Yanks buy low on Headley, but will bat recover?
Former face of Friars could be more of a defensive asset for Bronx Bombers
Before we even get to Chase Headley, the longtime resident of the trade rumor mill who is finally moving on, let's acknowledge something essential about the trade the Yankees and Padres made on Tuesday.
A few short months ago, Yangervis Solarte was an anonymous Minor League free agent joining his third organization in four seasons. His April output was as incredible as it was unsustainable, and the 27-year-old soon settled into more pedestrian output from that point.
Rafael De Paula, meanwhile, is a 23-year-old right-hander still in Class A ball. He didn't sign a professional contract until he was 21 because of identity fraud and subsequent visa issues, so his big league future -- to the extent that he has one -- is all about late-blooming potential and projection.
Basically, then, the Yanks did pretty well to flip these two guys to San Diego for $1 million.
To flip them to the Padres for $1 million and two-plus months of Headley is a big bonus.
There's really no delicate way to put this, so I'll just come right out and say that San Diego missed its chance at a rousing return for Headley. His breakout 2012 season, in which he hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs, made him one of the game's more valuable trade chips, but the Padres focused instead on stability and contract extension talks that really never went anywhere.
Headley meant so much to that organization as the current face of the franchise, but his injury-plagued offensive sag in 2013 proved to be just the beginning of a slide that continued on into '14, where he currently carries a disappointing .229/.296/.355 slash line while playing through a herniated disc in his back.
That pretty much settled any chance of an organizational conundrum on whether or not to offer the 30-year-old Headley a qualifying contract (likely in the realm of $15 million) at season's end. By July, all that was left for the temporary GM regime was to find the best possible offer in the trade market.
So, no, the Yankees did not have to give up much for Headley, and, frankly, who knows what they're getting or how much this will bridge their current gap in the American League East standings. A Masahiro Tanaka-less Yanks club might be ticketed for a frustrating finish in Derek Jeter's final season, but you've got to give credit to the Yankees for going down swinging with the low-risk and potentially high-upside acquisitions of Brandon McCarthy and now Headley in recent weeks.
Headley's definitely a defensive upgrade for a Yanks team decidedly range-challenged in the infield, and that alone makes him a plus addition, particularly now that McCarthy and another ground-ball guy, Shane Greene, are such important pieces in the rotation picture.
Offensively, well, we already cited Headley's sluggish slash line. And while the obvious analysis is that Headley is going to have a heck of an easier time sparking that slugging percentage in Yankee Stadium (second only to Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park in home run proliferation this season) than he did in Petco Park (which, despite new dimensions in 2013, has maintained its reputation as an extreme pitcher's park), that claim comes with a caveat:
Headley's offensive splits were actually better at home (.250/.303/.357) than on the road (.209/.290/.353) this season.
Really, Headley was the face of the Padres for all the wrong reasons, doing his own part to prolong a team-wide offensive struggle that has been downright historic. With a .215 batting average, the Friars are on pace for the lowest team mark in the Majors in 46 years and they are perilously close to the .211 mark of the 1910 White Sox -- the lowest team-wide average ever in the modern era.
Headley will no doubt be enlivened to join a historic franchise in the throes of a division race, and that alone could make the back issue, which affects his legs and, ergo, his power, a little more tolerable. We've seen before that there's something about putting on the pinstripes for the first time that can bring out the best in a player, as Solarte himself can attest.
The reality, though, is that this is a trade that probably augments the Yankees much more from the defensive side than the offensive side. That, alone, might make it worthwhile. And whether or not this trade truly sparks the Yanks in the East, we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that they really didn't gamble much to give it a go.
Now the rest of us just have to adjust to a world in which Chase Headley's name is not in the trade rumor mill.