CHICAGO -- At one point, it was a no-brainer.
The White Sox were in rebuilding mode, more or less.
Expectations for the season were, well, modest.
And Jake Peavy, it was hoped, would pitch just well enough to be tradable.
It made perfect sense, what with Peavy set to earn $17 million in this, the final year of a three-year, $52 million contract. With the Sox holding an option of $22 million with a $4 million buyout for 2013, losing Peavy in some form or fashion appeared a certainty. Still does, but to what end for the Sox?
No one could have expected Peavy to not merely come back from a career-threatening injury and disastrous ensuing season, but to help keep the Sox in contention. But this is where they find themselves, even after a bitter 2-1 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday night despite another solid, complete-game performance by Peavy.
With Peavy suitors jockeying for position, Sox management has to ask itself the same question it did 15 years ago this summer.
It was then that the so-called "White Flag" trade alienated Sox fans and called into question the judgment and integrity of then-GM Ron Schueler and owner Jerry Reinsdorf when, trailing division-leading Cleveland by 3½ games, they traded away three key contributors to the San Francisco Giants for six minor leaguers.
In 2000, the Sox won the division title thanks in large part to the play of Keith Foulke and Bob Howry, two of the players they had received in the deal. But 15 years after one of the most infamous trades over the past quarter-century, most Sox fans probably couldn't tell you how it all panned out.
What they remember was the feeling of hopelessness and betrayal that took even Schueler by surprise. Anything that even sniffs of that now, if the Sox are still in contention, could reverberate even more dramatically.
For sure, it's a risk. Just contending won't cut it. But they will need Peavy to make a serious run. Clearly, they can't depend upon Gavin Floyd at this point. And while Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have been outstanding, they're young and shouldn't be counted on to carry the pitching staff.
The Sox can use any cash that may come their way in trade for Peavy. But there will be prospects, as well, and that's never a guarantee.
Meanwhile, Tuesday night was another reminder of how valuable, even in defeat, Peavy is to the Sox.
"It's tough," Peavy said of his third loss of the season, in which he allowed just one earned run on five hits with five strikeouts, one walk and two wild pitches. "I did feel good tonight and I was trying to be economical because I knew, with the injuries we've had and [Zach Stewart] starting last night, the bullpen has been used a lot. So I knew from the outset I was going to go deep. That was the game plan. We were going to throw 120 pitches. I wish it would have been different and that ninth would have meant something."
Peavy threw a season-high 125 pitches in his third complete game of the season and showed why the top half of the ninth indeed meant something. After surrendering a leadoff triple to David DeJesus, Peavy got Starlin Castro out on a tough fielding play. Then, following a wild pitch that allowed Alfonso Soriano to advance second with DeJesus on third, Peavy bore down and struck out Steve Clevenger for the third out.
Once again, Sox bats failed to support Peavy, whose two previous losses came in 1-0 games. This time, with Detroit and Cleveland winning Tuesday night, it cost them the division lead.
"It's just frustrating," he said. "Three [losses] in a row now, and when you're a first-place team, there's just no excuse. Obviously we played some tough games on the road, lost a one-run game in my last start, dropped that game late in L.A. on that Sunday, and that could have been a momentum changer."
Still, Peavy said, he has not lost confidence in this team as a contender. Nor has he lost the vision of himself sticking around long enough to keep them in contention.
"I'm all-in, right here, right now," he said. "This is where I want to be, this is where I want to be for the future. That's not here nor there. I'm all-in. I'm trying to find a way to win the Central and have a chance to win 11 games in the postseason."
It will no doubt be tempting for the Sox to let Peavy go. But all-in is all-in.