Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres is one of the best third basemen in baseball, and he just might be available before the July 31 MLB trade deadline. Rumors have surfaced recently that multiple teams may be interested in acquiring the services of the 28-year-old, and such a trade could mean a lot more than it looks like on the surface. Why? Because it’s not all that clear that anyone quite understands just how valuable Headley really is.
Headley is right in the middle of what appears to be a career year. Per FanGraphs, Headley has been worth 4.9 WAR in 2010, 2.7 WAR in 2011, and 3.4 WAR so far in 2012. Those figures make him worth between $12.3 million and $19.8 million per season based on the FanGraphs model, and that’s an impressive accomplishment considering it’s almost a certainty Headley will never command a salary even approaching that level. To put this in perspective, by these metrics Headley has been the second-best third baseman in baseball in 2012. He finished fifth in 2010.
The main reason Headley could be had for less than his true value is because his skill set is not truly understood. Headley’s value is derived primarily from his abilities to get on base and play stellar defense at the hot corner. Headley’s career walk rate is north of 10%, which is solid, but he’s sitting at 13.9% so far this season and has been steadily improving since 2010. Headley’s ability to draw walks has led to on-base percentages of .374 in 2011 and .372 in the first half of 2012. This means if he has bad luck on balls in play, he’s going to be penalized less. Advanced defensive metrics, while sometimes erratic (especially in small sample sizes) always lean toward Headley being one of the better fielders at his position.
Getting on base no matter the method has certainly been more widely accepted as an extremely desirable trait since the whole Moneyball thing, but it still seems like some front offices are behind the times. Defense remains largely misunderstood, but Headley passes pretty much any test whether conducted by the eyes or the numbers. But the secret weapon any team picking up Headley may find themselves in possession of happens to be power.
Chase Headley was drafted by the Padres and has been in the organization ever since, so naturally he’s always played his home games in the ridiculously over-sized Petco Park. This is the ballpark that once made people think Chris Young was Jake Peavy‘s equal and Jason Marquis is worth employing at all. Needless to say, Headley’s power numbers have been much better when he’s not stepping up to the plate in the unfriendliest confines a hitter could imagine in the modern age.
For his career, Headley has hit .235/.326/.341 at home. You never really want a third baseman putting up a .666 OPS for both poor playing and Satan worshiping reasons, but it’s much more understandable when you realize just how impossible it is to hit in that place. Adrian Gonzalez was just about the only Padre to retain power while calling Petco his home park. To be fair, Headley has improved to the tune of a .760 home OPS in 2012. Headley on the road, though, is a clear cut awesome third baseman to have from an offensive standpoint. He’s hit .299/.366/.445 away from Petco, good for a very solid .811 OPS. Just now hitting his prime, Headley may even have more in the tank should he call somewhere else home in the near future. After all, his road OPS has risen to the .850-.860 level over the past two seasons.
While Chase Headley is far from the biggest name we’ve seen on the trading block this summer, perhaps his stock should be much higher. For all the positive mainstream press the Marlins somehow got for picking up the gigantic shell of Carlos Lee, a Headley trade would likely slide under the radar. Well, it shouldn’t. Root for your team to trade for Chase Headley, because he’s a fantastic player and should have been a no-brainer to represent San Diego in the All-Star game next week.