Let’s be real here: San Diego is in rebuilding mode. By the time they’re good again, most of the guys on their current team are going to be gone. With that being said, Headley is going to go through arbitration for the first time this year and since he’s of “Super Two” status, he’s got three years until free agency. Right now is the perfect time for a team like San Diego to trade Chase Headley, because his salary will continue to rise. For a team like the Padres, it’s hard to pay a player like Headley ~18-20MM over the next three years, and probably 10MM+ a year after that, when you only have a 45MM payroll. Especially considering the Padres have a couple guys like James Darnell, who had a cup of coffee with the big club this year, and Jedd Gyorko. Enter the Tigers, who are desperately looking for a third baseman. Sure, there’s Nick Castellanos on the horizon. But, he’s still a teenager, and at least two years away. It’s hard to make moves for the future, specifically when the core of your team is getting ready to enter its prime right now. Why is Chase Headley so perfect? Well, a myriad of reasons of course:
Headley at the plate
The Tigers need some higher OBP guys, especially at the top of the lineup. Headley could slide perfectly into the two spot. He has shown excellent plate discipline over his career, sporting a 9.6% career walk rate, which would be the third most on the Tigers, after Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila. After looking at Headley’s raw numbers, you have to take them with a grain of salt, because he plays in the spacious PETCO Park in San Diego. In addition to that, he plays about 10 road games vs. the Dodgers, and 10 vs. the Giants, two extreme pitchers parks as well. So, about 100 of his 162 games are in extreme pitchers parks. With that being said, Chase obviously has a huge Home/Road split over his career:
Home- .229/.319/.336/.655 .116 ISO .312 BABIP
Away- .303/.364/.441/.805 .138 ISO .374 BABIP
It’s very apparent that Chase is a much better hitter on the road, and that PETCO park hinders his numbers. He’s even changed his approach in the park, hitting more line drives and ground balls the last couple years, and trying to hit less fly balls, while his batted balls percentages on the road look about the same. Obviously, that .374 BABIP is unsustainable in the future. However, his road numbers only have an 8.4% walk rate attached to them, and he’s more of a 10+% type guy lately, and probably going forward as well. But, with all of that being said, if Headley wants to continue being a .775-800 OPS guy going forward, his power will have to stay pretty similar to what it is on the road, or even increase a bit, in addition to somewhere around a .340 BABIP, which is his career norm. Chase has shown he has the potential to keep growing as a hitter, considering he had a .250 ISO and 14% walk rate in the minors. On an unrelated note, his 15 steals would be more than welcomed into the two spot in the lineup, and would rank second on the team.
Headley in the field
Since UZR has been drawing such mixed reviews lately, it’s pretty difficult to discern exactly how good Headley is in the field just using that. Yet, UZR typically does a pretty good job of separating the great fielders, the good fielders, the average fielders, the below average fielders, and the terrible fielders. He has a career 7.8 UZR/150, including a +16.5 season last year, and is +20 career DRS over at the hot corner. So, a reasonable assumption would be that Headley is at least above average. As an OF, which he played in 2008-2009, he is below average, and probably won’t see much, if any PT. I’d also guess it’s plausible for him to play some 2B on occasion.
Whether or not WAR is an all-encompassing aspect of a player is an argument for a different time. With that being said, Headley has been worth 7.7 WAR the last two years at third, and that ranks 5th between Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval. These numbers, even with PETCO to tie him down, are relatively similar to what one can expect going forward from Chase: .273/.346/.384/.730 with a .111 ISO. Add in a +13.5 fielder, and you get a ~4 win player at third base. These types of players don’t grow on trees, especially ones that are entering their prime, and relatively cheap.
Obviously, Headley would be a great fit. But, it’s really all on the Padres whether or not they are interested in giving him up. Do the Tigers have the pieces that the Padres would be looking for? Interestingly, I think yes, they do. The Padres are always looking for young arms with potential. For example, while the Tigers may not view Phil Coke as a starter anymore, it’s entirely possible the Padres do, especially because he’s young, cheap, and under team control. Coke is a high fly ball pitcher (40%) as a starter, and in PETCO Park, that’s a prescription for success. They may have interest in Andy Oliver as a starter or even a reliever, and also Drew Smyly as well. The Tigers obviously have some pretty solid options at SP for the near future, and would be able to give away one or two of these options for an important bat.
I’m really hoping to see Chase Headley hitting in the number 2 spot in the Tigers lineup next year, and would be willing to give up a pretty decent haul in order to get him. If he can translate his numbers to the American League, and keeps up around a .750 OPS, good defense, high OBP, and a couple steals, he could be an extremely valuable player for the Tigers going forward.