by Daniel Gettinger

In previous posts, I have hinted that I believe the Padres should trade Jake Peavy, but I have never taken a forceful stance on the issue, nor have I explained my reasoning.  In the aftermath of yesterday’s excitement, I would like to take a step back, and explain why the Padres should trade Jake Peavy…

1) The Padres are not great this year, and unlikely to be great next year.  Regardless of how dominant Peavy is, his contributions over the next few years will not have as much value to the Padres as some other team. When an asset has more value to someone else, there is a great opportunity for a mutually beneficial trade. 

2) The prospects the Padres will get in return for Peavy are more likely to help the club win 3 years from now than Jake Peavy.  This argument holds even if Peavy does not decline.  In return for Peavy, the Padres get not only a package of quality prospects, but also remove Peavy’s contract from their liabilities.  If the team feels it is close to contending, it can sign, or trade for a player/players due $15 million per season, and the contract situation will be a wash.  The contributions of the prospects, combined with $15 million worth of free agents/trade targets is likely to exceed those of Jake Peavy.*

*Note: Over the course of Peavy’s contract, the contributions are expected to be the same.  Otherwise, no team would offer up prospects AND pay Peavy’s salary.   The Padres are only receiving prospects because Peavy is signed to a below market deal.  However, as previously stated, the Padres are not as interested in success today as they are success in the future.  It is in the future that the contributions of the prospects, combined with the $15 million in other players will exceed those of Jake Peavy.

3) Jake Peavy’s salary is too risky for a smaller market club like the Padres.  If Jake Peavy gets hurt, and is unable to pitch effectively over the duration of his contract, the Padres are in serious trouble.  If we assume the team’s long-term payroll will be somewhere around $75 million per season, a Peavy injury would force the team to effectively operate with only $60 million of healthy players.  Any contract that makes up a large proportion of a team’s payroll for multiple seasons is risky, but that risk is amplified for pitchers, and even more so for smaller, “maximum effort” type pitchers like Peavy.

4) Peavy is overrated, likely to decline over the next few years, and will miss Petco Park.  Yes, Peavy is a top-10 pitcher, but he is closer to number 10 than number 1.  Since 2007, Peavy has contributed 10.4 wins against replacement.  That is the eleventh best mark over that time.  Ahead of Peavy are players you would expect such as CC Sabathia, Johan Santana, and Brandon Webb, but also guys like Javier Vazquez, Gil Meche, and Dan Haren.  Andy Pettitte, Justin Verlander, and Derek Lowe follow Peavy, and are closer to Peavy in value than Peavy is to Sabathia.

Going forward, I expect Peavy to show a gradual decline.  His average fastball speed has slowed from 93.9 mph in 2007 to 92.6 mph in 2008, to 92.0 mph so far in 2009.  Likewise, Peavy has thrown a lot of innings in his career, and while he is still only 27 years old, I am very concerned about his ability to maintain his dominance into his 30s, and through 2012.

Further complicating the situation is that Peavy plays half his games in Petco Park.  While he strikes out a lot of batters, and has decent (though not spectacular control), he gives up a fairly high proportion of fly balls (38.6% since 2007).  Luckily for Peavy, only 8.7% of his flyballs have gone for homeruns, one of the best marks in the league over that time-frame.  Part of Peavy’s ability to limit homeruns is skill, but some of it can be attributed to Petco Park.  

It is quite possible Peavy will continue to be a top 10 pitcher through 2012.  I just find that unlikely.  Peavy is probably at the end of his prime.  I would like to trade him now, while other teams still value him as the ace he currently is.

Summary:

Peavy is currently one of the better pitchers in the league, but since the Padres are bad, that talent is going to waste.  A Peavy trade will make the Padres better off in the future, without sacrificing much success today (the team is already bad).  In addition, Peavy’s contract is too risky for the Padres, and Peavy is likely to decline to a “number-two” type pitcher by the time the team is ready to compete.  Trading Peavy makes sense, not just for financial reasons, but also as a means of improving the team.

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