To Peavy Or Not To Peavy?

added 11/1/2008 by Scott Barzilla

Every year, there is always someone new on the free agent market or trade market that excites Astros fans. For much of the season, it looked as if Ben Sheets would be that guy. When Sheets went down late in the season, Astros fans turned to someone, anyone. Padres owner John J. Moores and his wife’s divorce battles opened the door to something new and better. Jake Peavy is suddenly on the market. Peavy makes Ben Sheets look like Brian Moehler. After all, he did win the Cy Young award in 2007.

Before we delve into any potential trade for Peavy, we should take a look at where he ranks in the pantheon of National League pitchers. Peavy has been a regular since 2003. Since that season, he has averaged a little more than 30 starts a season (Suddenly, he’s already better than Ben Sheets). However, the list of comparable NL pitchers of that time span is pretty small. There is Johan Santana in New York, John Smoltz in Atlanta, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano in Chicago, C.C. Sabathia in free agent land, Barry Zito in San Francisco, Brandon Webb in Arizona, and Derek Lowe in free agent land.

                  GS     INN     W-L     ERA         
Jake Peavy       182     1163   80-55   3.14
Johan Santana    186     1305   98-42   2.85
Roy Oswalt       187     1247   86-47   3.19  
Carlos Zambrano  193     1266   91-51   3.39
C.C. Sabathia    188     1269   87-57   3.43 
Brandon Webb     197     1315   87-62   3.24

That’s a pretty short list of guys and you can see that Peavy fits in there nicely in accordance with ERA and winning percentage. He falls a little short in terms of starts and innings, but there just aren’t many 200 inning per season guys left out there anymore. To be perfectly fair, there are more than this, but most of those guys are in the 4s in ERA. Before we can wrap up this comparison we need to take a look at the salary situations for these guys.

      Contract Ends   Mil Per Yr
Peavy      2012         14.75
Santana    2014         19.64
Oswalt     2012         15.25
Zambrano   2013         18.46
Sabathia   ????         ?????		 
Webb       2009          6.25

You can see a few things here. First, Peavy’s is the most reasonable of all of the contract amounts. Many of you are probably wondering where Brandon Webb fits into all of this. Considering the fact that he is the current front-runner for the Cy Young (Santana actually deserves it), you can only imagine where his numbers will go. I suppose that he could be a trade possibility this off-season depending on the D-backs long-term plans. He is ultimately a wild-card in this situation.

The rest of the salary numbers are the average from 2009 forward. Peavy’s contract looks good even in comparison with the hometown deal that Roy Oswalt got. This is a hard nut though because you have to look at this two different ways. Is Peavy a bargain in comparison with pitchers that are similar to him? You betcha. Is he a bargain in general? That’s a much more difficult question to answer.

Before we even talk parameters of trade, we need to look at the wisdom of paying two starting pitchers $30 million dollars on a team that wants to keep its spending at $100 million or below. When you throw in the likes of Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada, and Carlos Lee, you can see that payroll getting soaked up pretty quickly. Look down the road and you have a crunch with players like Hunter Pence and Jose Valverde (if they are not part of a deal for Peavy). If those players are part of the trade, then you have to factor in the cost of replacing them.

To make things easy on ourselves, we will assume that Pence, Valverde, and a minor leaguer are going in the deal. If you insert Peavy into the rotation, then you will have 400 innings guaranteed between them. Wandy Rodriguez and Brian Moehler will likely account for 300 innings themselves. That leaves approximately 250 innings left to other starting pitchers. Unless Drayton McLane ponies up to sign Randy Wolf, then you will have Brandon Backe, Jack Cassell, Felipe Paulino, and a host of others fighting for those innings. Keep in mind that, if Drayton wants to stay within a budget, the chances of him signing a Randy Wolf, Mike Hampton, or even Carl Pavano go down if Peavy comes in.

If Valverde is dealt then you will have approximately 500 innings (250-300 being leveraged) to fall to a combination of Wesley Wright, Geoff Geary, Tim Byrdak, Dave Borkowski, and a host of others. "What about Doug Brocail and Latroy Hawkins?," you might ask. Well, they too might be casualties of the Peavy trade. At the very least, you can’t expect both of them to come back. Have you found your closer in that group?

Also, keep in mind that we haven’t discussed the new hole in right field or the hole behind the dish that Ed Wade has said he wants to address. Those of you that are consistent readers of this column will undoubtedly remember that I am not opposed to dealing Valverde. Yet the devil is always in the details. In those cases, they were for players that would cut the payroll. Therefore, there would be money set aside to at least address some holes. In this case, you create more holes and remove the money necessary to deal with them.

Can you win without a “number two” starter? That’s a hard question to answer. I don’t see one in Philadelphia, but I might not be looking hard enough. What I do know is that they aren’t paying any of those guys “number two starter money.” Jake Peavy is a legitimate ace and is being paid like one. If you want a pretty good comparison of what we might become, check out what Arizona did this year:

               INN    ERA   Wins  Losses
Webb/Haren    442.2  3.31    38     15
The Rest      992.0  4.28    44     65

Randy Johnson had a functional campaign for them along the lines that Brian Moehler had this year. Naturally, the Big Unit is getting paid a lot more than Moehler, but you get the general idea. If Drayton is willing to step up his payroll to $120 million dollars then he can afford Peavy and enough decent players to fill those other holes. If he wants to hold to the $100 million dollar limit, then the D-backs and Astros will be more similar than just their uniform colors.