White Sox Bank on Peavy, Rios
CHICAGO - The text message zooms across the cellphone of Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams.
"What, July 31, and no Kenny Williams deal?"
Williams smirks and fires a message back to Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane: "Turn on your TV."
Beane, sitting in his office in Oakland, watches the news flash across the screen moments after baseball's non-waiver trade deadline. "The White Sox have acquired former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy from the San Diego Padres."
"I couldn't believe it," Beane says. "I'm not usually surprised by anything Kenny does, but this time I was shocked. I never should have doubted his deal-making ability, because at the end of the day, he's always up to something."
Ten days later, Beane and the rest of baseball were stunned again. The White Sox acquired two-time All-Star Alex Rios from the Toronto Blue Jays on a waiver claim.
Two blockbuster moves. Two contracts worth $117.3 million. But the White Sox, who have fallen 3 1/2 games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central, have received little return on their investment.
Peavy is recovering from a torn right ankle tendon, and the club hopes he responds well enough to Monday's rehabilitation start to make his White Sox debut Saturday at Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, Rios has hit .216 with two RBI and a home run. The White Sox are 5-5 since he arrived.
If they can't get the White Sox to the postseason, then Peavy and Rios might be surrounded by fresh faces next year.
"This would be the most disappointing season for me if we don't get in the playoffs," Williams says.
"I like this team. This team is better than a lot of teams we've ever had here. If you want to stay here, take the AL Central title. If not, it leaves it to my imagination to make this team better. And I've got a big imagination."
Catcher A.J. Pierzynski says the players are aware of what is at stake: "If we win, I think we have a chance to be here for a long time. But if we lose and don't make the playoffs, there may be some core guys in here not coming back."
Even Peavy, who was 6-6 with a 3.97 ERA for the Padres this season, isn't sure what to expect.
"I can't promise what I'll give you," says Peavy, who last pitched in the majors June 8. "But I'll give you all I've got. I don't care how good you are. When you take two months off, how good can you be?
"It's going to be interesting."
Peavy's deadline drama
The phone call at 11 a.m. ET July 31 startled agent Barry Axelrod. Padres GM Kevin Towers wanted to know whether Peavy was willing to waive his no-trade clause for the White Sox. Again.
Chicago worked out a trade in May for Peavy, 28. But the right-hander rejected it, saying he wanted to stay in San Diego or play for the Los Angeles Dodgers or Angels, the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves or Houston Astros.
"People interpreted it as a slap in the face," Williams says. "But he never said, 'No.' He just said, 'Not yet.' "
Four starts later, Peavy suffered a torn tendon in his right ankle, and worse, White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had second thoughts.
Williams waited until the morning of July 31 to seek permission to acquire Peavy, who has $55.9 million remaining on a contract that runs through 2012. The answer was, "No."
"I know I had said, 'Yes,' back in May," Reinsdorf says, "but Kenny got me in a weak moment. . . . I didn't think we could afford him. But even though I said, 'No,' I told Kenny I was willing to talk about it."
Williams, assistant GM Rick Hahn and Reinsdorf talked about the 2010 budget. There was $16 million coming off the books for pitchers Jose Contreras and Octavio Dotel. They could choose between bringing back Jim Thome and Jermaine Dye, making a combined $25 million. Closer Bobby Jenks ($5.6 million) is eligible for arbitration and a prime target for an offseason trade.
"I had to be convinced I could handle the money," Reinsdorf says. "They convinced me."
Williams called Towers, and they worked out virtually the same deal as two months earlier, with left-handers Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda, a 2007 first-round pick, and minor league pitchers Dexter Carter and Adam Russell going to the Padres.
"I couldn't believe it," Axelrod says. "Jake hadn't pitched in seven weeks. I told Kevin, 'You know he's going to say, 'No.' "
Axelrod called Peavy, but it went to voice-mail. "If he calls me back, he calls me back," Axelrod said to himself.
Williams phoned Axelrod an hour before the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline. Williams didn't care Peavy couldn't pitch for at least a month. The deal was about having Peavy for the next three years and creating a strong rotation.
Axelrod called Peavy's wife, Katie, and asked her to wake Jake. The White Sox needed an answer in 30 minutes.
"OK, let me talk it over with the family," said Peavy, who has three sons, 8, 5 and 1.
Axelrod: "You're going to really think about this? I'll be over to your house in 10 minutes."
Seven minutes later, Peavy called and was ready to agree to the trade.
They spent the next 30 minutes discussing it. Peavy changed his mind six times, Axelrod said. The White Sox were standing pat. They weren't picking up Peavy's $22 million option in 2013.
Finally, Axelrod called the MLB office to say Peavy had accepted the deal.
"I closed my phone, and it was 1 p.m.," Axelrod says. Padres CEO "Jeff Moorad called and said, 'Did you get it in?' I said, 'Jeff, I don't think so. It was right at the deadline. It probably didn't go through.' "
The phone rang minutes later. Peavy was a member of the White Sox.
"It was absolutely a hard decision," Peavy says. "It's tough to leave where you started. But I also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would not be in San Diego in 2010. Now that I'm here, I know I made the right decision."
Rios' fresh start
Rios didn't have a choice. And neither did Reinsdorf.
The White Sox attempted to trade for Rios last winter and again in July. Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi says they never came close.
When the Blue Jays put Rios, 28, on waivers the first week of August, the White Sox claimed him. Williams didn't bother to clear the move with Reinsdorf, figuring there was no need. The claim was designed to work out a trade or block another contender from obtaining him. Never did Williams envision the Blue Jays would let Rios go for nothing.
"I really believed there would be a deal," Williams says, "but they wanted the financial relief instead."
Rios, hitting .264 with 14 homers and 62 RBI, had no interest in leaving Toronto. He had yet to live up to expectations of being a 30-30 man and had become the fall guy for the Blue Jays' woes. Yet, engaged and with a newborn, he still believed Toronto was home.
"I was a little shocked by it," Rios says. "I've heard my name in a lot of rumors but never paid attention. But, hey, it's good to play where you're wanted."
The White Sox think that besides an ace, they now will have a center fielder for the next three years. They love his talent and think it will blossom playing with a contender in a big market.
"I think Chicago is going to re-energize him," says Kansas City Royals bench coach John Gibbons, Rios' former manager in Toronto. "He became almost a whipping boy in Toronto."
And Williams needs Rios and Peavy to make these gutsy moves turn out to be smart moves. Is Peavy, the 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner, really one of the top five pitchers in baseball, or is he a health risk and benefactor of pitching in a spacious ballpark in the weak NL West? Will Rios again display his All-Star ability, or has he become complacent?
"Where's the gamble? Where's the risk?" Williams says. "I'm not going into this with my head down and wondering if it will work. This is what we needed to do to win a championship. There's no guarantee, but I don't think there's a risk, either."
"Well, if I am wrong," Williams says, "I may be looking for a second job."