One of the Padres bright spots in 2011, Chase Headley, is coming off his best season yet. His batting average was 20 points above his career average (.269) at a very respectable (.289). Headley’s home run total was down, but his slugging percentage was its highest since his rookie season. He did miss a significant portion of the season after sustaining a broken finger while sliding into second on a stolen base attempt. Headley has logged enough innings at third base to thoroughly assess his defensive ability.
While I don’t primarily rely on advanced statistics, such as UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) to solely rate or analyze a defender’s worth, I do find such a measurement valuable. Headley had a gold-glove worthy performance in 2010, finishing the season with a 17.9 UZR defensive rating. This season, Headley’s UZR dropped off significantly to a well-below average UZR of -5.0. Is this an anomaly for Chase, or merely a case of him coming into spring training (admittedly) heavier in an attempt to stay healthy, stronger throughout the season and improve his power production? I’ve watched Headley enough to know he’s a plus-defender when healthy. Despite the drop-off in this advanced defensive statistical measurement, the Padres seem to be very happy with Headley’s production at the hot corner.
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So, why trade him now?
The Padres have a few internal options at third base, such as James Darnell, Logan Forsythe and top prospect Jedd Gyorko, who is emerging as the favorite for the near future. I believe the Padres should capitalize on selling high now, while they are still in a rebuilding mode. It would be dealing from a position of strength to go after a player that fits the Padres philosophy of trying to, “play PETCO Park into an advantage.” They could possibly look for a corner outfielder with strong defensive tools, speed to cover PETCO Park’s spacious outfield, who’s a gap-power/line-drive contact type hitter. While Headley’s overall numbers have gone up and down, his home and road offensive splits have been very consistent. Unfortunately, they’ve been consistently poor at home. Headley has dramatic career offensive splits. His career line at home is .229/.319/.336 in contrast to his very impressive career road numbers (.303/.364/.441). It’s apparent that Headley is not the prototypical power hitter for his position, or for PETCO Park. However, we haven’t seen many hitters, if any, flourish in PETCO. While Headley is a switch-hitter, he bats from the left side more often than not where his power numbers take a bigger hit. Ideally, the Padres should get a better run producer for third base. The Padres have the three aforementioned prospects and face Headley’s second significant raise through arbitration. This is coupled with his decline in defense and him being the polar opposite of a player who “plays PETCO Park into an advantage”.
The Padres were happy with the way Forsythe played during his call-up last year, despite his underwhelming overall numbers. Darnell was promoted upon Headley’s injury; however, he didn’t get significant playing time. While Darnell has some questions defensively, his bat should play well anywhere, and he has primarily been a third baseman during his professional career. Upon soon-to-be-former GM Jed Hoyer’s personal request, Darnell took outfield repetitions in the minors earlier in the season. Darnell’s shoulder dislocation and surgery promptly hindered further development. Jesus Guzman is another player who could play some games at third base, which has been his primary position throughout his professional career as well. His bat came on like gangbusters, crushing everything in sight. He is a sub-par defender, at best, who is probably destined as a DH in the American League.
There is another thing to keep in mind. With Jed Hoyer leaving for the Cubs, it’s possible the new front-office brass will view certain players differently. Would Guzman actually have a shot at third with the new brain trust? Maybe the new brain trust views Darnell just as valuable or better suited at third base than Hoyer had.
A little off topic, but I also wonder aloud if the Padres would work out a trade with the Cubs. They could sweeten the compensation the Padres will be receiving for Hoyer and Jason McLeod leaving. I have done previous pieces profiling specific players, and thought Brett Jackson would fit well in PETCO Park with his five-tool ability. Instead of one or two fringe prospects, the Padres could include Headley for Jackson. The Cubs would get an everyday player who could be very good in that park and division. In return, the Padres would receive a top prospect who fits their philosophy for Headley, Hoyer and McLeod.
There are very few attractive third baseman this year and many teams looking for an upgrade. After looking at the free-agent market, Headley should look very attractive and affordable.
Teams that may be looking for an upgrade:
Atlanta Braves (barring Chipper Jones‘s health and future with the organization)
Cincinnati Reds (barring Scott Rolen‘s health and future with the organization)
Los Angeles Angels
The market for free-agent third baseman is bleak:
Wilson Betemit (age 30)
Casey Blake (38)
Jorge Cantu (30)
Eric Chavez (34)
Craig Counsell (41)
Mark DeRosa (37)
Greg Dobbs (33)
Edwin Encarnacion (29)
Jerry Hairston Jr. (36)
Kevin Kouzmanoff (30)
Andy LaRoche (28)
Felipe Lopez (32)
Jose Lopez (28)
Nick Punto (34)
Aramis Ramirez (34)
Omar Vizquel (45)
While I believe the Padres should trade high on Headley now, it may not be as realistic as keeping him until next year’s trade deadline. I think it would be difficult for the Padres to trade one of their most productive bats because of their offensive woes. If they fall out of contention by the trade deadline and one of the aforementioned prospects is playing well, a trade at the deadline may be more prudent.