Free agent prediction: Chase Headley
Which team could use Chase Headley the most? Which team can afford him?
Chase Headley might be one of the more underrated players on the free agent market. Here, just ask Google:
He’s a bargain. He’s also asking for $70 million or so. Google’s less convinced about that one.
Though to be fair, two of the seven results were discussing baseball players, specifically Hanley Ramirez and Hunter Pence. That’s baseball, alright. The place where you can find bargains at $70 million.
It’s worth remembering just how good Headley used to be, how much he was going to get paid, and how recently that all was. He led the NL in RBI in 2012, despite playing for a lousy team in one of the better pitcher’s parks in recent baseball history. I don’t think we appreciate that enough. He was a star, a legitimate star, 24 months ago. He wasn’t going to get a Pujolsian deal, but he was going to get a gigantic contract befitting a star baseball player.
The unfortunate happenings, in order:
- He probably was never as good as he was in the second half of 2012, because pretty much no one is
- Thumb injury
- Calf injury
- General Padres-related malaise (probably)
- Traded to a Yankees team circling the postseason drain
- Hit-in-the-danged-face injury
Two years. Twenty-four months. Headley went from a superstar at the center of every trade rumor to the bargain of the offseason. The $70 million (or more!) bargain of the offseason. But how good is he?
Don’t minimize the effect of Petco Park on his overall numbers. When you use park-adjusted statistics, he’s a lot closer to a five-year, big-money kind of player.
OPS+, by year
He’ll be 31 next year, so it’s probably not smart to completely ignore the downward trend, there. Still, it’s good for a four-year OPS+ of 123. For all of his injuries, he’s averaged 567 plate appearances in that stretch. Some of the other free agents of this offseason during that same four-year stretch, by OPS+:
Pablo Sandoval: 125
Melky Cabrera: 124
Chase Headley: 123
Nelson Cruz: 120
Billy Butler: 119
Torii Hunter: 118
Nick Markakis: 105
Alex Rios: 99
Sandoval got a five-year deal for close to nine figures. Cabrera will get a lucrative four- or five-year deal. Cruz got a big four-year deal. Remember that Headley plays a fine third base, too, which is why he’s one of the most valuable players on the list. If you include defense and use a stat like WAR, he’s been one of the 20-best players in baseball. It’s a list that’s populated by $100 million players.
Kind of. He’s still a 31-year-old third baseman with underwhelming raw stats with a concerning, if recent, inability to stay on the field. Still, if you’re looking for a reason why Headley might get a star salary with utility player stats, there you go. Blame Petco. Baseball-Reference has a fun toy/tool to convert stats into different parks and eras, and I think I’ve used it in 38 different articles in the past three weeks. So I’ll just link it and let you play with it. Put Headley on the 2012 Yankees, and see how he looks. He looks like a $100 million player.
Now let’s see which teams will be interested:
There was a time when Headley wouldn’t have made it to the offseason. He played well for the Yankees, who have a clear need. Within three weeks of the World Series, if that, Headley would have been a Yankee.
Now, though, the Yankees aren’t quite as goofy as they used to be. They’re still willing to spend — don’t forget about the insane spending spree of last offseason — but the lackluster season they just went through has to dampen that urge. The Yankees aren’t in a great spot to spend All-Star money on a player who kinda sorta does okay. They need stars.
Still, they need a third baseman first. Alex Rodriguez is a DH right now. He’s a metaphor, cautionary tale, bogeyman, symbol, effigy, synecdoche, and mascot, and that’s when he’s not a tragedy written in 4,000 lines of iambic pentameter. But he’s also a DH. Which means the Yankees need a third baseman. They have Martin Prado, who can play all sorts of places, but Headley makes a lot of sense for the Yankees. If this were 2011, this free agent prediction would have been obsolete by the middle of November.
The Giants are ENGAGED WITH Headley, which seems really, really serious. But it makes sense. They were prepared to offer $95 million to Sandoval, if not more, so now they have a big ol’ batch of money to spend, even though they had their heart set on a productive, switch-hitting third baseman who plays a good third b … oh. Right. There’s another one.
The problem is that the Giants are focused on Jon Lester for the time being. They have a sack of cash to spend after the World Series run, but they also have an ownership group that runs at least 30 deep. Some of those owners might want some of that cash. I don’t blame them. There probably isn’t enough for both Lester (or Max Scherzer, or James Shields) and Headley. They’re reportedly more comfortable with in-house and scrap-heap options in left than they are at third and the rotation, but starting pitching is still the priority, by most indications.
Oh, it’s been too long since I’ve toyed with a true mystery team in this spot. There are a lot of teams who would be markedly improved with Headley. The Yankees. The Giants. The Tigers, Royals, Marlins, Braves, Angels, Astros, and Cubs. There’s one team not on that list that reportedly offered $100 million to a third baseman this offseason. They have pitching, and they need offense.
This team has sold a lot of Chase Headley jerseys over the years, too.
I haven’t heard a peep about the Padres and Headley this fall, so I don’t know if there’s bad blood, if someone tried to send him a Jelly of the Month Club membership in lieu of his regularly scheduled bonus. But if the Padres want to spend money, if they want to improve the offense, if they want to get better in preparation of a surprise NL West run, there’s someone available. They were willing to offer him a lot more at one point, too.
Chase Headley, Padres — 4 years, $68 million