Is Chase Headley Pushing His Luck by Refusing in-Season Extension Talks?

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Is Chase Headley Pushing His Luck by Refusing in-Season Extension Talks?
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Chase Headley doesn't need the San Diego Padres' darn money.

Not right now, anyway. Even though the Padres are eager to give him their money, and lots of it. By refusing it, Headley is creating an awkward situation that he could come to regret later.

Need to be caught up on what the heck I'm talking about? Very well, then.

On Wednesday, Bill Center and Chris Jenkins of the San Diego Union-Tribune produced a report that the Padres were planning to make Headley a contract offer that would make him the richest player in club history. Their source was none other than Ron Fowler, executive chairman of the Padres.

Fowler said that a "mulit-year" deal was being prepared and that it would be offered "before midseason." He added:

Will it be 10 years? No. We're not going to do something like that. But we will do an offer that will be the largest offer we've ever made to a player in San Diego history and think it will be very close to some of the numbers I read in the press.

Center and Jenkins, members of the press as good as any, were kind enough to toss out some numbers: five to eight years and a starting point of $15 million per year.

For the Padres, that's serious money. The most expensive salary the club has ever paid was $11 million to Jake Peavy in 2009 as part of a four-year deal. Headley's deal would blow that one out of the water.

But Headley isn't prepared to bite. He told Corey Brock of MLB.com on Thursday that he's flattered, but that he doesn't want to talk dollar signs during the season.

Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.
"We made it abundantly clear [before] that we didn't want to talk about it during the season," said Headley. He added, "I didn't think that for me and for the team that it was good to get caught up with all of this during the season."

So on one side, you have people who want to give a star player a contract worthy of a star. On the other side, you have a star player saying, "Nah. I'm good."

It's a song we've heard before, and the motivations of both sides are easy enough to read.

The Padres know that Headley is their best player, and signing him long-term would be a great way for Fowler, Peter O'Malley and the rest of the club's new ownership to prove to the fans of San Diego that there really are new sheriffs in town.

There's also the reality that the timing is right to get something done with Headley now. His stock is already high thanks to his excellent 2012 season—in which he posted an .875 OPS with 31 homers and an NL-high 115 RBI—but it could go even higher if he continues to rake this season.

To that end, Headley is off to a darn good start with a .913 OPS and three homers through his first 13 games.

But there's where it's easy to see Headley's motivations. His public stance may be that he doesn't want the distraction, but the truth is probably that he doesn't believe his value has hit its peak yet. He's probably thinking that he can do better than five to eight years at $15 million per year.

And he may be right, but he's going to have to want to play ball if he wants to get that money from the Padres. And if he doesn't do business with them, he could find his business interests taking a turn for the worse.

If Headley continues to refuse to negotiate during the season, the Padres may not wait until the offseason rolls around to kickstart talks again. Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com has the right read on it in speculating that Headley's unwillingness to negotiate could be his ticket out of San Diego this July:

A trade this year could make sense for the Padres. If they're out of it come the trade deadline and Headley's still not talking, the Padres could get an impressive collection of prospects if they trade him as a season-and-a-half rental. The longer they hold on to him, the more his trade value will dip. He could also become even less receptive the closer he gets to free agency.

If Headley already means to become a free agent after the 2014 season, a trade during 2013 could come back to bite him.

Headley wouldn't be eligible for a qualifying offer if he were to be traded midway through 2014, as they can only be made to players who have been with the team all season. If he gets dealt midway through this season, he could find himself with the same team all year next season and, thus, eligible for a qualifying offer.

We learned this past offseason that qualifying offers can be bad for business, as teams shied away from chasing after players tied to draft-pick compensation. Guys like Nick Swisher, Adam LaRoche and Michael Bourn ended up with deals that felt like bargains next to what they may have gotten in years past.

If Headley gives the Padres no choice but to trade him this year, he too could have his free-agent market negatively impacted by draft-pick compensation.

On top of that, there's the possibility that Headley won't be the only star third baseman on the market. Unless they sign contract extensions, Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval are slated to be right there with him on the open market after 2014. If all three hit the market, it's going to be hard for any one of them to orchestrate an epic bidding war.

Could it all work out for Headley in the end?

Of course it could. It's just that the dominoes would have to fall a very certain way, and Headley's not entirely in control of his own destiny. He can keep hitting the cover off the ball and keep extension talks at bay, but he wouldn't be able to stop the Padres from dealing him this July if they so desired.

So why play hard to get? If they Padres are willing to offer fair market value, why not take it while the taking is good?

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
To give you a more precise idea of what kind of deal we're talking about here, Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors took a crack at narrowing down a potential contract for Headley.

Adams pondered that the Padres could use Evan Longoria's and David Wright's recent deals and value the four seasons beyond 2014 at $17 million per year. Combined with a projected $13 million salary for Headley's final arbitration year, that's an $81 million deal over five seasons.

However, the Padres could tack on a $17 million option for 2019 with a $4 million buyout, which would guarantee Headley $85 million. That's how much Andre Ethier got from the Los Angeles Dodgers last year.

That sounds like a perfectly fair deal now. Headley might get better than he's already shown, but he doesn't have the track record of a Longoria, a Wright or even an Ethier. If the Padres want to give him a big contract based on barely more than a season's worth of excellent production, Headley should be willing to let them.

It's his life and his bank account, but Headley is risking straying into "Told you so" territory by refusing to talk.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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