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Is the Peavy Market Drying Up ... Or Just As It Was

Funny what a week can do. Last Friday, the Cubs seemed to be nearing a breakthrough in trade talks with the Padres, closing on a deal that would bring San Diego ace Jake Peavy to Chicago for a package of prospects. Now, days after re-signing Ryan Dempster, they're talking about financial constraints and some in the Chicago press are writing them out of the Peavy race.

Now, I'm no member of the Chicago staff of MLB.com, but I'm here to tell Carrie Muskat not so fast. I'm still convinced that the Cubs want Peavy, too, and that they might be the ones to end up with him in the end.

Let's consider how the Jake Peavy trade saga has evolved. First, Peavy submitted a list of five teams to the Padres that made up his preferred destinations. All five were NL clubs. San Diego then effectively narrowed that list to three teams, believed by all to be the Braves, Cubs and Cardinals. The Cardinals essentially said they weren't interested, which left the Braves and Cubs to duke it out. After nearly a full week of negotiating almost exclusively with the Braves, Atlanta GM Frank Wren threw in the towel and walked away, saying that the two teams couldn't agree on prospects and that he wouldn't be trading for Peavy in the offseason. Clearly, Wren wasn't bluffing, either, since he immediately publicly set his sights on A.J. Burnett and is still openly pining for him in the Atlanta rotation.

That, of course, left the Cubs as lone suitors, with the teams reportedly nearing an agreement on a number of the prospects to be involved in a proposed trade. Then Dempster decided to take a hometown discount, inked a new deal and suddenly none of Peavy's preferred destinations are still possibilities, right? Wrong.

Why would the Cubs move away from the chance to bring in one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball? They won't, and that's why they're still talking with San Diego GM Kevin Towers. After adding Dempster's increased salary to the team books, the Cubs are admittedly nearing the top of their payscale stratosphere. Still, that doesn't mean they won't find a way to add a pitcher like Peavy.

So how could the Cubs get the financial flexibility they need to add Peavy? Well, they'd have to offload some significant payroll. Quite ideally, they were already trying to get rid of $38 million over the next few years in the person of Kosuke Fukudome, the athletic Japanese import who started 2008 on fire and ended in ashes, on the verge of losing his spot in the starting lineup. How tenuous is Fukudome's spot with the Cubs? Just check out these quotes from manager Lou Pinella on Chicago sports talk radio WMVP this week.

From the Chicago Tribune:

As for Kosuke Fukudome's hitting problems, Piniella theorized the Japanese star was not in "as good a shape, core-wise," after missing part of 2007 with an elbow injury. He also had to deal with the added length of a major-league season as compared to the Japanese League. He said the Cubs have talked about a more "Americanized" training regimen for Fukudome, though he didn't elaborate.

Put the pieces together, and it's pretty clear that, as one MLB rumors blog put it, the Cubs are giving Fukudome the "Kaz Matsui" treatment, eager to dump him off on any team that's willing to take his contract. The difference between Matsui and Fukudome, however, is that the latter and more recent Japanese import would seem to have a much broader potential set of suitors. his OPS is significantly better than Matsui's was in his first year, and Fukudome's blazing 2008 start shows that there really is potential for the center fielder to be a productive center fielder.

In fact, there are probably two teams in the Baltimore-Washington corridor who could add Fukudome to their outfields and note significant improvement.
All of that would seem to indicate the Cubs can still be players for Peavy, and the Padres are sure to hope that they still will be. If the Braves don't get back in the race, San Diego might really be stuck. Peavy has a full no-trade clause, and he's made it abundantly clear that he does not want to play in the AL under any circumstances, despite the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox probably want him more than anyone else (Boston GM Theo Epstein has long had all but an official offer to adopt Peavy if he's looking for a new home).

With Peavy able to drag this process out, and with the Padres reluctant to deal him within the division -- the prospect of a trade to another NL West team first surfaced as another final resort in the past week -- the Cubs can find a partner for Fukudome, or any other payroll combination that will clear enough room, then roll full speed ahead toward adding Peavy. Or they can add Peavy and then dump Fukudome off on whoever will take him.
Either way, Jim Hendry's cards are actually much stronger than he's letting on to the press. They better be, for both Chicago and San Diego's sake, because if they aren't, you might just see Jake Peavy back in Southern California again next spring.

By Cameron Smith  |  November 21, 2008; 3:47 PM ET
Categories:  Cubs , Padres  
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Next: Mets Focusing On Trade For A Closer

Comments

Well deduced and written Cameron. My question for you (and I think everyone else in the national media) is why is the Padres HAVE to trade him? Is it really that bad to have one of the Top 3 Pitchers in the NL on your staff?

I mean sure, at this point it is probably a bit awkward if he's back on the team, but that doesn't matter too much as long as he doesn't pull a Manny.

So is it the contract? Is it just unpleasant? Or do the Padres just want to move their best piece to restock their terrible minor league system?

Posted by: NattyDelite | November 21, 2008 6:41 PM | Report abuse

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