2015 Statistics: 156 G, .259/.324/.369, 11 HR, 62 RBI, 150 hits (led NYY), 642 PA
2016 Contract Status: Under contract, 2nd year of a 4 year/$52 million deal signed before 2015 season
After coming over from the San Diego Padres in a mid-season trade in 2014, Chase Headley impressed the Yankees with his glove and bat enough that the team rewarded him with a four-year deal. He did well enough to even earn a B+ in last year’s Roster Report Card series. The Yankees thought they were signing a solid bat with plus defense to man the hot corner for a few years, and at least in his first year, Headley didn’t deliver. To say the 2015 season was a disappointing one for Headley would be putting it lightly. At certain points throughout the season, it felt like giving him an F might be a generous grade. But then at certain times, Headley looked like the player the Yankees thought they were getting. The first year of Headley’s four-year deal surely has Yankees fans nervous about future years however, there’s reason to be hopeful. 2015 was a really weird up and down year for Headley offensively, and defensively it just wasn’t very good.
Headley struggled out of the gate, hitting just .232/.284/.390 with an 82 wRC+ in March and April, and while the expectations for Headley’s bat weren’t too high, he was brought on board because the Yankees thought he could be a solid piece in the bottom half of the line-up. May was a better month for Headley hitting to the tune of .275/.327/.412 and a 102 wRC+, but then in June he was right back down with a .229/.286/.312 and a disappointingly low 64 wRC+. It was disappointing to see a player of Headley’s caliber struggle so much. There are reasons to believe that his plate struggles could have just been mental as he also struggled defensively (especially in the first half), which was supposed to be his calling card. These defensive miscues could have gotten to Headley’s head and affected his performance at the plate.
Headley’s 23 errors, which led MLB third basemen, were 10 more than his previous career high of 13 in 2010, and a whopping 15 more errors than his 2014 total of eight. The most surprising thing about his errors, was that they weren’t fielding errors so they couldn’t be attributed to declining range or age, rather more than half of them came on throwing errors to first base. And without the Gold Glove capability of Mark Teixeira, and later Greg Bird’s ability to channel his inner pelican and scoop, Headley might have had even more errors. The only solace came from the fact that, along with his bat, Headley’s defensive problems mainly came in the first half. After committing 16 errors in the first half, Headley "only" had seven errors in the second half, so there’s reason to hope that this may have just been an off year for him, and he could return to form in 2016.
Second half Headley started off as a complete 180 from the first half. In July, Headley raked to the tune of .370/.409/.481 and a 146 wRC+, and August he hit .298/.405/.447 with a 138 wRC+. These July and August numbers were Headley’s main saving grace in 2015, and the reason he has a borderline grade. During those two months, Headley was one of the more dependable hitters in the Yankees lineup and one of the only two batters you probably wanted at bat with the game on the line. Headley was hitting very well, and if he could perform just near these levels in 2016 and beyond, that would be swell. Unfortunately however, in September/October, Headley performed even worse than his first half to the tune of an abysmal .179/.252/.223 and an astonishingly low 32 wRC+.
While he ended the season on a very low note, Headley’s overall second half give the team and fans reason to hope that his contract isn’t the "albatross" that it may seem like. Plus, one has to remember, of all the options that were out there, Headley was and still remains the best of those options. The other options available to play the hot corner were Pablo Sandoval who had a worse year than Headley did both offensively and defensively (even though yes, Sandoval committed less errors but that’s the only thing to consider when talking about defense) and when you factor the monster contract (five years/$95 million) that he received from the Red Sox, Headley is the easy decision any day. The other big option was to sign Hanley Ramirez and see if he could play third base. Seeing as how Hanley was already declining defensively in the infield, the Red Sox tried him out in LF which, and I’m putting this extremely nicely, didn’t go so well. The Red Sox also overpaid (4 years/$88 million) for his services, and now don’t really have any place to put him as Dave Dombrowski showed toward the end of the season their outfield will likely be comprised of a variation of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rusney Castilo. They have Sandoval at third base, Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and David Ortiz holding down the fort at DH.
So all things considered, Headley was the right move to make. The Yankees absolutely needed a third basemen since Alex Rodriguez was an unknown, and showed that his days as a regular (or even emergency backup) fielder are over. And while it’s easy to look at the trade the Blue Jays pulled off to acquire MVP favorite Josh Donaldson and think "why didn’t Cashman get Donaldson?!" However, Cashman did try and pry Donaldson away from Oakland and bring him to the Bronx, but Billy Beane told him "no thanks" and instead sent him off to Toronto. Fans don’t know the exact nature of the talks between Beane and Cashman, so while it’s easy to see what Toronto gave up for him and think "could have done that," it’s possible that he was only available to the Yankees at a much higher price (likely involving one or more of the big 3 in Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and Greg Bird). The only thing Yankees fans can do at this point is just hope that Headley can take his July and August production, and have that happen over the full course of a season. I’ll understand being called generous, but Headley gets a passing grade because of his July and August, and just by virtue of not being Sandoval or Ramirez. And if 2015 ends up just being an anomaly, and the next three years Headley ends up playing like he can, it’ll just be a minor blip in the career of an overall solid player.
*Season statistics provided by Fangraphs