All in all, July 22nd, 2014 was not the ideal day for the San Diego Padres to trade Chase Headley to the New York Yankees.
The ideal day to trade him– not just to the Yankees but to any contending team in baseball, because at the time many of them would have loved to have him — was two years ago, when the then-28 year old was in the middle of what looked like a breakout season at the plate to supplement his already steady work with the glove at the hot corner. The precise timing isn’t really important; but waiting until the offseason that year actually would have been the right move, considering Headley’s .980 OPS in the second half of 2012 is a major part of what drove his value through the roof. The Padres as a team did nothing over the last two seasons, finishing 76-86 both times, and are well on their way to a similarly disappointing 2014. And unfortunately for them and for him, Headley — who will be entering free agency at the end of the season — has finally been dragged down to his team’s level.
Headley has hit .229/.296/.355 this year in 307 PA for the Padres, which is uninspiring even taking into account what playing in Petco Park half of the time will do to a hitter’s numbers — Headley’s .651 OPS is good for an OPS+ of 88; for comparison, his 2012 season ended with him sporting an OPS of .875 (145 OPS+). Headley suffered a thumb injury early in 2013 that kept him out for about a month at the start of the season and might be at least a partial explanation for the drop off in production last season — but the thumb has had more than enough time to heal since then, and Headley’s production has continued to fall.
This is the absolute nadir of Headley’s value. The Padres are a mess on the field and a team in transition off of it — as the trade deadline approaches, they’re trying to hire a general manager and make the moves they need to make to maximize their assets at the same time. So far they’ve extended Seth Smith, which was a bizarre move given that he was one of the few players on the team with any positive trade value whatsoever, and dealt Huston Street to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in return for an assortment of prospects. The latter trade was at least understandable — it helped restock the second and third tiers of a farm that needs restocking. But the return the Padres got from the Yankees for Headley pales in comparison to Street — infielder Yangervis Solarte was a non-prospect who would have passed through this season unnoticed if not for an extremely timely hot April in the biggest media market in the sport, and while Rafael De Palma is a nifty young arm, he wasn’t even in Baseball America’s Top 10 prospects for the Yankees organization going into the season and profiles as a reliever at the big league level.
Had the Padres held onto Headley and hit him with the qualifying offer on the way out the door, we very well might have seen the first instance in the QO’s short existence of a player accepting it — the Padres have a payroll of $90 million or so this year, after all, and while they’ll likely want to cut that back for next season, they still only have around $38 million on the books before addressing their arbitration eligible players. They could have theoretically afforded to bring Headley back for one more year to see if he bounced back and provided a better return. But the deal is done and Headley is a Yankee now, for better or worse.
It’s a fantastic acquisition from the Yankees’ side. They’re not going to miss either of the two pieces they sent to San Diego in the long term, and Headley has major bounce-back or change of scenery potential. Even though they still don’t have a longterm solution at third base, they’ll get a first look at a guy who was always going to be on their shopping list this offseason as New York looks to transition the team past the revolving door they’ve been playing to Jeter’s right for the past few years (Alex Rodriguez may or may not be welcomed back to the Yankees roster next season, but his days as a regular, effective third baseman have been behind him for a couple years now, so he’s basically an insanely paid DH). And while it’s not precisely the sort of move that will force Baltimore and Toronto to respond in kind at the deadline, it’s a solid deal that improves the 2014 squad while keeping the Yankees in play for the one piece that might force a real reaction: a deal with Philadelphia for Cliff Lee.