With the All-Star break upon us and the MLB trade deadline just two weeks away, baseball trades are a hot topic this week. But instead of dissecting rumors or breaking down looming deals, let's look at what might have been had the Padres and Diamondbacks completed a blockbuster deal back in January involving Padres third baseman Chase Headley and former Arizona Diamondback Justin Upton. Would the deal have given San Diego a brighter 2013 season?
Back in January, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the D-Backs organization was in talks with the Padres about a Justin Upton-Chase Headley swap. Naturally, this blockbuster deal waiting to happen caused a firestorm across the baseball world.
Trading for a rising star would have been a first for the Padres in a significant amount of time, but it would have meant unloading a fan favorite in Chase Headley, who led the NL with 115 RBI in the 2012 campaign. Of course, the deal never came to fruition, and Justin Upton was subsequently dealt to Atlanta, reunited with brother B.J. in a seven-player deal.
Justin had an unbelievable April, hitting .298 with 12 home runs. However, his numbers over the past two months have come back to earth—and then some. His current line stands at .255 with a total of 16 homers, just four of which came after his impressive April.
Headley stayed in San Diego and signed an $8.5 million deal over one year—a move that makes the Padres front office look extremely smart today.
Headley missed the first few weeks of baseball with a hand injury, and his return to third base did not mean a return to 2012 form. It is fair to say he has been an absolute letdown, hitting under .230 and showing no signs of power that he displayed in the second half of last season.
Despite holding off on long-term contract negotiations, the Padres front office decided to keep the 30-year-old infielder—a move that equally makes GM Josh Byrnes look foolish.
Headley's trade value was naturally at its highest point around January, the same month when an Upton-for-Headley conversation was being discussed. Was keeping Headley the right choice, or could Justin Upton have been just what the doctor ordered in San Diego?
Headley's low batting average and lack of power are a disappointment in comparison to the player we witnessed in 2012. But those stats don't paint the entire picture.
The Padres cannot score more runs than the opposition unless batters hit with men in scoring position. In 2013, Headley has hit a dismal .235 with RISP and .205 when there are two outs. He has accumulated 26 strikeouts when runners stand on second or third and has yet to record a hit when the bases are full of Padres.
His elevated strikeout count, inability to hit in the clutch and reduction in power all point to decline in performance and trade value. His (could-be) successor, Jedd Gyorko, has outperformed Headley in his first year in the pros at second, all while struggling likewise with hitting when it matters (with RISP). Gyorko just completed his time off the DL and is currently hitting .272.
If young Justin Upton had been dealt to San Diego, his likely position would be in right field, a spot currently occupied by a platoon of Chris Denorfia and Will Venable.
Denorfia has a solid bat against left-handed pitchers and has done what the majority of Padres hitters haven't been able to accomplish: hitting with runners in scoring position. In fact, he has a higher BA with runners in scoring position (.328) than when the bases are empty (.246).
Denorifa has been a solid contributor and a valuable bat off the bench when needed for situational hitting. However, he is 34 and in the twilight of his career.
Venable, who is also in his 30s, has been mediocre with the bat, and not in the future plans for San Diego.
In conclusion, the major problem facing the Padres hitters has been hitting with runners in scoring position. Hitting .254, San Diego has to be more consistent and more clutch when it comes to scoring runs. The Padres can't rely on the long ball to score the majority of their runs, so the .254 with RISP is an important statistic, one that Justin Upton does little to bolster.
Furthermore, the inconstancy in the rotation and bullpen is what has crushed any hope of a Cinderella story in 2013 for the Padres. Dale Thayer, Luke Gregerson, Huston Street and Joe Thatcher have all done their part to blow late leads in relief. Pitching has become a glaring issue in San Diego, which once housed the best bullpen in the NL.
Acquiring Upton in January could have been helpful, but it's hard to believe Arizona would have settled for just Chase Headley, a fan favorite in San Diego, without demanding additional players or prospects.
That deal would have also given high expectations to a club that has an excellent chance of competing for a World Series a few years down the line, when injuries have mended and prospects have developed into everyday contributors.