone would want to come to see the Padres in the first place.
And they say it never rains in Southern California.
These are nasty times in San Diego, certainly, but if it's any consolation to Towers, if it's of any salve at all to fans, it's not as if the Padres suddenly have turned into the Pirates. It's more like, in a sense, they've morphed into the Indians, circa 2002 or so. They are a one-time division factor forced to shed payroll, shift down immediate expectations and rebuild. It just so happens they've chosen to trade away their ace as a means of doing all that.
Hey, it worked for the Indians. It could work for Towers and the Padres, too.
You don't have to crack the history books very hard to come up with a few instances of teams that have traded away their ace and come out of it looking OK. Just this past season, the Indians dumped CC Sabathia just before the break. Before CC left, they were 37-48. After he was traded to the Brewers in early July, they went 44-33.
The Twins, with ace Johan Santana in 2007, finished third in the American League Central at 79-83. Management traded Santana away in the offseason to the Mets, and in '08, the Twins pushed the White Sox to a one-game playoff in the AL Central before losing, finishing 88-75.
At midseason in 2002, the defending AL Central-champion Indians dumped prize arm Bartolo Colon. That didn't bring any immediate kind of award. But it brought the kind of talent that pushed the team to a 93-win season in '05 and took them to within a game of the World Series in '07.
Trading an ace can work. It has worked.
"So," Shapiro, still the GM of the Indians, joked the other day, "you want to talk to the guy who traded away two Cy Young winners?" (Colon won the award with the Angels in '05. Sabathia was still with the Tribe when he won it in '07.)
Clearly, the circumstances were wildly different in all three of these still-fresh recent deals. Sabathia was heading for free agency. He wasn't going to sign with the Indians after the '08 season anyway, so he had to be traded to get anything in return. The same was true of Santana and the Twins after the '07 season.
The Colon trade, back in '02, was probably closer to Towers' current situation with Peavy than the others, though the Padres have some talent in their minor-league system. "Colon had two years left. Our organization was transitioning. It was aging. We had a weak farm system. We were headed toward a rebuild, and 'How could you speed it up?'" Shapiro said. "It wasn't about the money at all."
It is about the money, at least partly, with the Padres and Peavy. The team's owners, Becky and John Moores, are divorcing and splitting up assets, and the Padres are right in the middle of the marital mess. The payroll is suffering, and that's at least partially responsible for the Padres pulling an offer to retain their longtime closer, Trevor Hoffman, effectively ending his association with the team.
Trading Peavy -- almost a certainty now, with the Braves and Cubs the frontrunners -- is simply the next step down that path. Peavy is due more than $60 million over the next four seasons, the last three years of it on an extension he signed less than a year ago.
"Last year, we lost 99 games with him," Towers told reporters last week in Dana Point, Calif., during the GM meetings. "So if we're able to add multiple pieces here that we think are going to improve our club, we've got to look at it."
This is not easy for Towers, a man who is so invested in his team emotionally that he often can't stand to watch them play. He literally has to turn away or leave the ballpark to go for a drive sometimes.
But hard times call for hard decisions, and nobody knows that better than Shapiro, who was eviscerated in Cleveland for tearing apart the late '90s Indians. No move better defines that time, no deal was as loudly booed, as the one that sent Colon to the Expos on June 27, 2002.
"It was a very, very difficult decision emotionally, very hard professionally, a gut-wrenching leadership decision," Shapiro said. "Very easy intellectually. But a very difficult decision."
In the short term, as Shapiro warned Cleveland fans might be the case, things didn't look good. The Indians, who won 91 games in '01 with the 28-year-old Colon and a slugging lineup featuring stars Juan Gonzalez and Jim Thome, finished below .500 for the next three years.
But the Indians pulled out of their slide in '05 in large part to the maturation of at least a couple of the players they got in that deal. At the time, the trade was known as Colon for Lee Stevens, a tall first baseman with some power, and three prospects.
But those "other" three players turned out to be Grady Sizemore, the Indians' speedy centerfielder and an MVP candidate this year, lefty Cliff Lee, who probably will be announced as the AL Cy Young award winner on Thursday, and Brandon Phillips, a talented Gold Glove-winning second baseman who now plays for the Reds.
The deal worked out beautifully for the Indians -- eventually -- and may well go down as the crown jewel of Shapiro trades. Towers can only hope that the trade of Peavy works nearly as well.