San Diego’s Other Trade Chip

While some teams are still determining whether they will buy or sell at the deadline, for a few teams the answer is painfully obvious. The San Diego Padres are 14.5 games back in the NL West and 15 games back of the Wild Card, placing them firmly in the sellers column. They’re fielding plenty of phone calls now, mostly regarding their highly regarded relievers, Heath Bell and Mike Adams. But the Padres have some other chips that could potentially help a contender. Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is one of them, but they might be able to get a bit more if they were to shop around their third baseman, Chase Headley.

At age 27, Headly is in the midst of his finest season to date. In the past three seasons he established himself as a more or less average hitter, producing a 103 wRC+ in 1,654 PA from 2008 through 2010. This year he has surged, with his wRC+ rising all the way to 130. That mark ranks fourth among MLB third basemen, and second among his NL peers (though by a mere one point). While his defense — a career 7.9 UZR/150 at third base, accumulated almost all last season — is likely average, his overall value remains high. That’s both a commentary on Headley’s 2011 season and the state of third base around the league.

Headley’s 2011 improvement comes from two primary areas: BABIP and walk rate. From 2008 through 2010 he walked in 8.9% of his PA, but this year he has seen that jump to 12.6%. He noticed a jump in 2009, too, to 10.1%, but he immediately dipped back down to around 8% in 2010. It’s hard to tell if this improvement is for real. Normally it would look like a fluke, just like any other that can crop up in 357 PA. But Headley is entering the prime of his career, and the improvement might be for real. He did sport a minor league walk rate of near 13%.

His inflated BABIP is more of a concern, since we know how quickly high BABIPs can tumble. This year he’s at .381, which leads the league, while his career mark is .328. While we’ve seen plenty of players ride out a season without seeing significant BABIP regression — Austin Jackson finished 2010 with a .396 BABIP — it’s certainly a risk to bank on anyone continuing at such a high level. If, removing only singles, we assumed a .328 BABIP for Headley, his numbers would look far worse right now: .254/.351/.355. Any team acquiring him would have to be concerned about possible regression effects.

Another area of concern is Headley’s power, which has clearly declined as he’s aged. In 2008 he produced a .151 ISO, but that fell to .131 in 2009, .111 in 2010, and is currently at .101. He still displays gap power, averaging 30 doubles in 2009 and 2010. This year he has already hit 25, four fewer than last year despite having approximately half the plate appearances. There are certainly teams that could use a third baseman who can line balls into the gap, but the lack of power does hurt his overall value.

One mitigating factor, as is the case with many Padres, lies in Headley’s home/road splits. His .381 BABIP might seem high overall, but he has produced a .376 career BABIP outside of Petco in 1,085 career PA. He also hits for a bit more power outside of Petco, with a career .135 ISO on the road compared to .107 at home. His .117 ISO on the road this year isn’t necessarily impressive, but it looks far better than his overall ISO, which includes a .081 mark at home. Overall he has produced a .354 wOBA on the road and just .299 at home, signaling that, again like many of his peers, he would fare better at a more hitter-friendly park.

There are a few contenders that could use an upgrade at third base. The Angels, as mentioned yesterday, could use another bat. Unfortunately, they need some more power, and Headley probably won’t provide that. He would massively upgrade the Tigers at third base, both on defense and offense. The only downside is that Comerica Park plays better for righties, and Headley hits better from the left side (.336 career wOBA as a lefty vs. .303 as a righty). The Brewers, who have gotten -0.3 WAR from their third basemen, could also upgrade significantly. What’s more, Miller Park plays to Headley’s strengths better than either of the other two parks.

One big perk of trading for Headley is that he’s under team control through 2014. He could get expensive, as he was a Super Two before this season and so has three raises due over his $2.325 million 2011 salary. But if he continues to hit into his prime, he could be worth the price. Best of all, any acquiring team will have him through his age-30 season, giving them the bulk of his prime years. That should net San Diego a decent return.

This raises the question of why the Padres would deal Headley in the first place. Why sign a guy under team control for so long? First, as stated above, they could receive a decent bounty for him. They’d be selling high, as this is his best season in the bigs. The team control further increases his value. Yet they’d still be set at third, as they have three fast-moving prospects at the position. Earlier this month they promoted all three — James Darnell, Jedd Gyorko, and Jake Blackwood — and they could be on the fast track to the majors. Darnell, the closest to the majors, has excelled this year, producing a .443 wOBA at AA before his promotion to AAA. There he has gone 9 for his first 35, with a double and four homers. At age 24, he might even step in immediately upon a Headley trade as a two-month tryout.

