Padres Finally Trade Chase Headley Two Years Too Late

In 2012, 28-year-old Chase Headley put up one of the five best seasons in the history of the Padres franchise, a 7.2 WAR year that made him one of the six most valuable hitters in baseball that year. He had two years of team control remaining, he was on the right side of 30 and he was playing a position that is always difficult to fill ably. His value was through the roof; the Padres could have had almost anything they wanted for him. Preferring to try to win, they made a few extension offers that didn’t pan out, and kept him around to go 119-141 since the end of 2012.

Less than two years later, he’s been traded to the Yankees for a 27-year-old infielder who was a minor league free agent last winter (Yangervis Solarte), an inconsistent (though talented) 23-year-old A-ball pitcher who wasn’t on anyone’s top-100 list (Rafael De Paula), the loss of the option to give Headley a qualifying offer if they wanted, and they even had to kick in a million dollars to the Yankees to make it happen. When you talk about holding on to an asset too long, well, this is the prime example right here. Headley is no longer part of the Padres’ future, and he didn’t turn into anything that is very likely to be a big part of that future.

While the return is pretty disappointing, it’s less about thinking the Padres got taken — it’s pretty safe to assume they didn’t currently have offers better than Solarte/De Paula on the table, or else they would have accepted them — and more about showing just how far Headley’s value had dropped. Since the end of that magical 2012, in which he went deep 31 times and had a line of .286/.376/.498, Headley had hit a mere .243/.330/.384 with 20 homers.

He missed the first two weeks of 2013 with a thumb fracture, had left knee surgery that winter — after admitting he’d played through pain all year, just another example of trying to “tough it out” not benefiting anyone — spent two weeks on the DL with a calf strain earlier this year, and missed a few days last month with a sore back.

If seeing his wRC+ drop from 145 to 113 last year was a disappointment, this year has been a disaster. Headley has a .296 OBP and an 88 wRC+, each among the worst marks for regular third basemen in the game, though that’s been somewhat anchored down by an absolutely brutal April (.186/.250/.314). He was never realistically going to repeat that 2012, and you could perhaps assign some blame for the down 2013 to the knee and thumb injuries, but he’s been basically healthy this year.

Season Z-Swing% O-Contact%
2012 67.2% 52.0%
2013 67.2% 54.2%
2014 61.9% 57.7%

Like the rest of the Padres other than Seth Smith, the offense has just completely disappeared, and there’s some pretty disturbing peripherals behind it. He’s striking out about the same as he always has, but his walk rate has dropped from 12.3% to 11.2% to 7.2%, and as you can see at the right, that’s partially because he’s swinging at fewer balls in the zone and connecting with more balls outside the zone. If you want to help a pitcher, offering at more “bad” pitches and fewer “good” ones is a fantastic way to do it.

So why, despite how far Headley has fallen, does this make so much sense for the Yankees? It does, of course, even if they have minimal playoff odds, a ton of holes, and probably have no chance whatsoever if Masahiro Tanaka isn’t able to return healthy and quickly. It’s mostly because the risk here is just so minimal. They owe Headley the remainder of his $10.525 million this year, which is just over $4m at this point — nothing for a team like the Yankees, and partially offset by the $1m San Diego sent over — and they give up very little to see if Headley can regain his lost magic.

Solarte is just a guy, someone who needed seven years just to get to Triple-A, then turned a lucky April (143 wRC+, .349 BABIP) into a good May (120 wRC+, .279) and a disaster June/July (38 wRC+, .188 BABIP) as pitchers got a second look at him, even finding himself back in Triple-A earlier this month. De Paula is described by Jim Callis as a “one pitch reliever,” and wasn’t even ranked in the Yankees’ Top 15 last winter at Minor League Ball. In May, former FG contributor Mike Axisa had him as No. 20 in the Yankees system. From a talent and financial perspective, it’s a no-brainer.

It’s also a good fit because the Yankees’ infield has been a well-known issue, outside of the nice rebound from first baseman Mark Teixeira. Their third basemen haven’t been awful, with a No.15 ranking in both WAR and wRC+, but most of that was from Solarte’s unsustainable first six weeks.

That’s obviously not production they were going to get going forward, and Kelly Johnson and Zelous Wheeler aren’t really ideal solutions for a team that still thinks it can win, thanks to being only four games out of the division lead — nor are either close to Headley’s equal on defense. Neither Steamer nor ZiPS have overreacted to Headley’s poor season, both expecting he can contribute around a 110 wRC+ going forward — which is, it should be noted, just about exactly what he’s had since coming back from the back pain last month.

wRC+ is park-adjusted, of course, so a simple move from Petco to Yankee Stadium isn’t going to explode that number by itself, but it also can’t be ignored how big that is for Headley. In the notoriously unfriendly park in San Diego, his career line is .243/.331/.372; on the road, it’s .286/.360/.444, which is a 118 wRC+. As a lefty hitter pulling the ball to right, it’s .368/.367/.599, and he could hardly be moving to a friendlier park for lefty power. No, we can’t simply double a road line and expect that. No, we have no idea how Headley will respond moving from San Diego to the Bronx.

