Free Agent Profile: Chase Headley

 Several years ago Chase Headley was an emerging superstar with the San Diego Padres. He showed power in the minors before blossoming into a star in the very pitcher-friendly Petco Park. After the 2012 season trade rumors escalated as Headley was coming off a 7.2 fWAR season and had just two years of club control remaining. The small-market Padres seemed likely to deal the third baseman. That didn’t happen, however, and after a stint on the disabled list in 2013 and a drop in value of approximately 50 percent to 3.6 fWAR, the perception of Headley went sour.

It was a similar season in terms of production in 2014, split between the Padres and New York Yankees. Headley posted a .243/.328/.372 slash line with a 103 wRC+ in 531 plate appearances. The switch-hitter also posted one of the best defensive seasons of his career.

It’s a good time for a player in his prime who is solid on both sides of the ball to hit free agency.

Bats: Both
Age: 31 on May 9
Service: 6.123
Agent: Excel Sports Management
Qualifying Offer: N/A

Scouting Report
Headley is a switch-hitter who has hit left-handed pitching slightly better than right-handed with a 118 and 104 wRC+ respectively. Most of his power is on the pull side, regardless of if he’s batting from the right or left side, but he does have the ability to hit the ball to all fields. His career walk and strikeout rates are both above average, effectively cancelling any benefit out. Headley has been a particularly better performer in the second half and has a career 126 wRC+ in September. The 30-year old has stolen 17 bases in two seasons and has been average on the base paths.

In his first two big league seasons Headley saw considerable time in left field. In 2010 Headley became the Padres everyday third baseman and has been one of the better defensive corner infielders in baseball. He picked up a Gold Glove award in 2012 when he was credited with 14 DRS and a 16.5 UZR rating. Headley’s 2014 campaign was similar in terms of value with 13 DRS and a 20.9 UZR rating. He has a strong throwing arm and above average range at the hot corner.

The Upside
The third baseman won’t turn 31 until next May and a multi-year pact would carry him through the final years of his prime. Headley should see an improvement in his overall power numbers if he spends the entire season in a neutral or more hitter-friendly environment. The 31 home run total of 2012 seems like an anomaly, but he’s a solid bet for 15 with slightly above average on base skills. He can hit hear the top or in the middle of the order and the ability to hit both right and left-handed pitching is very valuable. He’s a great bat in the No. 6 or 7 slots in the lineup.

Headley isn’t an elite player moving forward, but he’s a very solid everyday player who may still have an All-Star appearance or two left in his pocket. He’s coming off a strong season on both sides of the ball and didn’t show any obvious signs of slowing down last year. He’s plus at the hot corner and has experience at first base and left field.

The Downside
The big question that will be asked of Headley this winter in whether or not he’ll be able to stay healthy down the line. He’s hit the disabled list in three of the last four seasons and has had major surgery on his knee. There’s also the fact that most of his value is tied to defense which makes up for his average performance at the plate. Another injury to his knee or decline in production at the hot corner could greatly affect his value moving forward.

The power is average, though as a right-hander in a scarce market that shouldn’t impact his next contract too much. His batting average and on base percentage have been trending downwards the last couple years as well. As long as the team that signs Headley knows that they are getting a plus-defender with average to slightly above average pop there isn’t much downside.

Cost & Conclusion: Mariners Perspective
Kyle Seager has cemented himself as the Seattle Mariners third baseman of the future. He’s coming off a career year in which he lead the club in fWAR and home runs — 5.5 and 25 respectively — and is a candidate for an extension this winter. There’s also no reason to consider moving the Gold Glove finalist from the hot corner at just 27-years old.

Presumably the M’s could slot Headley in at first base if he is willing to accept an everyday role there. They could also get creative and see if he has anything to offer in left field. However either of those alternatives could severely hurt the value Headley does provide. Seattle has room at designated hitter for the moment and being able to give Headley a few half-days off now and then would be a plus.

  Pablo Sandoval is the top third baseman available this winter and reportedly has a five-year, $95 million offer from the Boston Red Sox in hand. The San Francisco Giants, Panda’s former club, are still very much in the mix with the San Diego Padres making an interesting third serious suitor. Sandoval is a switch-hitter like Headley but won’t turn 29 until next August. He’s also reported to be more interested in a six-year deal than a particular dollar figure. The Toronto Blue Jays have also shown serious interest in the slugger but are believed to be on the outside looking in at this time.

The Yankees haven’t been connected to Sandoval as of yet and are interested in re-signing Headley as insurance at first and third base. New York is in a tricky situation with Alex Rodriguez back in the fold and several aging players with injury concerns. A reunion is still possible, though Headley may prefer a situation where he is guaranteed more playing time at third. My opinion: the Jays would make a great fit for the former second-round draft pick.

Headley is one of the more interesting free agents because he has the potential to be an impact player without the impact player price tag. A three-year deal seems fair and four definitely isn’t out of the question. He earned $10.5 million in his final arbitration year but doesn’t appear to be in a position for a significant raise. In January 2013 Headley’s Yankee teammate Martin Prado signed a four-year, $40 million extension with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Although part of what makes Prado valuable is his positional flexibility which his former teammate doesn’t offer. Aramis Ramirez signed a three-year, $36 million free agent contract back in December of 2011, which will probably be Headley’s floor.

As he was traded midseason, Headley was ineligible for a qualifying offer and requires no compensation.

Although the Mariners have the money to make a fairly significant commitment and need to bolster the lineup, the fit with Headley is poor. If the switch-hitter is willing to move to first base then definitely the fit becomes more realistic, but there’s been limited talk about the free agent’s positional preference.

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Tyler Carmont

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