The Chase Headley Conundrum


Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be a story for the entire season. As the Padres go through the 2014 season, either battling for a playoff spot or fighting to stay near .500, they will be constantly answering questions about what to do with their leader, the man who’s been with the franchise since 2005. Do they trade him? Do they sign him to an extension? How much of a distraction is this going to be?

As a fan, this is kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it would be amazing to see Headley recreate his 2012 season and hit 31 homeruns. It would be a sign that he’s healthy, that he’s finally become the player that everyone wanted him to be when he first came up in 2007. It would be proof that those nagging injuries were what kept him from excelling last year and that 2012 wasn’t a fluke.

It would also mean that 2014 would definitely be his final season as a Padre.

Chase Headley, with another 30 homer season, with something close to 100 ribbies, with an OBP over .350, would be fielding offers from numerous teams, especially ones with far deeper pockets than the Padres.

Actually, that’s not true – the Padres have more than enough money to match any offer that comes from another team. But they won’t. They’ll talk about being in a smaller market, suffering from less gate revenue, and they’ll ignore their huge TV deals and hope no one calls them on it. And they’ll say goodbye to Headley, move Gyorko over to third, and happily slide Cory Spangenberg into second. They’ll save a huge amount of payroll and talk about how this is the youth movement they’ve been building towards.

Fans will moan and complain online and on San Diego call-in shows, but they’ll all accept that this is just what it means to be a Padres fan. We always watch our stars leave town when they get too expensive. Bye, Jake Peavy. Bye, Adrian Gonzalez. When players get expensive, they never stay in San Diego.

The irony is that this would actually be the worse-case scenario. We get one great year of Headley, probably watch the Padres fall short in a playoff bid, and then say goodbye without getting anything back. Nothing helps the long term growth of the team and the lack of playoff games doesn’t help sell tickets. It’s almost a lose-lose situation.

As crazy as it sounds, the best thing to happen, if Headley is having a monster season, is for the rest of the team to fall apart. Maybin stays hurt, Quentin joins him on the DL along with Street, Johnson’s a mistake, Venable regresses, and Hundley plays more than Grandal. Headley becomes the lone bright spot on a 65 win team that starts looking to deal assets by the trade deadline.

Now imagine this perfect world. The Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers are all fighting for playoff spots but, in each case, they’re suffering from third base problems. Will Middlebrooks and Nick Castellanos struggle in full time roles and the Yankees realize that their retreads in the infield can’t handle this much playing time on a contender. So the phone calls start and the Padres get to sit back and wait for the highest bid. More young talent comes to San Diego, Headley gets to play for a contending team, and he probably even signs a big contract extension as part of the trade.

Ugly, yes. In the short term. But in the long term, it’s probably best for the franchise.

The only way Headley’s back in 2015 is if he has a worse season than he had last year. It’s the only way he’ll take the offer the Padres will put on the table. You know that even if he plays like in 2011, some other team will swoop in and make him a 5 year, $60M offer. It’s the market price for a 2-win player. And you know the Padres don’t match it.

What we’re seeing here is the price that the Padres are paying for bad ownership, or lack thereof, from the last ten years. The team was almost constantly behind the curve, making decisions that lacked any real long term focus. Drafts were run with a focus on saving money rather than amassing talent. Any time a player was locked up to a favorable contract, they were traded far before the contract came close to ending. We’re only seeing Hundley finish his extension because no other team would pay him $4M a season.

If the Padres had been interested in keeping Headley for the rest of his career, the contract should have been ironed out in 2010. They should have bought out his arbitration years and the first few years of free agency. They should have made that commitment years ago. We wouldn’t be talking about any of this and, instead, would be thinking about how we won’t have to worry about a Headley contract until 2017 at the earliest.

But they didn’t. They were running the team like baseball teams of the past. And now it’s come back to haunt them.

So let’s all enjoy the final Chase Headley season in a Padres uniform. Cheer for him, applaud him, enjoy the little things that he does so well. But don’t be surprised when, this time next year, he’s fielding ground balls in Florida.