The San Diego Padres have begun to exchange names with teams interested in All-Star pitcher Jake Peavy, in what appears to be an aggressive effort to maximize return on the right-hander, who is signed to a contract that keeps him under a team's control through 2013. And increasingly, it seems that team won't be the Padres.
Peavy has a no-trade clause and could conceivably kill all proposed deals. But Peavy is open, in particular, to playing for National League contenders, sources say. The Atlanta Braves, who went into this offseason devoted to a pursuit of front-line starting pitching, are among the teams "hot" on Peavy, according to one source. San Diego, too, is said to be willing to deal with the rival Dodgers, who could conceivably have some excellent young players to dangle, like outfielder Matt Kemp and pitchers Clayton Kershaw and James McDonald. The Padres intended to wait until the Dodgers completed their playoff run before engaging in serious talks with L.A.
The Braves have a lot of available cash -- they scouted A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe, who may both become free agents next month -- and a solid stable of prospects, including outfielder Jordan Schafer and pitcher Tommy Hanson. At least one team the Padres have spoken with about Peavy has demonstrated an interest in expanding the deal to include shortstop Khalil Greene, whose $6.5 million salary the Padres would like to move, and Atlanta is relatively flush with middle infielders, with Yunel Escobar and Brent Lillibridge.
Some of the other NL teams that might be a fit for Peavy include the Cardinals, who face an uncertain situation with Chris Carpenter, or the Astros, or the Brewers, who stand to lose both CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency.
If AL teams get involved, the Yankees might be a fit, although New York GM Brian Cashman has made it clear in the past that he wants to adhere to a path of player development. That stance could change if the Yankees have changed their internal evaluations of young players who struggled in 2008, such as Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy and Melky Cabrera.
Multiple sources consider it likely the Padres will deal Peavy in the weeks ahead, and that it is a virtual certainty he will be traded before the July 31 deadline next season. The Padres are seeking at least two young pitchers in return, along with someone who can become the team's everyday center fielder sometime in the immediate to near future.
Peavy, 27, will make $8 million in 2009, $15 million in 2010, $16 million in 2011 and $17 million in 2012, and he has a 2013 option for $22 million, with a $4 million buyout.
Last year, the Twins found the market for Johan Santana to be relatively lukewarm, primarily because Santana was in line to become a free agent after the 2008 season and teams like the Red Sox and Yankees were leery of absorbing the double-barreled cost of the prospects and a big-money, long-term contract.
But in Peavy's case, he is under contract for the next four seasons, meaning that the Braves or the Dodgers or some other team would be assured of cost certainty.
Peavy went 10-11 with a 2.85 ERA in 27 starts for the Padres in 2008, his seventh season in the big leagues. Peavy is 86-62 in his career, with a 3.25 ERA, and he has averaged about a strikeout per inning -- he has 1,256 strikeouts in 1,261 innings.
Peavy won the 2007 NL Cy Young Award, after going 19-6 with a 2.54 ERA.
Last winter, the Twins' trade talks involving Santana dragged out over months, and in the end, Minnesota was left to take an imperfect deal from one very serious suitor, the Mets. This is the sort of scenario that might prompt the Padres to conclude a Peavy deal relatively quickly. "If they wait until the free agency period begins, some [interested] teams might get antsy waiting on the Peavy thing and then go sign a free agent," said one executive. "Right now, he's a market of one."
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.