But based on what we do know, it’s absolutely worth it for the Yankees to find out: As with the Vidal Nuno for Brandon McCarthy deal, Brian Cashman managed to get incremental improvements without giving up much of anything at all. It’s probably not enough to get into the playoffs, and again that’s all dependent on Tanaka. It’s clearly still worth doing, particularly when it prevents a rival like Toronto from doing the same thing.

For the Padres, tomorrow is a full month since GM Josh Byrnes was fired. They’ve now traded Headley and Huston Street, and extended Seth Smith, and those are big moves to be made by placeholders Omar Minaya and A.J. Hinch.

They might not have been able to do better than this right now for Headley; they might have dodged a bullet by not giving him a rich extension a year ago; they might not have wanted to see whether Headley would have become the first player to accept a qualifying offer and have him take up $15 million of their 2015 payroll. Taken together, this all adds up for them. It’s just an incredibly disappointing outcome in a relatively short time, for a franchise that has seen more than its share of disappointment.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

61 Responses to “Padres Finally Trade Chase Headley Two Years Too Late”

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  1. King Buzzo's Fro says:

    this trade is way more boring than it should have been, enjoy your no-hitters San Diego

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  2. nard says:

    Contract the Padres.

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  3. diegosanchez says:

    Cashman is reminding the bottom of the NL West that they have no hope

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  4. leon says:

    I’m kinda surprised no one was willing to top that offer. Wasn’t a great year to be selling a third baseman I suppose. Although if I’m Toronto I’d definitely get involved at that price just so I can get the glove out of Juan Francisco’s hand.

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  5. Sleight of Hand Pro says:

    I know its been a down year, but that is a very underwhelming return

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  6. Schlom says:

    I’m not sure the Padres traded Headley two years too late – how many 3B have been traded the season after a 7+ WAR season? I’m guessing not a lot. Now the Padres may have made a mistake by not trading him sometime before now as they potentially could have gotten more in return but there’s no way it would have made sense to trade him after 2012. Now it’s true that his value might have been at an all-time high two years ago but that’s not the same thing as saying they should have traded him.

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    • leon says:

      It’s true that it’s unfair to look back with hindsight and say it was a mistake because of his decline. However, even if Headley had broken out for real they were still in a situation where they couldn’t sign him to an extension, and the team didn’t have the talent to seriously compete in the West.

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      • Schlom says:

        We don’t know that they couldn’t sign him to an extension if he followed up with another good season in 2013 – all we know is that he wasn’t good enough for the Padres to worry about it.

        The Padres had winning records in the second half of both 2012 (42-33) and 2013 (34-32) so there were certainly a chance that the team could have been competitive for the wild card the past two seasons – it’s not like they were hopeless like the Astros or Cubs.

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      • Zap Rowsdower says:

        You have to consider that, in 2012, they had probably had some hope that guys like Alonso, Maybin, Grandal and maybe Cashner, Weiland and Erlin (their pitching was still pretty bad) would be playing well enough for them to contend.

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    • BDF says:

      That comment got me thinking: That was the 59th best season every by a 3B by WAR! I find that amazing.

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    • Tanned Tom says:

      They absolutely waited too long. They made him a sizable offer which he declined. At that point it was clear that the player was not interested in returning to San Diego, and wanted to be paid on the basis of one, aberrational year. His market was at it’s peak. If they had traded him they could have expected to get a pretty good return. Instead they dithered. Waiting to see if they could change his mind, and watching while injuries and ineffectiveness reduced his value to damn near nothing.
      And it worth noting that even if 2012 had become his new level of production they still couldn’t have re-signed him because he would have been too expensive for the tight-fisted Padres.
      All in all a great example of a team getting near the lowest return possible. Byrnes could have been fired for this move alone.

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  7. Wobatus says:

    It looks to me that Solarte has been more unlucky after his hot start than that start was lucky. His babip is .270 and his xBABIP is likely much higher. he has a low swinging strike rate, and a good 1:1 k:bb rate with both in low double digits. Even still he’s played to about a 2 WAR pace.

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    • tz says:

      And his numbers from the high minors aren’t exactly lousy. He’s the kind of guy the Rays seem to pick up and work into their rotation of multi-position players.

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  8. Jon L. says:

    It’s one thing to say in hindsight that holding onto Headley this long was a mistake, but they had a 7.2-WAR third baseman heading into his age-29 season and .

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  9. DNA+ says:

    Good deal for the Yanks. …not nearly enough to save them though.

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    • DanBC says:

      The Yanks priority is the mound. True, they didnt up much, to get much, but going with Chase Whitley is just plain foolish. Ian Kennedy would good returning to the pinstripes

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      • DNA+ says:

        Their priority should be hitting. Their pitching keeps them in most games. Their hitting is dreadful.

