While the Padres don’t stand to get the same return on third baseman Chase Headley, they should seriously think about trading Headley sometime during spring training. Although Headley and the Padres avoided arbitration last week by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $8.75 million, he told the media shortly after the deal was announced that he and the Padres had only one discussion about a multiyear contract and that the two sides were so far apart it wasn’t even worth having another discussion. So they concentrated on the one-year deal.
Right now, the free agent and arbitration markets are at an all-time high. With third basemen such as David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Longoria already signed to long-term deals, Headley’s trade value is the best among the third baseman who could be available.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the small-market Padres might not be able to afford a long-term extension, and if they can't sign him they should trade him now.
Why trade Headley?
The Padres play in one of the game’s most difficult markets given their geography while competing with sunshine and high-profile Los Angeles teams. They’ve done a fabulous job given their market challenges, but they also realize they will always be financially challenged.
Certainly, the Padres’ first choice would be to play well and be able to retain Headley. However, since they play in the same division with the San Francisco Giants (who have won two of the last three World Series) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (who now boast the game’s largest payroll), that will be a difficult task. The Padres want to wait for all their good young prospects and players to develop, which is realistically two years away.
Headley is eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, so with just two years of control remaining, the Padres’ highest trade return is now, and it will probably start to decrease after this year’s July 31 trade deadline.
After a slow start, the 28-year-old Headley enjoyed a career year in 2012, hitting .286 AVG/.376 OBP/.498 SLG with 31 doubles, 31 home runs and a league-leading 115 RBIs. He beat out Wright and Zimmerman for the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards while finishing fifth in the league in the MVP voting.
Headley would strengthen any team's defense after winning a Gold Glove Award last year.
However, it’s important to remember that before 2012, Headley had never hit more than 12 home runs in a single season and had never driven in 65 runs. This is not to say that he can’t repeat his 2012 season, but there remains a good chance of regression or even injury, which could lessen his trade value during the season.
If the Padres decide to trade Headley they should approach it as a best-value scenario and not focus on prospects or certain positions. With Jedd Gyorko ready to take over third base, they don’t need to get a third baseman back in the deal.
So who would be interested in Headley? Here is a quick look at some of the teams that could be interested in Headley between now and the trade deadline.
The Reds are built to win now, and adding a switch-hitting, 30-HR third baseman to the lineup would give them one of the most balanced and lethal offenses in the league. The Padres would definitely take a package of center fielder Billy Hamilton and third baseman Todd Frazier from the Reds in return for Headley. However, this is unlikely since Hamilton is viewed as the Reds’ long-term answer for leadoff and center field, and Frazier is very capable of being a productive every-day third baseman. Chances: LOW
The Mariners had agreed in principle to trade a prospect package centered around Taijuan Walker (or Danny Hultzen or James Paxton) and Nick Franklin to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Justin Upton. If Seattle was willing to make that deal, perhaps some variation could work for Headley. Even with Kyle Seager at third base, Headley could move to left field or Seager could move to another position or perhaps even be involved in the deal. Chances: MODERATE
The Pirates’ front office is under pressure to win now, as its ownership is tired of two decades of losing. The Bucs would love to add a bat like Headley’s who could hit between Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, especially if they can do it without giving up prospects Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon and Starling Marte, which is definitely possible. A package of outfielder Gregory Polanco and shortstop Alen Henson could be enough for Headley. Chances: MODERATE
The Blue Jays are set at third base with Brett Lawrie, but he could move back to second base if the Jays acquired Headley. That would leave Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio to deepen their bench as utility players. Adding another impact bat to the Blue Jays could assure them the AL East. Their farm system is loaded enough that an offer that was centered around right-handed pitcher Aaron Sanchez and outfielder Anthony Gose could get it done. Chances: LOW
The Angels' long-term plan is for switch-hitting, third-base top prospect Kaleb Cowart to take over the position full time by the end of 2013. He has power from both sides of the plate, a strong arm and projects to be a solid defender. However, if the Angels could add Headley to one of the league’s most potent offenses, it could be the difference in getting them to the World Series in 2013. Including Cowart in a potential Headley trade, along with right-handed pitcher Garrett Richards, probably gets the deal done today. Chances: LOW
The Yankees are obsessed with staying under the $189 million tax threshold in 2014. However, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be open to dealing for Headley. The switch-hitter would be a difference-maker in the Yankees’ lineup and owns a swing that would benefit from the short right porch in Yankee Stadium. It would cost the Yankees two of their best prospects, such as Mason Williams and Dante Bichette Jr., something GM Brian Cashman is trying to avoid. But as with his trade for Curtis Granderson, if Cashman can get a two-way player in his prime at age 28, he’ll pull the trigger. Chances: LOW
Here is a solid fit: Nick Castellanos for Chase Headley straight up. This would allow the Tigers to move Miguel Cabrera to left field and put Headley, a Gold Glove defender, on the left side of the infield. It would vastly improve the Tigers' infield range and lengthen their lineup even more and improve their chances of winning a World Series in the next two years, which is what this team is built for. Castellanos would give the Padres either their future left fielder or third baseman and the major league minimum. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch wants to win now, and I doubt he would turn down an opportunity like this. The Padres also might be able to get a second prospect back if they make this deal prior to Opening Day. Chances: LOW