With an offense that ranked near the bottom of most statistical categories in 2011, the San Diego Padres don’t figure to have a lot of bats that would be in high demand on the trade market, at least not ones with major league experience. The one universally recognized exception to that rule is third baseman Chase Headley, but Jon Paul Morosi and Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports indicated over the weekend that the Padres would be hesitant to move their switch hitter.
Headley, 27, had just four home runs in 381 at bats for the Padres in 2011, but set new career highs in average, OBP, and OPS. As a second-time arbitration-eligible player, and coming off a season where he earned just over $2.5 million, Headley can expect to clear over $3 million in 2012. But the cash isn’t the only reason that trading Headley this winter would make sense for the club.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Headley has struggled with the specter of playing half his games at Petco Park. In his career, Headley hits .229 at home, while struggling to a .655 OPS. In almost the exact same number of road games, Headley has produced a .303 batting average and .805 OPS. This past season, that contrast was even more stark, as Headley posted an average 87 points higher on the road and an OPS that was 170 points higher.
Those home/road splits make Headley even more attractive to opposing clubs, who see a solid defensive third baseman in the prime of his career and envision a breakout offensive player if he can be freed from Petco Park. The Padres also have a trio of players ready to push for big league at bats and could afford to move Headley to allow guys like Logan Forsythe or James Darnell to play in the big leagues. Jedd Gyorko is a better third base prospect than either of those two, who project better at other positions, but he is at least a year away from the major leagues. If all else fails, the Padres could use Jesus Guzman as a stop-gap third baseman in 2012, which would keep last year’s best hitter in the lineup while still having room for Anthony Rizzo at first base.
But perhaps the biggest reason for entertaining the idea of moving Headley is the haul he’s likely to bring. There are a good umber of clubs that are looking for an upgrade at third base and Headley, should he be made available, could be the most sought-after of the options. Free agent Aramis Ramirez headlines the list, but he comes with a steep price tag and aging body. Headley is affordable and is only just now entering his prime. He would also come with three years of team control, all of which at a much lower salary than the one Ramirez figures to land on the open market. MLBTR listed the Marlins, Angels, Tigers, Rockies, and Cubs as teams looking for new third basemen.
Ideally, I think the Padres would prefer to hang on to Headley for at least one more year while Forsythe, Darnell, and Gyorko can more fully develop in the minor leagues, but the stock might never be higher on Headley than right now. His price tag, his splits (which make him more valuable to other clubs than his own club), and the dearth of viable alternatives make this a seller’s market for Headley and the Padres. For a team that doesn’t figure to contend in 2012, and doesn’t need to keep the player long-term, trading Headley now seems to be the right move to make.