As White Sox slugger Paul Konerko leaned against the dugout after returning from a three-week layoff due to a lower back strain, the cerebral 37-year-old sipped a cup of hot tea.
Like so many people in baseball Monday, Konerko sought something soothing.
"It's not a huge deal," Konerko said.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- VIDEO: Video: Sox's Dunn on Braun's suspension
- VIDEO: Video: Cubs' Navarro on relationship with Garza
VOTE: Did the Cubs get enough for Matt Garza?
- Video: Sox's Sale on his performance
- Video: Ventura on loss to Tigers
- Video: Samardzija on his future with Cubs
U.S. Cellular Field, 333 West 35th Street, Chicago, IL 60616, USA
He was talking about the degenerative disk that sidelined Konerko since July 2 — not baseball's two other deals that diverted attention from the marquee matchup at U.S. Cellular Field between aces Chris Sale and Max Scherzer the Tigers won 7-3. The prospect of watching the Sox's only untouchable player duel the Tigers' leader in wins promised to make baseball bearable for a few hours in one of those seasons when that isn't always the case.
Then the Cubs traded their best pitcher and Major League Baseball punished its biggest fraud — until the next one surfaces, that is. Suddenly, anything short of a no-hitter by Sale or Scherzer paled in comparison to Matt Garza going to the Rangers for as many as five prospects, and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun getting suspended after admitting performance-enhancing drug use.
The Braun suspension costing him the rest of the season and $3.5 million understandably upstaged the Garza trade finally happening after months of incessant speculation. The exposure of a lying cheater trumped the expected move of a perennial rebuilder. Honestly, both can be hard to watch.
Braun forever became his sport's Lance Armstrong by taking the first deal MLB offered that included missing the final 65 games for a team in last place in the National League Central. Braun's lost income ultimately means nothing compared to the Brewers' inestimable embarrassment caused by a player they vigorously defended.
Worse, a defiant Braun ruined the reputation of Dino Laurenzi Jr., the poor guy who collected his urine sample. We don't know if Braun feels badly about attacking Laurenzi because he cowardly didn't comment after issuing a formal statement and addressing teammates. It would be appropriate if Braun emerged only long enough to apologize to those he impugned and return his 2011 NL Most Valuable Player award. Then Braun can go back to training for whatever lies ahead in his tainted career, perhaps the 2014 Tour de France.
In contrast, Garza can return to town next month when the Rangers play the Sox with his head held high after bringing the Cubs a haul of prospects Theo Epstein sought. Somewhere, Jim Hendry smiles. Garza got hot at the right time and, joining a contender, will get more chances to throw shaving-cream pies in the faces of teammates. Now, right-handed Class A pitcher C.J. Edwards merely needs to live up to the lofty expectations that preceded him and 24-year-old Triple-A third baseman Mike Olt, currently hitting .213, must avoid being the next Kevin Orie. Cubs single-game ticket sales for 2015 go on sale any day now.
As for 2013, Chicago baseball's race to 90 losses just became harder to call with Garza gone. The Cubs entered Monday on pace to lose 89 games; the Sox 95. Inside the Sox clubhouse, Jake Peavy knew what a Garza deal would mean to him. Even before the trade was official, Peavy openly speculated how Garza's fate influenced his.
"Other teams wait to set the market,'' Peavy said. "Leaving all my buddies and relationships I've made over five years I've been here would be tough, but at the same time it would be hopefully going to a better position in the standings and do what we as athletes want to do — be a world champion.''
The words look bolder in print than they sounded out of the mouth of Peavy, who was more accepting than excited.
"If I tell you I'm about winning I have to be OK with (a trade) happening," Peavy said. "And I certainly will be. But it will be a sad day."
Peavy knows how it works. The Sox, one of the majors' most disappointing teams, need to start dealing veterans for prospects a la the Cubs model or risk fading deeper into baseball oblivion. General manager Rick Hahn can start with Peavy, his hottest commodity. Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez should be next. Reliever Jesse Crain holds value for teams looking for late-inning help (which is every contender). Will any teams be desperate enough for power to take on Adam Dunn's contract?
How many players must the Sox trade before they declare 35th and Shields a baseball reconstruction zone?
"We don't want to concern ourselves with that stuff," Konerko said. "But the only thing I'd say is a lot of the guys who have been talked about are under contract so there's no rush."
Konerko took another sip of tea.
Eventually, it might take something stronger to get through this summer.