The Curious Case of Chase Headley


The Padres have had a long history of doing something I like to call “making mistakes”. I know I’m probably not the person who coined this phrase and I’m completely positive I won’t be the last one to use it. What makes the Padres mistakes so incredible is that it seems they almost refuse to learn anything from them. It’s with this admittedly sad outlook that I head into every season expecting the Padres to either trade their best players or sign their worst to long term deals.

Which brings us to this season and two players in particular: Cameron Maybin and Chase Headley.

(I know a lot of people might think Nick Hundley should be in this mix, but he’s not. With Yasmani Grandal, Jason Hagerty and Austin Hedges all in the organization Hundley might quickly find his way out. That is unless he hits thirty homeruns this season and then we can do what San Diego does best – trade him to the Mets for a middle reliever!)

But, let’s begin by looking at one of the rare smart moves the Padres made this decade by extending Cameron Maybin. In Maybin the Padres saw a centerfielder who had the exact tools needed to be successful at Petco. He has a lot of speed, a great glove and from time to time will provide some pop. To lock him down for a few years made sense for not only the team, but for Maybin himself. Honestly, his particular set of skills might only work in Petco. So, the marriage of Maybin and San Diego worked and everyone knew it would, it just came down to paying a fair amount of money for a player who might not be good anywhere else.

This brings us to Chase Headley and here’s where it gets a little more complicated.

In 2007 the Padres had a problem. I mean, they had several problems but this one seemed to take up a lot of the media’s time and no one had a real solution. They had a ‘Third Base Debacle’. But, to really understand 2007 you have to go back even further all the way to 1999. Oh, the 90’s. Here we go.

The Third Base Debacle in San Diego started post-Caminiti and has made absolutely zero sense. For some reason management has always given the impression that we need a third basemen, and the fans have always bought into this. Starting in 1999 Nevin was hitting out of his mind for the next four seasons until Kevin Towers insisted we bring up Sean Burroughs. We needed Sean Burroughs. He was going to save the team…from…having Phil Nevin play third base? Whatever the reason was we got two good seasons from Burroughs followed by an injury he could never quite recover from and then came Vinny Castilla. In 2006 Castilla shared time with Mark Bellhorn and they both compiled a whopping 12 homeruns and .228 average. This was the first time since Caminiti left that we actually needed a third basemen. Enter Kevin Kouzmanoff and 2007. There was a controversy at third because we already had Chase Headley, an uberprospect and natural third basemen, waiting in the wings. So, keeping Kouz at third we shoved Chase into the outfield and surprisingly this experiment worked really well for almost two full seasons. Both players had solid numbers and were progressing nicely. Now if you’ve been following along, all this great productivity means its time to get a new third baseman! Luckily we had the next guy about eighty feet away so Kouz was shipped off to Oakland and Chase had sole ownership of the hot corner. Then Chase’s 2011 campaign was marred by injuries and it left the team brass with a bad taste in their mouths.

Which, time travelers, brings us back to this season and once again the Padres have a problem. I mean they have several problems but this one they seem to not care too much about. Should they or should they not extend Chase Headley?

Now, I like Chase Headley. The fans like Chase Headley. Chase Headley for all intensive purposes is a good baseball player. He’s a solid defender, an average bat with just enough pop to be considered a threat and he plays hard. So, why are the Padres so willing to push him aside?

The only actual reason I can think of is because they don’t want to pay him. Chase is making over $3 million this year and becomes arbitration eligible at the end of the season, which means the team could end up paying more for a player they for some reason don’t really want. But, not extending Chase now is a bad move for two reasons: 1) There is no prospect waiting to take over. Jedd Gyorko is not ready and even if he was there is nothing to tell us he’d be better than Chase. 2) You run the risk of an arbitrator overvaluing Headley. However, I don’t think one would actually suggest that Chase’s value would be much more than around $5 million a year. He’s not David Wright, hell he’s not even David Freese. So, technically we’re still getting a bargain at a position with no other apparent options. So, what is it? What’s the hold up? Is it on Chase’s end? Does he want more money than he’s worth? Probably. But, if you’re Chase Headley you also have to understand that no one else is going to pay you what you want either. You think Milwaukee is going to give a 28-year old third baseman who’s never hit over .270 or 12 homeruns for an entire season more than $5 million a year? Well, they might.

I do like Chase Headley, but do I think he’s the future? Not anymore. Do I think he’ll ever be the player everyone thought he would be in 2007? Not in a Padres uniform.

Which is how this thing is going to play out, because the best thing for Chase Headley would be to leave. Go somewhere else and try to put up better numbers in a more hitter-friendly park. He has about two more years before everyone gives up on him. And he also knows the Padres already have and look at him as a placeholder who just never worked out. Which is upsetting, because he’s the best hitter on our squad, which is actually upsetting on another level.

As much as I’d like him to stay being a clutch player and a hard-nosed player on the team I root for, it’s just not going to happen. No, the Third Base Debacle and the parade of mistakes absolutely must march on. Sans the anomaly that was the Maybin deal we must continue this deep rich tradition of getting it almost right. Chase is the past, and now it’s time we go out and get the third basemen we’ve always wanted – Scott Rolen!

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