Yankees Try to Catch Lightning in a Bottle with Chase Headley

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

Stan Liu/AP Images

Despite an injury-plagued first half of the season for the New York Yankees, the team is still very much in the American League East race, and it appears they will be buyers at this season's trade deadline.

The team pulled the trigger on a trade for San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley on Tuesday afternoon, sealing the first of what could be a number of upcoming deals.

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports was the first to break the news, with the terms of the trade coming shortly thereafter:

The two players going the other way in the deal and mentioned only by last name are early-season hero Yangervis Solarte and High-A pitcher Rafael De Paula.

De Paula, a 23-year-old right-hander, was ranked as the Yankees' No. 15 prospect heading into the season, according to the Baseball America Prospect Handbook.

With the Padres kicking in $1 million in the deal, the Yankees will only be on the hook to pay Headley $2.97 million for the remainder of the season.

"It's bittersweet," Headley told Bryan Hoch of MLB.com. "On one hand, there's not many people in the game who get to play in one organization for as long as I did. I loved every second in San Diego, all positive memories. But on the same token, I'm excited to move on to a team in a race right now."

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This is the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal, as the Yankees are hoping a change of scenery and a chance to play for a contender can awaken the player Headley was during the second half of the 2012 season.

For those unaware of his studly second-half exploits that year, they are worth recapping one more time.

After a so-so first half in which he hit .267/.368/.413 with eight home runs and 42 RBI, Headley exploded for a .308/.386/.592 line that included 23 home runs and 73 RBI in 75 games after the All-Star break.

Headley led the National League in RBI, won a Silver Slugger award and finished fifth in NL MVP voting, making him one of the most talked-about names of the offseason trade market heading into 2013.

In the end, the Padres opted against moving him or re-signing him, something they could afford to do with Headley under team control for two more seasons at that point.

Not giving him a big-money extension proved to be a brilliant move. The same can't be said for the decision not to sell high, as it may go down as one of the franchise's biggest regrets since they shipped a shortstop by the name of Ozzie Smith to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1981.

After battling injuries during spring training, Headley was never able to get things going at the plate last year. He finished the season with a .250/.347/.400 line with 13 home runs and 50 RBI in 520 at-bats. The Padres decided to hold on to him this past offseason in the hopes that he could rebuild some value in a contract year.

Headley hasn't been able to increase his trade value, and the Yankees saw an opportunity to buy low.

With Alex Rodriguez suspended for the year and a thin free-agent market at third base, the team opened the year with the aforementioned Solarte seeing the bulk of playing time at the hot corner. When he inevitably cooled down, the team turned to the versatile Kelly Johnson as their primary third baseman. All told, the cumulative production at the position has not been great.

New York Yankees Third Basemen
2014 CombinedMLB Rank

Those numbers may not seem overly terrible, but when you take away the first two months of the season in which Solarte hit .299/.369/.466 with six home runs, 26 RBI and 22 runs, the production at the position has been minimal in June and July.

Yangervis Solarte was a nice story early-on, but his production has fallen off significantly since May.
Yangervis Solarte was a nice story early-on, but his production has fallen off significantly since May.Al Bello/Getty Images

On the surface, it may not seem like Headley is much of an upgrade.

The 30-year-old is hitting just .229/.296/.355 with seven home runs and 32 RBI on the year, good for an 88 OPS+. However, he is batting .323 with six extra-base hits in 15 games this month, and the move to Yankee Stadium could certainly help the switch-hitting Headley.

"I think he can deliver the long ball and I think this ballpark is more conducive to that than where he came from, but I think he's a guy who can impact you offensively with his plate discipline and his batting average," GM Brian Cashman said, via Lou DiPietro of YES Network. "Chase is a switch-hitter who can spray the ball all over the place, and that's what he's been doing; I don't see him as a big thumper, but he's an upgrade."

One would think the spacious Petco Park could be to blame for his limited production, as Cashman suggested, but he actually put up a higher OPS at home in 2013 (.763 vs. .731) and has done so again this year (.660 vs. 643).

Still, leaving the worst offense in baseball has to be a welcome move for Headley. The Yankees have not exactly lit the world on fire at the plate this year themselves, but entering play on Tuesday they have still scored 100 more runs this season than the Padres.

Even if Headley continues to be subpar at the plate, he still represents a significant upgrade for the team defensively in an infield that could certainly use the help.

Defensive Comparisons
Kelly Johnson1.26.420.3
Yangervis Solarte-0.10.6-3-0.2
Chase Headley8.619.770.8
FanGraphs and Baseball Reference

Both Johnson and Solarte came up as second basemen and did an admirable job filling in, but there is little doubt Headley is a better option with the glove.

The Yankees have now acquired both Headley and right-hander Brandon McCarthy in July, and chances are they are not done dealing.

The latest rumor has them attached to Chicago White Sox left-hander, John Danks, according to Heyman. The need for starting pitching is obvious with Hiroki Kuroda the only member of the Opening Day rotation still standing.

Through it all, the Yankees are still just four games back in the AL East standings and 2.5 games back for the second wild-card spot.

If Headley can come in and make an impact anywhere near what Alfonso Soriano did when he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs last July, it would go a long way toward making them serious contenders.

One thing is for sure: After spending nearly $500 million to shore up the roster this past offseason, the last thing this Yankees team wants to do is miss the postseason for a second straight season.

*All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference, unless otherwise noted.

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