Although I am usually happy about A.J. Preller’s moves, I am somewhat bothered by the re-acquisition of Chase Headley. Sure, the Padres were able to get rid of Jabari Blash and acquire an interesting player in Bryan Mitchell, but now I live in a world where I have to write an article about Chase Headley. I probably should have just ranked Headley last simply because of my disdain for this move, but I had to try to be at least somewhat honest with myself. So here we are, Chase Headley is number 12 on the Padres’ 40-man roster rankings. I couldn’t in good conscious place him any higher.
For those unaware, and I am not sure how you would be, Headley was drafted by our San Diego Padres in the second round of the 2005 MLB Draft. Now 33, Headley is nearing the twilight of his professional baseball career. In the meantime, Headley will be paid $13 million by the Padres to play third base instead of younger, better options. Just over two years after being drafted by the Padres, Headley made his big league debut with a cup of coffee at the end of the 2007 season.
Headley spent his entire first season in High-A ball, posting a 13 percent walk rate, 16.8 percent strikeout rate, and .291/.389/.434 slash line in nearly 600 plate appearances. He followed that success with even more success in 2007 in Double-A, posting an even better 14.2 percent walk rate, a 21.8 percent strikeout rate, and a .330/.437/.580 slash line with a 171 wRC+. At this point, Headley was looking like a serious prospect, and the Padres aggressively promoted him to the big leagues for an eight-game stint at the end of the year. His numbers were pedestrian during those eight games, but he did show his solid plate discipline.
Despite his late-season call-up in 2007, Headley began the 2008 season in Triple-A, where he put up 136 wRC+ in 65 games before being called up to the majors yet again. Headley played the remainder of the season in San Diego, but he was only a slightly above average hitter with a 107 wRC+. The most alarming thing about his season was the climb in his strikeout rate all the way to 28.3 percent. Headley played his first full season in San Diego in 2009, posting a .262/.342/.392 slash line with a 104 wRC+. Although the numbers didn’t really jump out, Headley did cut his strikeout rate to the lower 20s and he had the makings of at least an average everyday third baseman.
Headley put up nearly identical offensive numbers in 2010, with a .264/.327/.375 slash line and a 98 wRC+. However, Headley suddenly became a four-win player for the Padres because of his shift from left field to third base following the Padres’ trade of Kevin Kouzmanoff. It was clear at this point that Headley had the opportunity to be one of the best defensive third basemen in all of baseball. Anything at all on offense was just extra. Despite finding much greater offensive success in 2011, with a .289/.374/.399 slash line, injuries limited Headley to only 113 games, which put a significant dent in his overall value.
However, the best was yet to come for Headley, as he posted the best year of his career in 2012. Not only did Headley play all but one game, he also posted the best offensive season of his career with a .286/.376/.498 slash line, a 145 wRC+, and solidly above average baserunning and defensive numbers. In total, with all of his above-average contributions, Headley was worth 7.5 fWAR, by far the best of his career, and one of the best seasons by any Padre in recent memory. Despite rumors of Headley being traded, the Padres held on to Headley through the next season and half the following.
After a solidly above average season in 2013, although quite a step back from his 2012 height, Headley was traded to the New York Yankees halfway through the 2014 season following first-half struggles, ending the year with a 4.2 fWAR between New York and San Diego. Between 2015 and 2016, Headley was worth 4.1 fWAR in total, posting an identical 92 wRC+ in each season. On top of that, Headley played more than 140 games each season and put up very similar slash lines in the .250/.320/.375 range each year.
Going into 2017, it was clear that Headley was nowhere near the player he was in his best years in San Diego. Not only had his offensive production taken a significant step back, Headley also saw some decline in his defensive value, although 2016 was a bit of a bounce-back year for Headley in that regard. On top of all that, Headley averaged just above 12 home runs a year from 2013-2016 after a career-high 31 home runs in 2012.
Going into 2017, the Yankees probably didn’t expect too much out of Headley. Although Headley was a roughly league average player in 2017, he did put up significantly better offensive numbers from his first few years in New York. With a .273/.352/.406 slash line and 104 wRC+, Headley once again became a slightly above league average hitter. However, Headley’s defense took a large step back, making him just below a league average player at 1.9 fWAR. Following the season, Headley was traded back to the Padres while the man he was initially traded for, Yangervis Solarte, was traded away to the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s like that trade never happened.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 105 games, 427 plate appearances, 9.6% walk rate, 23.1% strikeout rate, .247/.326/.377, 90 wRC+, -0.4 BsR, 2.3 DEF, 1.0 fWAR
ZIPS: 137 games, 540 plate appearances, 9.4% walk rate, 21.7% strikeout rate, .255/.331/.376, 92 wRC+, 0.0 BsR, 2.1 DEF, 1.4 fWAR
So ZIPS appears to like Chase Headley a little bit better than Steamer, but both systems project Headley to be nothing more than a below league average player in 2018. Although I understood the trade at the time, the fact that spring training games are already starting and Headley is still a Padre bothers me. I thought for sure that Headley would be traded to another team by now. If Headley hits either of the projections for games in San Diego, I will be very upset, as he has no business playing over the likes of Cory Spangenberg, Christian Villanueva, etc. With that being said, it seems like he is going to be with the Padres at least for the first half of the year. If he can be productive enough, and the projections don’t look too great, maybe he can be a deadline piece for a team in need of some depth. However, I am really not counting on him and his $13 million salary for this year being a hot commodity. So it appears like at least a 50/50 chance that Headley stays a Padre for the season barring a spring training trade. What year is it?