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Chase Headley’s departure isn’t a foregone conclusion

Gleyber Torres’ promotion to Triple-A is big, but it shouldn’t run Headley out of town.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Headley is having another season of extremes. After a stellar April, his bat has cooled off immensely this month. This drop-off, and Gleyber Torres’ recent call up to Triple-A, has some questioning if Headley’s days in New York are numbered. He may be on his way out, but the Yankees will likely have a difficult time moving him, and his salary, out of the organization.

After turning in another below average offensive season in 2016, Headley could not have begun the 2017 campaign on a higher note. April was his best offensive month since July 2015. He was beating shifts, drawing walks, and leading the team in doubles. Almost in the blink of an eye, Headley’s season took a nosedive.

Since the calendar flipped to May, Headley has plummeted back down to Earth. Heading into Friday’s game, he had drawn only one walk compared to 25 strikeouts, leaving his May slash line at .153/.176/.236. Unsurprisingly, Headley has been one of the league’s least productive offensive players this month, with May 2017 arguably being the worst month of his career in pinstripes.

Headley’s poor play is likely enough to land him in the hot seat with fans and the media. Torres’ promotion only intensifies the situation. To add to the pressure, Torres has started every game in Triple-A at the hot corner. Brian Cashman tried to cool the hype around Torres when he told the New York Post:

“I’m not looking at Gleyber right now on the major league side. I’m just looking at Gleyber taking the next step at Triple-A. Just like when we were faced with, ‘Are you going to bring Gleyber up because Didi is down?’ The answer was, ‘No, we aren’t going to interrupt his player-development process.’ And currently he’s earned the right to go Triple-A.”

To further Cashman’s point, the team is getting solid production from players not named Headley. Plus, the Yankees do still lead the American League East. There’s no rush to get Torres to the big leagues now, but at the very least, his presence in Triple-A should be a warning sign to the struggling Yankees third baseman. Earlier this week, Pinstripe Alley’s own Matt Provenzano wrote about the increased pressure on Headley. While the pressure is on, the Yankees might be stuck with their third baseman.

Yankees fans have seen veteran players rapidly replaced in recent seasons. The team dealt Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran for prospects, and released Alex Rodriguez mid-season. Like those players, Headley’s replacement is likely lurking somewhere in the minor leagues. The Yankees, however, have very limited options to move Headley out of the starting lineup. Benching, trading, or releasing him all come with severe limitations, meaning he might spend the duration of 2017 as the starting third baseman.

If Headley does get replaced in the lineup, it doesn’t make sense for the Yankees to keep him on the bench. Defensively, he could handle first, but he can’t play at second or shortstop. Headley’s bat doesn’t have enough pop to translate well to first base or designated hitter, either. Moreover, the glut of outfielders already on the 25-man roster and in Triple-A makes a move to the outfield seem very unlikely.

On the surface, trading or releasing Headley makes the most sense, but a closer analysis shows that is much easier said than done. Headley is under contract through the end of 2018. Depending on incentives, the Yankees could pay him anywhere between $26 and $28 million between this year and next. If the team released him, they would still have to pay him the remainder of his contract. They wouldn’t get anything in return, either.

Releasing Headley outright is a very unlikely scenario. We should, however, entertain the possibility because the Yankees just did it to his predecessor. If the team was committed to moving him, he’s likely to go via a trade. In order to trade Headley, the Yankees have to find a team to deal with them, which presents the biggest problem. Very few teams appear to need a player of his skill set. Obviously, injuries could strike any time, but at the moment, there aren’t any logical trade destinations.

There are currently ten qualified third basemen with a lower fWAR than Headley. Four of them are Alex Bregman, Maikel Franco, Todd Frazier, and Nick Castellanos, each amidst poor seasons, but unlikely to lose their jobs. Low-budget or struggling teams like the A’s, Padres, Mets, Giants, and Braves aren’t likely candidates to make a move. The Angels already have Luis Valbuena and Yunel Escobar on their roster. They could, however, be a buyer this year if they are in the race in the AL West.

For the money and his skill set, it’s hard to believe any team will acquire Headley at full price. If the Yankees had to eat part of McCann’s salary - a bigger offensive threat who plays a more premium position - they would have to do the same for Headley. The Yankees are already devoting over 12% of their 2017 payroll to players who don’t suit up for them anymore. It just doesn’t seem likely the Yankees are going to add any part of Headley’s salary to that this year.

After the 2017 season, things could certainly change. The Yankees have a lot of money coming off the books, including three $20+ million contracts. More breathing room in the payroll and only one remaining year on Headley’s contract might make retaining part of his salary more palatable. That won’t be until the end of this season, though. Torres’ presence in Triple-A definitely puts pressure on the struggling Headley, but getting rid of him isn’t going to be an easy task. For these reasons, Yankees fans might not see any drastic changes at the hot corner in 2017.