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The pressure is on Chase Headley

If he doesn’t watch his back, Chase Headley could find himself without a spot before his contract ends.

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone’s talking about Gleyber Torres right now, and for good reason. The second-best prospect in baseball, and the centerpiece of last summer’s Aroldis Chapman trade, was promoted to Triple-A after spending just 32 games in Trenton.

In explaining why the promotion came so early, general manager Brian Cashman stated that Torres “checked every box” in Double-A, and that everyone in the organization—Vce President of Player Development Gary Denbo, the scouting staff, and the analytics crew—all said that he had nothing left to prove at that level. All of this is to say that someone should be looking over his shoulder, and his name is Chase Headley.

In pinstripes, Headley has been nothing more than an adequate placeholder at a decent price. In his Yankees tenure he has put together a less-than-stellar slash line—.255/.332/.380 (94 OPS+)—and, since signing his extended contract in 2015, has averaged 2.5 WAR per 650 plate appearances. It’s not bad, for sure, but this isn’t something that would be prohibitive in removing him.

I’ll bring up Brian McCann once again, because it’s worth repeating. McCann had a similar resume—2.8 WAR per 650 plate appearances in his Yankees career—and he was supplanted rather quickly by Gary Sanchez. The assumption was that he is better than 2.8 WAR over a full season. They were probably right on that.

So, in the case of Headley, the clock is ticking. And Torres isn’t alone. Jorge Mateo is being groomed as someone who can play both shortstop, second base, and center field. His entrance could certainly push Starlin Castro to third base and Headley out the back door.

There are more, less prolific prospects in the wings as well: Miguel Andujar is very much struggling at the plate at Double-A, but certainly has the defensive impact to make it to the big leagues if the bat somewhat comes around; Tyler Wade is a glove-first shortstop who is finally hitting at Triple-A, and he could see his cup-of-coffee debut regardless.

Torres, however, is the contender. That’s for sure. If he could basically blow past the Double-A competition in a little less than two months, then the question is how quickly he flies through Triple-A. He could be a midseason call-up, or the Yankees could bide their time until next year for service time considerations. Or, they could do what they did with Sanchez: unleash the kraken and ask questions later. No matter the exact scenario, Torres will find his way to Yankee Stadium.

For Headley, the challenge is three-fold: playing well enough to warrant your roster spot prima facie, being consistently better than the best alternative (Torres), and being good enough that even if Torres surpasses you, you can still be the starting third baseman on another team. There’s some incentive for him there, because 550 plate appearances per season warrants him an extra million dollars.

My guess is that Headley is not long for this world. He had a hot April, but he is essentially a true talent 90 wRC+ player with decent defense. You take that if you have no other choice, but it’s not something you’d be sad to see gone.

Unless he suddenly turns it around, of course. This, however, seems to be more of a mirage as he continually cycles through a boom-or-bust pattern, the same one that bedeviled his career since 2014. I’m not one to say that a fire underneath you is suddenly going to make you a better player, but here’s to hoping that gives him one more spurt in possibly his final Yankees season. Now that you mention it, I’m already getting nostalgic for this: