Among the more intriguing players, entering his final season before free agency, is Padres third baseman Chase Headley. While San Diego had originally hoped to get the 29-year-old switch hitter signed to an extension this offseason, recent reports have indicated they're losing optimism on that front and are now considering a trade. With Alex Rodriguez's future always in question and a barren third base free agent class, the Yankees figure to be at the front of the line of interested teams if he is indeed made available.
Headley became a hot topic among Yankee fans when he emerged in 2012 as one of the National League's better players, leading the NL in RBI with 115 and posting a .286/.376/.498 triple slash with a 145 wRC+ and a 7.2 fWAR all while playing top notch defense at third to the tune of a 7.3 UZR. Many thought San Diego would sell high last year, but instead they held onto Headley, which may have been a mistake since he was unable to repeat his outstanding campaign. In 2013, he dipped to .250/.347/.400, his home run total reversed from 31 to 13 and his wOBA dropped from .378 to .330.
Was 2012 an aberration for Headley? It probably was, especially in the power department. His .212 ISO was well above his next-highest mark of .151 and was fueled by a 21.4% home run to fly ball rate. Unless the stars align for him perfectly once again, Headley will not be a repeat entrant into the 30-home run club, and his first top-five finish in MVP votes was also most likely his last.
Headley may not be the upper-crust performer he appeared to be in 2012, but that doesn't mean he isn't good. In 2013, his defense at third remained solid with a 7.0 UZR. Offensively he was still above average with a wRC+ of 113 and an OPS+ of 116. He maintained nearly even splits from both sides of the plate and he walked at a healthy rate of 11.2%. He did all that while playing at one of the more pitcher-friendly home fields in baseball. Career-wise, Headley's been much more effective away from spacious Petco Park, earning a line of .293/.366/.453 in 1,768 plate appearances on the road.
Headley's ability at third base and his versatility make him an ideal fit in New York. Even if A-Rod's miraculously acquitted of all charges––or in the event that he obtains an injunction that allows him to play through 2014––he'll be 39 in July and he hasn't played a full-season at third since 2010. Best-case scenario is that the Yankees will only need someone to start at third in half of their games in 2014. If that actually happens, Headley can potentially contribute as an outfielder. He's started 196 games in left field in his career, though none since 2009, and while his defense was less than stellar, his -16.5 UZR wasn't much worse than what Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo have come up with the past couple of years. Right field in Yankee Stadium is a less demanding position than left field at Petco.
Headley's a more affordable option than impact bats left on the free agent market, at least in year one. He's third year arbitration-eligible and he earned $8.75 million last year, putting him in line for a 2014 payday around $10 million according to MLB Trade Rumors' projection. As the Padres have learned, though, it could be tough to get him to agree to a long-term extension. Coming off a down year, at least as compared to 2012, Headley would probably prefer to wait out his final year before free agency, rather than sign a deal in the four-year, $48-$52 million range. A big contract year could boost him into a much higher stratosphere.
For the Yankees, the key to acquiring Headley would be paying a price that's in line with his typical production - not with what he did in 2012. That means no Gary Sanchez, though the Yankees would probably need to leave just about everyone else in their farm system up for grabs. Mason Williams might have some appeal to the Padres as an eventual replacement for the disappointing Cameron Maybin, and organizational pitching depth never hurt anyone so Rafael DePaula or Jose Ramirez could be moderately enticing. The Yankees would need to sweeten the pot a little more - Jedd Gyorko will move back to his natural third base if Headley departs, so Corban Joseph could make a decent throw-in along with a Major League ready low-ceiling arm like Adam Warren or Vidal Nuno.
Headley's impending free agency seriously limits the return the Padres can expect to receive and since they're not a win-now team, the fact that the Yankees' better prospects aren't close to the majors might not be a deal-breaker. With their options severely limited for replacing or supplementing A-Rod, San Diego's is a door the Yankees should knock on.