The Winter Meetings have come and gone, with only a mild amount of fanfare for the Yankees. The team added Matt Holliday and signed Aroldis Chapman to the largest contract for a relief pitcher in history. After last season’s trade deadline, however, it seemed like the organization would continue to spin off veteran players this offseason. Brett Gardner and Chase Headley were prime suspects to be traded at the Winter Meetings, but the deals never materialized.
While addressing reporters before departing on Thursday, Brian Cashman said that rejected trade offers for Headley. The Yankees plan on keeping their third baseman for the time being. This may seem surprising, as unloading his contract would allow for more financial flexibility. From a baseball perspective, however, he’s likely more valuable to New York than any return offered.
Headley has hit .256/.333/.379 with 31 home runs across parts of three seasons with the Yankees. That works out to a 97 wRC+. It makes sense that the team gauged trade interest. He’s a slightly below-average offensive third baseman, but one who plays quality defense and, despite the common perception, is affordably signed through 2018. The reason teams want to trade for him is the reason why the Yankees should on to him.
Headley’s 2016 campaign offered some hope for the future of his contract. After an abysmal start - he hit .150/.268/.150 with no extra base hits in April - he rebounded quite nicely, batting .265/.338/.418 the rest of the way. Digging beneath the surface further reveals his turnaround.
As the season wore on, Headley began to hit the ball with more authority. His groundball percentage dropped and his hard contact rate climbed. He also began to hit more line drives, which is promising. That leads one to believe that April was the aberration, not the norm. The Yankees can largely expect May through October Headley moving forward. That’s a solid player to have.
It’s also important to consider the gaping talent hole that would open if the Yankees did trade Headley. They would need someone to play third base, after all, and Ronald Torreyes only projects to be a bench player. Miguel Andujar is the team’s top prospect at the hot corner, but he turns 22 in March and has never played above Double-A. It’s incredibly unlikely that the Yankees would hand him the starting job out of spring training.
There’s the possibility of signing free agent third baseman Justin Turner, but that’s also unlikely. Cashman indicated that the Yankees are maxed out financially after the Chapman signing. Even assuming that the acquiring team absorbs all of Healdey’s contract, that still wouldn’t leave enough room for Turner. Trade targets such as Todd Frazier or Yangervis Solarte would also likely hurt in terms of prospect cost. Finding a third baseman from outside of the organization will be too pricey.
The Yankees could play musical chairs with the big league club. For example, the team might slide Starlin Castro to third base while allowing Torreyes or Rob Refsnyder to assume second base duties. That’s sub-optimal, however, because neither figures to make up the lack of production in the lineup. Torreyes is the type who can get exposed by playing every day and Refsnyder hasn’t exactly hit the cover off of the ball during his cameo appearances.
Ultimately it appears to be in the best interest of the Yankees to hang on to Headley. He isn’t going to be the best third baseman in the division. He’s an essentially average player, and that’s okay. Trading him would fit in with youth movement mentality, but it would create a headache at the hot corner. In this case, it’s best to stick with what the Yankees know.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.