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        • DanBC says:

          SO is the Ms, but their pitching is good.
          Want to win? Concentrate on improving the pitching, get decent starters.
          Get Kennedy,or if the pockets are deep, Price!

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        • DNA+ says:

          Seemiingly on cue, the Yankees go 14 innings and give up one run. Headley ends the game with a walk off hit.

          If you want to win games you have to score runs eventually. Also, trying to emulate the Ms is a recipe for failure.

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        • Bip says:

          Want to win? Score more runs that you give up. Get pitching or hitting. There isn’t one way to be a good team.

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  10. Hurtlocker says:

    But what happens when Arod gets back? He can play shortstop!!!

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    • Go Nats says:

      He does something embarrassing to the franchise, gets cut, sues MLB for millions, loses after many years of clogging up the courts, stays on the front page for years pulling embarrassing stunts, then after a decade writes a tell all book where he claims he did it for the nookie!

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    • SeattleSlew says:

      I know its a joke but really, what do the Yankees do with Arod next year? Do they keep him in the bench and use him as a pinch hitter? If they do he will be the first $30 million dollar pinch hitter.

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  11. Jay Stevens says:

    Can’t Scott Sizemore play third? Is he a worse option than Headley right now? Not that the Yankees paid anything for Headley, but it seems the Yanks had an option in AAA. Or are they waiting for him to fill in at second?

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  12. LONNIE says:

    Love this deal for the Yankees. Headley will make them better in the short-term and they get about 2 months to see if he is worth a long-term committment at the end of the year. To me he seems like the classic ” needs a change of scenery” player.

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  13. Dominguez says:

    I’m the only 3B worse than him.

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  14. Preston says:

    DePaula has actually started pitching a lot better in his last handful of starts. He’s old for High A, but that’s mostly because he had a Visa issue. People were ready to call him a top 100 guy at the mid point last season after his hot start at Low A. He really struggled after the promotion, but it seems like he’s starting to figure it out. It’s not great that it took a 23 yo 140 innings to conquer High A ball, but I still think there’s a non zero chance he stays in the rotation. If he moves to the pen the FB is good enough to make him a back end guy even if the slider and change remain erratic. It’s obviously not what the Padres could have gotten after 2012, but it’s still a useful piece. Still I agree that the Yankees made a great deal, and I’m surprised that Toronto didn’t offer something better.

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  15. Robert Kral says:

    Wonder if I’m next to go.

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  16. Alanis Morissette says:

    Trading Chase Headley two years too late seems pretty ironic. Or am I way off base here?

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  17. Johnston says:

    This is the trade that the A’s should have made.

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  18. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    Best case scenario for Cash right here.

    I’m pretty damn pumped.

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    • DNA+ says:

      Turning Solarte into anything has to be considered a minor miracle considering he is pretty much the definition of a replacement player.

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  19. m_pemulis says:

    Can the Yanks get a comp pick if they offer him the QO this offseason? Or did he have to start the season with the team?

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  20. Xolo says:

    If such a thing exists, Headley is a classic change of scenery candidate. The Padres, the fans and the media all expected him to be a player he wasn’t. Getting to a situation where he doesn’t have to be the man should take the pressure off and, if nothing else, make him feel more comfortable saying that he needs to sit down from time to time.

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    • Helladecimal says:

      Since when do the Yankees acquire players in order for them to take pressure off and reduce their role?

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      • Go Nats says:

        all the time! it is easy to relax when all the guys around you are allstars and all the team does is win.

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        • SeattleSlew says:

          Who in the Yankees roster has had an All-Star worthy season except for Tanaka who is hurt?

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  21. Long suffering Padres Fan says:

    I’m wondering why the Padres agreed to this trade without a permanent GM in place.

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  22. Zap Rowsdower says:

    But they probably traded Rizzo two years too early, so on average they’re doing a perfect job!

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  23. Go Nats says:

    I am shocked! Headley had to be worth more than that! Even batting so badly, he is worth 1.6 WAR. I’ll bet he will be allstar many times in pinstripes!

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  24. ChrisS says:

    The bad back must have scared off a lot of teams from any offer higher than the Yanks. At the same time, the Padres aren’t going anywhere this year, Headley was leaving this season and they most likely weren’t going to give him a QO. So they got a ML ready-ish player in return that can give them Chase’s production, an A+ pitcher with a plus FB and the beginnings of two other ML pitches (if he gets one, he’s an excellent reliever, if he gets two, he’s a starter), plus $3m off the books.

    Is it a deal that’s better than what they could have gotten for him two years ago? No. But in the present, it’s a damn good deal for the Padres.

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  25. joser says:

    The Padres were willing to trade Adrián González in 2010 on the heels of an near-MVP 4.5 WAR / 142 wRC+ year… and that didn’t go so well for them. I wonder how much the lingering memory of that influenced their reluctance to flip Headley?

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  26. SeattleSlew says:

    If the Padres kept him and gave him a QO at the end of the season do you think he would have accepted?

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