As Jack noted earlier this month, the state of third base in the NL is pretty poor right now. In fact, the state of third base across the league is in the dumpster: the .688 OPS produced by MLB third basemen this year is lower than any other position. A player like Headley, then, should be all the more valuable. He does have some concerns, such as an inflated BABIP and declining power numbers, but those concerns would lessen greatly once he’s out of Petco for good. There are a number of contenders with holes at first base, and while Headley would cost a decent bounty in prospects, he’s the best option out there. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Padres cash in that chip before July 31st.



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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


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Friedman
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Friedman
5 years 1 month ago

problem is headley is currently injured. won’t get as high of a return on him right now as a result

Drakos
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Drakos
5 years 1 month ago

Unless there’s been a setback today it sounds like he’ll back pretty soon and there should be enough time to show that he’s healthy.

PadresFuture
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PadresFuture
5 years 1 month ago

Minor Injury.

Dave
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Dave
5 years 1 month ago

While Headley may be a good fit for the Brewers, their system is devoid of the prospects it would take to acquire him.

Jason B
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Jason B
5 years 1 month ago

Aww c’mon. Every team needs a Yuni…

Tim E.
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Tim E.
5 years 1 month ago

Darnell has some pretty heavy defensive concerns and there are concerns he may have to move to the outfield

AK
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AK
5 years 1 month ago

Are the Padres in such a bad position that they should look at an above average position player who is under team control for three more years at a very reasonable salary as a chip to be traded for the uncertainty of a few prospects? By all means, move Ludwick, Bell and Adams without a second thought. But Maybin, Headley, Rizzo and Hundley seem like they could reasonably be identified as players who could be a part of the next winning Padres team.

It sometimes seems like people make a fetish out of trading players for prospects. It’s obviously necessary to look at your roster dispassionately, to be willing to sell high, to trade expensive assets at the end of their contracts for cheap prospects with multiple years of team control ahead of them. But certainly there’s a limit to what should be regarded as a trade chip. Sure, Headley’s value is higher than some of the other expiring contracts they could move, such as Ludwick’s. But the reason he’s valuable could easily be seen as the reason the Padres should keep him.

The only way Headley makes sense as a trade chip is if you’re getting multiple MLB-ready prospects, or if you’re absolutely certain that the Padres have no worldly chance of competing at any point in the next three years. In that division, I’d say the latter is an odd conclusion.

PadresFuture
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PadresFuture
5 years 1 month ago

Hoyer has very recently said that the team will build around Headley and they are not looking to trade him. A team would have to overpay to get him…. if a team like the Cardinals dangled Shelby Miller they would have to listen, otherwise he absolutley is staying put.

Liem
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Liem
5 years 1 month ago

That makes absolute sense. Headley seems like the only current position player around which the Padres could hopefully build a team around.

jpg
Guest
jpg
5 years 1 month ago

He’d be a good fit with the Chi Sox too.

batpig
Member
batpig
5 years 1 month ago

On Headley’s power:

Perhaps you didn’t read the interview that Chase Headley did on this very site?
http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/qa-chase-headley/

He has intentionally stopped trying to drive the ball in the air, you can see a decline in FB% over the years. Headley has easy 15-20 HR power in a “normal” park, the problem is that Petco severely punishes guys with so-so power, so he has altered his approach to match. As you noted, he is a very disciplined hitter (always had great walk rates in the minors and was known as a guy with a smart approach and good instincts) and has been able to migrate his game more towards line drives + OBP.

If he ended up in a more hitter friendly park, his power would come back as he would feel free to take more aggressive hacks on balls he thought he could drive.

Gordon Brown
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Gordon Brown
5 years 1 month ago

A Headley/Bartlett package would make the Brew Crew pretty scary

Marver
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Marver
5 years 1 month ago

Headley’s going nowhere. Jed spoke candidly about this recently, stating the team plans to build around the “on-base machine at a shallow position”. It would take an epic package to acquire him, which makes the probability of fruition extremely low.

Carlmart
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Carlmart
5 years 1 month ago

Seriously what kind of value does Headley have? He has only hit 2 homeruns this year, 2! With such lousy power a below average defense I don’t see how he is even starting for this last place team, much less worth anything on the market.

Maybe the Padres should try and trade headley to someone and upgrade for a power 3B so they can contend in the weak western division. That’s honestly the only thing that makes sense to me.

