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Chase Headley's contract isn't as bad as you think

Chase Headley struggled in 2015, which called his four-year $52 million contract into question. But if the Yankees could do it again, they'd probably do it again.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Thirteen months ago, the Yankees made their most expensive transaction of the past two off-seasons when they signed Chase Headley for four years and $52 million. The early returns on the now 31-year old's new deal haven't been so good. In 2015, Headley slashed .259/.324/.369 and put up career worsts in wOBA at .307 and wRC+ at 91. His 7.9 percent walk rate was also a personal low and despite moving from Petco Park to Yankee Stadium, which should have helped his power numbers, his .110 ISO was well below his career mark of .139. Headley's hitting wasn't even his real problem. Defying his reputation for Gold Glove level defense at third, he made 23 errors, including 12 throwing, more than he made in 2013 and 2014 combined. He graded a -6 in defensive runs saved and his UZR dipped to -3.0, down from 20.9 in '14.

All that fail might make Headley's re-signing seem like a mistake, but if the Yankees had it to do again, they'd probably do it again. Here are a few reasons why:

The Yankees got good value

$13 million per year is a lot of money, but a salary in the low eight figures has become the going rate for good, not great. That's evidenced by some of the contracts we've seen handed out this winter. Daniel Murphy's new AAV is $12.5 million. An injured Denard Span got $10.33 mil. Marco Estrada got $13 mil per and J.A. Happ got $12 mil. Headley's contract is longer than any of theirs, but heading into free agency, he was coming off a three-season stretch where he was worth 15.3 fWAR, more than Murphy's managed in his entire six-plus year career. That number also dwarfs Pablo Sandoval's production over the same period, but Sandoval somehow got an extra $43 million guaranteed when he signed with the Red Sox last year.

Headley's numbers are inflated by an MVP-like and almost certainly unrepeatable 2012, but his 2013 and 2014 seasons were also really good. He was above league average in OPS at .747 and .768 respectively, and he hit a particularly solid .262/.371/.398 after getting traded to New York in July of 2014. Over those two years, Headley was worth 18 DRS and he made only 19 errors.

Headley gave the Yankees stability and flexibility

Third base wasn't exactly a loaded position on the 2014-15 free agent market when Headley was signed. It usually isn't. The Yankees were choosing from the incumbent Headley, the overpriced and under-fit Sandoval and not much else. They inquired on Josh Donaldson, but were rebuffed. They weren't going to trust third to 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, who hadn't played in a year. They did have Martin Prado in house, but the two years on his deal made him more of a short-term fix, and kind of a bridge to nowhere, since the only minor leaguer even remotely close was Eric Jagielo, a dubious defender who finished 2014 on the high-A disabled list. In their second year of flailing for a replacement for Robinson Cano at second and with the unknown Didi Gregorius taking over short, the Yankees saw a chance to lock down at least one infield position with Headley.

Even though Headley struggled in 2015, just being there has freed the Yankees up to make other moves. They used Prado to build a trade for Nathan Eovaldi, who impressed in his first year in pinstripes, and more recently, they packaged Jagielo for Aroldis Chapman. There's value in knowing who's going to be manning a given position for the next few years, especially when it's someone with a fairly high floor like Headley. As long as he's corrected his throwing yips - and it seems like he has since 16 of his 23 error came in his first 70 games last year - his age and consistent record suggest he isn't someone who'll bottom out before his contract ends. If he gets better BABIP and homer-to-fly-ball luck in 2016, there's a good chance he'll look like a different player on both sides of the ball.

Headley's opportunity cost was low

When a player is acquired he has not only a fiscal cost, but also an opportunity cost - basically the value of the players you can't get because you've signed him. The Yankees like when opportunity cost is low, which is one reason Brian Cashman's always on the lookout for one-year vets, and why they scuttled by with Stephen Drew the last two years instead of going after someone like Brandon Phillips or Jed Lowrie. Still, there are spots on the roster where opportunity cost is high. Thei Yankees' starting outfield features three players under contract for a combined $49 million next year, and that's one reason they haven't been players for Jason Heyward, Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. Headley's opportunity cost is low to moderate because it's rare that good third basemen are up for grabs.

This year, the best free agent option at third was Murphy, and that's if you even consider him a third baseman. After that, the likes of David Freese and Gordon Beckham were the best you could do. Next off-season, the hot corner doesn't look a whole lot better with Prado, possible one-year wonder Justin Turner and a 38-year-old Adrian Beltre headlining the group. Post-2017, Mike Moustakas and Todd Frazier could be free, but by then the Yankees could probably move the one-year remaining for Headley if need be. If the Orioles can't extend Manny Machado, Headley will be off the Yankees' ledger when he's available in 2018.