It has been a quiet offseason but, as a Padres fan, the team has made some moves. They acquired shortstop Freddy Galvis from the Phillies in order to bolster the middle infield defense. The Padres also re-signed Craig Stammen, signed Japanese pitcher Kazuhisa Makita, and reportedly have offered Eric Hosmer a contract that would make him the highest paid player in franchise history.
Acquiring former MVP candidate and starting third baseman Chase Headley from the Yankees was one of the more, for lack of a better term, surprising moves the team has made this winter. Shipping away Jabari Blash and some cash for young pitcher Bryan Mitchell and Chase Headley, many Padres fans believed that Headley would be traded immediately to a contending team looking to add an infielder.
As of now, that doesn’t look like the case. Headley will more than likely stay put, and the organization as a whole expects him to be the starting third baseman come opening day. Headley is a seasoned veteran that once had great success in San Diego, partnered with a great deal of failure. Once seen as the Padres third baseman of the future after his phenomenal 2010 season, Headley disappointed from there on out and was shipped off to the Yankees in a deal that would send Yangervis Solarte to the Padres. Unless he gets traded, it’s almost guaranteed that Chase Headley will be the third baseman come Opening Day.
But should he be? I don’t think so.
Meet Christian Villanueva. A 26-year-old third baseman from Guadalajara, Mexico that, to me, should be the Padres’ third baseman in 2018, and here’s why. Spending most of the 2017 season with Triple-A El Paso, Villanueva posted a .296/.369/.528 batting line while blasting 20 home runs and 86 RBI. He’s predominantly a power hitter that doesn’t strike out often (83) and can get on base (43 walks/.369 OBP) at a decent clip. The power potential with this kid is through the roof. While he doesn’t have great size, he weighs 210 pounds and naturally generates power with his swing. Defensively speaking, he can hold his own at third base and his defense shouldn’t be a concern.
The Padres decided to give Villanueva a shot towards the end of the season and he surely did not disappoint. In 32 major league at bats, Villanueva hit .344 with an OPS of 1.094 and blasted four home runs. Yes, that’s a small sample size, but his ability to hit the baseball with great power was put on display. So what should the Padres do with Christian Villanueva?
In my opinion, he should very well be the opening day third baseman. Villanueva has the tools and is advanced enough to hold his own at the big league level. While Hunter Renfroe continues to struggle with his plate discipline, the Padres don’t have a legit power bat in their lineup other than Wil Myers. Enter Christian Villanueva, whose pop could give the Padres just that. This team is also not competing for a playoff spot this season, so playing a 26-year-old rookie with upside over a 33-year-old who is going to be a free agent after this season just makes more sense to me.
Will the Padres do this?
No. At least not at the beginning of the year. Clearly, the trade with the Yankees wasn’t only for Chase Headley. A.J. Preller wanted to go out and get Bryan Mitchell, a young 26-year-old pitcher who the team expects to compete for a rotation spot this season. In order to do this, he was forced to take on Headley’s one-year, $13 million deal. Although it might make sense to plug in a young slugger at third base, the Padres will give Headley every opportunity to man the hot corner in an attempt to generate some trade value. Trading a player that is not in their future plans to a contender at the deadline for a potential prospect is what Preller and company have been thinking about since the moment they acquired Headley.
If this does happen, however, expect Christian Villanueva to take over for him. I’m really high on this kid purely on the fact that I think he can really be a power hitter at the big league level. If Villanueva has success, he could possibly cement himself as the long-term third base option, keeping Fernando Tatis Jr. at shortstop and Luis Urias at second, their more natural positions. One thing is for sure though – this 26-year-old young stud is more than capable of playing third base for the Padres in 2018 and should get his opportunity to do so.