On July 22, 2014, the New York Yankees were four games back in the AL East and two and a half games out of a Wild Card spot. They were using a mixture of Kelly Johnson and Zelous Wheeler at third base because Alex Rodriguez was out for the season and Yangervis Solarte had long cooled off from his surprisingly hot start to the season. Thinking that an upgrade at third might help propel the Yankees to the playoffs, Brian Cashman acquired Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres for Solarte and Rafael De Paula.
Although the Yankees finished the season 12 games behind the division winning Baltimore Orioles and four games out of a Wild Card spot, Headley performed very well for the Yankees with a 122 wRC+. Headley also played phenomenal defense, leading the majors with a 28 UZR/150 among third basemen. Headley's contract was expiring though, and the Yankees went into the 2014-2015 offseason needing a starting caliber third baseman. Rodriguez was out of the question and the Yankees didn't have any prospects who could take over. The Yankees ultimately signed Headley to a four year, $52 million deal.
In order to evaluate Headley's performance during this contract so far, the market at the time for third basemen has to be considered. Here are the major third base signings after the 2014 season and what they signed for.
Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
Contract: one year, $14 million
Pablo Sandoval, Boston Red Sox
Contract: five years, $95 million with a sixth-year team option
Chase Headley, New York Yankees
Contract: four years, $52 million
Although some fans have been disappointed in Headley, it's hard not to be thankful that the Yankees didn't go after Sandoval. In 2015, Sandoval had a 75 wRC+, far from the 112 that he put up in 2014. The Red Sox thought that his bat would make up for his glove but it didn't (in 2015 he had a UZR/150 of 3.5). Ramirez had a nice season with a wRC+ of 93 and a not-terrible-but-not-good 3.3 UZR/150. This season, Ramirez is retired and Sandoval only has seven plate appearances due to injury. There are still three plus seasons for Sandoval to create some value, but needless to say he is being overpaid right now and is far from producing what the Red Sox had hoped for.
In 2015, Headley surprisingly struggled at defense with a UZR/150 of -3.0 but still managed to contribute with a 92 wRC+. After a brutal start to 2016, Headley hit .298/.355/.440 in May and has raised his wRC+ to 75. More importantly, Headley has returned to playing good defense this season with a UZR/150 of 7.7.
Taking into consideration the market after the 2014 season, Headley's contract and production aren't disappointing. Even if the Yankees had stuck with a replacement caliber player in 2015 in hopes of signing someone after the season, the market for major league third basemen this past offseason wasn't any better. The major signings were Gordon Beckham, David Freese, and Conor Gillaspie. If Headley can keep up his current production, especially his defense, he will be worth the remaining money on his contract. At the very least, Yankees fans can be glad, so far, that they didn't sign Pablo Sandoval.