- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Jake Peavy won a Cy Young Award years ago and pitched in memorable playoff games, and when he tells stories, he speaks with the perspective of someone about to take the field in an old-timers game. It's easy to forget that Peavy is only 30 years old; he'll turn 31 at the end of this month. But he has reminded hitters again this year just how good he can be.
Peavy is 4-1 with a league-best 1.89 ERA, and he's allowed only seven walks in 52 1/3 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.29 is easily the best of his career. But this is not a case of an old pro learning a trick pitch or successfully adapting with a set of tools greatly diminished by age. Peavy's velocity readings are not that much different from what they were in the spring of 2009, when he last pitched for the San Diego Padres.
"It just comes down to being healthy," Peavy said the other day from Chicago. "I know it sounds too simple to be true, that's what it is."
Peavy was on the disabled list when the Chicago White Sox traded for him in the summer of 2009, and although he had assumed his season was over before the deal was made, he worked his way back to pitch in four games at the end of the year for Chicago. With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, Peavy wonders whether coming back to pitch that September was a bad thing, the first domino that led to other problems.
He altered his delivery to compensate for the physical effect of his injury, struggled in 2010 and then got hurt. But Peavy could tell right away this spring when he first threw that he was back to pitching the way that he had for the Padres.
"I really believe in being aggressive," he said. "I'm not a finesse guy. I can't have another mentality. I want to be aggressive and attack the hitters. If I'm healthy, I believe in what I can do, and that's where I am now."
Peavy is averaging a little more than seven innings per start and has thrown as many as 122 pitches in his starts. The White Sox hold a $22 million option on Peavy for 2013, and even if they contend all summer and keep the right-hander throughout this season, it would be a surprise if they exercised that option, which would make him one of the highest-paid pitchers in the majors for 2013.
As Peavy takes the ball Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers and Max Scherzer, the White Sox are 2.5 games out of first place in the AL Central. Some officials are beginning to compile lists of possible midseason trade targets, and Peavy has been mentioned as a possibility. "If he's healthy," an assistant GM said last week, "he's really attractive, because he's been through it all, and he knows how to pitch."
But as always, the standings will dictate who becomes available, and with an extra wild card in each league, teams may be even more reluctant to surrender this season.
Some other starting pitchers who might become available for trade this summer:
2. Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs: Never has this statement been more appropriate than in Dempster's case: Wins and losses mean almost nothing. Dempster, who can become a free agent in the fall, has a 1.74 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP and 41 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings. He's allowed one home run, and opposing hitters have a .463 OPS. Dempster is 35 years old, has had a couple of runs through the postseason, is throwing well and is a good clubhouse guy, so yeah, he'll have value before the trade deadline.
Dempster is making $14 million in the final year of a four-year, $52 million deal. That high salary might discourage some teams because Dempster would be owed almost $5 million for the final two months, a budget-busting number for a lot of clubs.
This is why the Los Angeles Dodgers -- who have room to grow their payroll after opening this season with a relatively minuscule $90 million budget -- are poised to perhaps be the most aggressive team before the trade deadline.
3. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies: A couple of things would have to happen before Philadelphia would deal the left-hander, who will be eligible for free agency in the fall. The Phillies' ownership would have to become convinced that the team wasn't good enough to win this year, and it would have to essentially decide that Hamels won't re-sign with Philadelphia, given the likelihood that he could command six-year offers as a free agent.
While the Phillies have called around and loosely floated Hamels' name in trade discussions, it seems very unlikely that a franchise that has had such incredible success in recent years would unload one of the National League's best pitchers in June or July. Hamels is 5-1 with a 2.28 ERA.
4. Carlos Zambrano, Miami Marlins: Time and again, we have seen that poor behavior is overlooked if a player is performing, and so far this year, Zambrano is pitching well for Miami. His fastball velocity is up, his ERA is down to 1.88, and he has been among the better pitchers in the NL. If the Marlins remain in contention -- they're four games out of first place in the NL East -- there would be no reason for them to deal him. Zambrano would be smart to re-sign with the Marlins after his contract expires in the fall.
But if Miami falls out of the NL East race, Zambrano could be an attractive find. The Marlins are responsible for only $2.5 million of Zambrano's $18 million salary this year, so he would be among the cheaper trade options, and Miami might get something decent in return.
5 and 6. Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, Milwaukee Brewers: The right-handers will be eligible for free agency in the fall. After losing Prince Fielder to free agency last fall and then suffering an early-season rash of injuries, Milwaukee might struggle to hang in the NL Central race. But keep in mind that the Brewers' ownership has developed a strong covenant with its fan base during the past five years -- the team works like crazy to compete, and the Milwaukee faithful consistently fill Miller Park. The Brewers might not be able to keep Greinke (3-1, 3.35 ERA) and Marcum (2-1, 3.07 ERA) after this season, but this is not an organization prone to giving up.
7. Derek Lowe, Cleveland Indians: There would be interest from other teams if the Indians placed Lowe on the trade market this summer, given his strong start (5-1, 2.47 ERA), his experience and his versatility. But that might not happen, as Cleveland holds a two-game lead in the AL Central.
8. Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics: Oakland is among the great early-season stories with a record better than .500, but the Athletics are chasing the best team in the majors at the top of the division. If somebody calls and makes an offer for Colon, the Athletics will listen. He's 3-3 with a 3.96 ERA.