Drakos
Guest
Drakos
5 years 1 month ago

4.9 WAR last year and 2.2 WAR so far this year is probably why he’s starting. But maybe the fact that he’s a corner infielder that doesn’t hit for power should be more important than that.

Mr. wOBAto
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Mr. wOBAto
5 years 1 month ago

you do realize he plays in a park that murders HR power right?

Carlmart
Guest
Carlmart
5 years 1 month ago

If he were a really good hitter he would simply overcome that.

Liem
Guest
Liem
5 years 1 month ago

If he could overcome Petco, he’d be named Adrian Gonzalez.

There is a place in between “average” and “great,” and it’s called “good”. Mr Headley falls somewhere on the “average” side of “good”; therefore he is “valuable” to anyone with an “average” 3rd baseman (which by definition is about half of the league).

Tony
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Tony
5 years 1 month ago

Despite his UZR this year, he’s definitely a plus defender at 3B. Anyone that watches him on a daily basis knows he is an excellent third baseman. His true talent level might be less than the super high UZR he put up last year, but it’s still above average. I would expect an average UZR/150 over the next 3.5 years of somewhere around 7-10.

I personally don’t think they should trade him. He’s tremendously valuable, but not the way the traditional third baseman is with his value coming from a high obp and good defense. For that reason I really doubt the Padres would get the return that they would for your typical 4-5 WAR third baseman. So they should hang on to him for the next couple years.

While Blackwood is a non-prospect the other 3B prospects are legit, so they do have depth there. Though Darnell and Rincon are poor fielders at 3rd and probably destined for the outfield. Ideally Gyorko would be able to play 2B for a year or two until Headley gets too expensive and Spangenberg is ready for the bigs.

PadresFuture
Guest
PadresFuture
5 years 1 month ago

Yeah, I was scratching my head at the Blackwood inclusion.

Zach
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Zach
5 years 1 month ago

Seems like lack of familiarity with the Padres’ system.

pickapeppa
Guest
pickapeppa
5 years 1 month ago

Top 5 player at a shallow position in his prime. The article’s regressed OPS for Headley, .706, is 18 points higher than league average for third baseman and isn’t even park adjusted. He’s likely an average defender at third at worst. I remember distinctly he had above average reports on his defense at third in the minors and defensive stats so far have represented just that.

dan l
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dan l
5 years 1 month ago

He’d be an amazing fit for the Yankees. He could play both third and right field going forward.

Feeding the Abscess
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Feeding the Abscess
5 years 1 month ago

Headley’s road BABIP, in nearly 1000 AB, is .376. His OPS is .800, ISO is .135, wOBA is .352. Any team trading for him would do remarkably well. Seattle, perhaps? Still, I think the real boon for anyone trading with the Padres would be to trade for Venable. In 519 career AB, he’s put up the following:

.274, 19 HR, 86 R, 73 RBI, 30 SB

OPS of somewhere around .800, wOBA somewhere around .347, wRC+ somewhere around 122.

I’m not kidding, I am going to spam the living hell out of Will Venable in every Padres or trade piece post until I’m banned.

Zach
Guest
Zach
5 years 1 month ago

Your numbers on Venable are way off. In 1129 career PAs, he’s got a .320 wOBA and a 103 wRC+. He’s average at best, and is far too old to expect any kind of significant improvement.

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
5 years 1 month ago

I meant to post that he’s accumulated those numbers in 519 career road AB, and those totals are correct, plus/minus an AB or two from today.

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
5 years 1 month ago

In short, dude’s getting killed by Petco

Friedman
Member
Friedman
5 years 1 month ago

i dont know the park numbers off the top of my head but i don’t think safeco is much better than petco so i don’t know how much better he’d hit there

Feeding the Abscess
Guest
Feeding the Abscess
5 years 1 month ago

Safeco is pretty neutral for LHB, and Petco is murder on LHB, so Headley would gain some benefit in a majority of his plate appearances. He would lose some batting right-handed, however.

Venable would see a greater benefit from a San Diego to Seattle move.

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5 years 1 month ago

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lex logan
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lex logan
5 years 1 month ago

“There are a number of contenders with holes at first base…” you meant third I presume

Shaun Catron
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Shaun Catron
5 years 1 month ago

wouldn’t Headley be a decent guy for the Pirates? Pedro Alvarez is awful and if they want to come become “faux buyers” they could swing a deal for Headley.

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