White Sox Wishlist: Chase Headley
He looks at the ball while he fields it, which is a practice the White Sox should employ. // Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
While Southside Showdown put out an offseason plan that’s currently being slashed to ribbons by the harsh winds of reality, this new series allows for our writers to identify individual players they would like to see the White Sox pursue this offseason, why they would be good additions and how the Sox should go about getting them. Every writer is pursuing their own dreams here, so expect differing opinions.
Joining us again is Mike DePilla, formerly of White Sox Watch, White Sox Mix and Chi-Town Daily News. Earlier this week he shared his reasoning for why the Sox should pursue Curtis Granderson.
The other day I wrote about the benefits of a somewhat unpopular White Sox pursuit of Curtis Granderson. Today, in the search for more stealthy assets that would improve the short- and long-term health of the organization, I have another logical but overlooked avenue for the Sox: third basemen Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres.
On the surface, Headley once again seems like a mismatch for the Sox. He is coming off an injury-shortened down season, would cost significant talent in a trade, and only has one year remaining on his contract. But it doesn’t take too much digging to see how valuable, and how excellent of a fit, he would be to the Sox. So let’s go.
The background: Headley, set to earn about $10 million in his last year of arbitration at age 30, owns a career .269/.350/.415 line across seven seasons with the San Diego Padres. He is one year removed from a breakout 2012 season which resulted in an incredible .286/.376/.498 line, 31 HRs, 115 RBIs, 17 SBs, a Gold Glove and a fifth-place finish in the NL MVP race.
Lofty expectations intact, Headley took a step backwards in 2013, battling through thumb and knee injuries to post an unspectacular .250/.347/.400 line for the season. Nonetheless, it was initially thought that the Padres wanted to talk contract extension and build around Headley going forward. Nothing has happened on that front, and just last week the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported that there is “growing sentiment” Headley will be traded.
Whether that sentiment reflects reality or not is anyone’s guess, but if the Padres really are open to making a trade, Rick Hahn should be a-callin’. Even in a down season Headley had the 6th highest WAR among third basemen last year and could be somewhat of a “buy low” (or at least “buy fair,” which is still worthwhile) candidate.
Cornerstone third basemen are few and far between in baseball these days, and the Sox have a whole lot of nothing brewing for the position in the farm system. (Marcus Semien’s name has come up for third, but it would be more prudent for the Sox to let the fast-rising Semien continue to grow as a second baseman or shortstop, and crack the Sox when Gordon Beckham or Alexei Ramirez eventually move on, as opposed to rushing him to the big leagues at an unnatural position.)
This proposal gets you in the door:
Proposed trade: Hector Santiago, Andre Rienzo and Carlos Sanchez for Headley.
Which particular pitchers and prospects the Padres would be interested in is an unknown, but some combination of starting pitchers and middle infielders, both positions of depth in the Sox organization, would get the conversation not only started. Competition may drive the price up, but the Sox still have room to play. In fact, with Semien, Sanchez, Leury Garcia, Micah Johnson and Tim Anderson all making their way up the system, the Sox have more potential second basemen/shortstops than they need anyway.
Firmly in his prime and theoretically over any injuries, Headley should see his numbers tick higher in 2014. Baseball Analysis 101 says that moving away from spacious Petco Park to the Cell would beef up his power numbers, but I have never bought into that theory, especially if it’s part of the player’s mindset. (Ask Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Swisher and Adam Dunn how that transition worked out.) Revisiting his power numbers of 2012 is a stretch, but 20 homers and a sexy OBP over .350 seem reasonable.
Headley, seen here playing at some ungodly hour of night. // Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Together with Jose Abreu and an outfielder acquisition, this would make the Sox ostensible contenders in 2014, bringing the team out of the darkness and “embarrassment” (Jerry Reinsdorf’s words) of 2013. In the “real” contending years of 2015 and 2016, it gives the team a solid core that doesn’t require a free agency-style and payroll-crippling overpay.
Suppose 2014 doesn’t go well and an extension is not in the cards? Headley would be a valuable trade chip at the 2014 trade deadline and would probably bring back a package in the same ballpark as the one that acquired him. Suppose a deadline deal can’t be worked out? No worries again, the Sox can extend the fashionable qualifying offer after the season and recoup a draft pick if he declines and finds greener pastures in free agency.
Make no mistake, plan A would be for Headley to become the Sox long-term solution at third base. The Sox, working on comparative advantage, could even sign him to an extension right after the trade, removing any idea of a one-year rental. But contingency plans are nice at mitigating risk.
Trading for Headley allows the Sox to fill a position of great need and great scarcity, giving the team instant credibility, as third base is the position they stand to make the biggest impact with an acquisition. A catcher would be nice, and is undoubtedly on the list, but any target this side of Buster Posey will more likely be a complementary player and not a centerpiece who hits in the heart of the lineup and drives the offense.
Buy-low opportunities like this are exactly what the Sox should be exploring as they look to add value and relevance to the organization. Headley is not a superstar, but he can be an impact guy. And if he’s not? Like a Texas Hold ‘Em player with a straight and open–ended flush draw on the flop, the Sox would have a lot of “outs” (the good poker kind, not the Jeff Keppinger-grounder-to-shortstop-kind) on the “turn” (trade deadline) and “river” (qualifying offer) to work with.