9. Carl Pavano, Minnesota Twins: He has started slowly, and as long as that continues -- he's 2-3 with a 5.02 ERA -- there probably won't be a lot of interest. But the Twins could be among the first teams that look to be a seller.
10. Joe Blanton, Phillies: He's unspectacular, he's been nagged by injuries, and from time to time, the Phillies have tried to dump his salary. But Blanton has been good this year and had another strong start Monday night.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Blanton won:
A. Blanton used his changeup as a strikeout pitch, which has been rare this season. Blanton had three strikeouts with this changeup on Monday; entering the game, he'd had just two strikeouts on the pitch this season. Blanton got eight outs with the pitch on Monday; he had gotten just 10 outs with his changeup in his previous four starts.
B. Blanton threw 45 of his 106 pitches from ahead in the count. Blanton has had 40-plus pitches when ahead in the count twice this season, and he went seven-plus innings with seven or more strikeouts in both (2-0).
C. Blanton returned to his success on the ground after a rough outing against the Mets in his last start. Blanton recorded eight ground-ball outs on Monday and has gotten eight or more ground-ball outs in six of his seven starts this season. His 54 ground-ball outs ranks in the top 15 among NL starters.
• Meanwhile, Anthony Rendon says his season is likely over. I checked with the Nationals again Tuesday morning, and they said they still expect Rendon to play in July or August.
• The Royals' luck has been all bad this year: Now Danny Duffy is looking at reconstructive elbow surgery, Sam Mellinger writes. You cannot overstate how important Duffy's development is to this organization, so you cannot overstate how devastating this injury is.
• John Moores is pleased with the folks bidding on the Padres.
• The Giants' ownership should do what's right and allow the Athletics to move, writes Mark Purdy.
• The AL East is playing out like a NASCAR race, with 20 yellow flags in the first quarter of the race, and this time it's the Tampa Bay Rays who got dinged up: Jeff Niemann broke a leg. Desmond Jennings went on the disabled list.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Nick Cafardo wonders: Should Kevin Youkilis be handed his job back? Here's the thing: For the Boston Red Sox to establish any trade value in Youkilis, he must play again and demonstrate that he's physically able. "That's the question about him -- is he healthy?" one GM said last week. "If so, he can help somebody."
Such as the Dodgers, who might be looking for an alternative at first base if James Loney doesn't start to hit, or maybe the Cincinnati Reds, who could be looking for a third baseman now that Scott Rolen is on the disabled list. Cincinnati could use a right-handed hitter who could hit in the middle of a lineup. Keep in mind, too, that Youkilis is a Cincinnati native.
Youkilis looks close to being ready, writes Michael Silverman. David Murphy wonders whether Youkilis would make sense in Philly. Paul Daugherty wonders whether Youkilis would make sense in Cincinnati.
2. The Baltimore Orioles continue to scramble their roster: They've made 22 roster moves since their 17-inning game in Boston on May 6. The Texas Rangers, mind you, have made zero roster moves in the first six weeks, because they haven't had injuries.
3. Pirates GM Neal Huntington should get credit for his pitching acquisitions, writes Ron Cook.
8. The Cubs are keeping Alfonso Soriano in the cleanup spot. Here's the bottom line: Once the Cubs decide to end the Soriano chapter in the team's history, they will promote Anthony Rizzo and move Bryan LaHair to the outfield. Rizzo's time could be coming soon, writes old friend Chris De Luca.
12. The Rangers' Jackie Moore was back in the dugout after a hospital stay.
Dings and dents
4. Matt Kemp's consecutive-games streak ended.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Friedrich is the 11th pitcher since 2000 -- and the first in Rockies history -- to have 10 or more strikeouts in one of his first two career appearances. Shawn Chacon was previously the fastest Rockies player to a 10-plus-strikeout game, getting one in his eighth career game.
How Friedrich struck out 10 Giants:
A. Friedrich used location rather than speed. His fastball averaged 91.5 mph, and he did not throw a pitch 94 mph or harder.
B. Friedrich threw only one pitch with a three-ball count all night. He threw 27 pitches with two strikes.
C. Friedrich registered five strikeouts on pitches in the strike zone and five strikeouts on pitches outside the strike zone. Rockies starters have registered five strikeouts on pitches outside the strike zone in just three games this year. All of them have come in the past week, and the Rockies lost all three games by fewer than two runs.
From Elias: Harper is the youngest player to homer in a major league game since Adrian Beltre on Sept. 25, 1998, for the Dodgers against the Brewers (19 years and 171 days). Harper is also the youngest player in Nationals/Expos history to homer -- Gary Carter had been the youngest.
5. Adam Dunn homered again, but this time it was off a lefty -- and lefties had been a problem for him.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Dunn's homer off Drew Smyly was his first off a lefty since Aug. 6, 2010, when he hit two off Clayton Kershaw. Before Monday, Dunn's past 30 home runs had come off right-handers. He now has 12 home runs for the season overall, surpassing his total of 11 last season.
By The Numbers, from ESPN Stats & Info:
8: The Nationals scored eight runs against the Padres; entering Monday, they were the only team in the majors that hadn't scored eight or more runs in a game.
51: Percent of pitches thrown by Jon Lester outside the strike zone against the Mariners, who did not draw a walk.
399: Number of consecutive games played by Matt Kemp before missing Monday night's game against the Diamondbacks.
429: Distance, in feet, of Bryce Harper's first major league home run.
• An Orioles prospect tested positive for a "drug of abuse."
And today will be better than yesterday.