San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley had a breakout MVP-like season, including earning the National League RBI crown in 2012. Headley also accomplished the feat playing half his games in cavernous PETCO Park. He batted .286 with 31 doubles, two triples, 31 homers, 115 RBIs with 17 stolen bases. He set many career highs across the board with 173 hits, 95 runs, 301 total bases, 31 home runs, 86 walks, 115 RBIs, .376 on-base percentage, .498 slugging percentage, as well as two Player of The Month honors in consecutive months in August and September.
With the Padres controlling Headley going into 2013, along with his dramatic improvements offensively, it would seem improbable for any interested team to meet the Padres terribly high trade demands. Headley is eligible for arbitration and figures to make more than $7 million dollars in 2013. However, some baseball pundits believe his value will never be higher, and the Padres could pull a Mat Latos–like haul in a potential trade for Headley to continue building for the future.
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That brings me to top third-base prospect Jedd Gyorko, who is waiting in the wings if the Padres decide to deal Headley. Gyorko, 24, is considered the Padres number-two prospect according to MLB.com. He was named to the triple-A All-Star team in 2012, and the consensus among baseball analysts is he’s major league ready. Gyorko, who split time between double-A San Antonio and hitter-friendly triple-A Tucson, batted .311/.373/.547 with 28 doubles, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs this season, while only striking out 99 times in 499 at-bats. Third base is Gyorko’s primary position, although the Padres had him playing second more often in the second half in attempt to get his bat in the same lineup with Headley. Having said that, he did play shortstop in college, and his childhood position was second base. He appeared in 73 games at third base and 47 at second base. It looks as though he’ll have every opportunity to win the second base job in spring training, barring the Padres receiving “on offer they can’t refuse” during the offseason for Headley.
The Padres new regime has been vocal about retaining home-grown players who establish themselves, like Headley. Given the ownership stance and how well Headley played last season, along with Gyorko’s versatility and how well the Padres played in the second half, I don’t see the front office dealing Headley in the offseason. I know many fans would love to see the Padres extend Headley — like two months ago, and I would be largely in favor of doing so as well.
However, I would caution any organization in extending a player after a career year, especially one where Headley’s peripherals jumped so dramatically. I do think it’s possible we will hear extension talks, but I would imagine those could happen after the Padres evaluate his production during the first half of the season. So, while I would like to retain Headley, I don’t want to jump the gun in extending him, which the Padres may have done with Cory Luebke, Nick Hundley and possibly even Cameron Maybin. It should be noted that the fences have been modified at PETCO Park, which could help the Padres to some degree in would-be extension talks with Headley, who has some of the most dramatic home/road splits at PETCO. No surprise, Headley has been in favor of fence modifications, like many offensive-minded players who have played for the Padres.
Barring a ridiculous trade proposal by another team, I don’t see Headley leaving. If he does, the Padres will likely receive more value than they believe Headley is worth.
Pencil Headley in your starting lineup for 2013 at third base, and expect to hear extension discussions at some point — although it won’t be as easy as the other aforementioned players due to Headley’s tenure and dramatic rise in production.