Padres Finally Deal Headley, Receive Pennies on the Dollar They Once Had

Despite posting 7.2 WAR just two years ago, Chase Headley was dealt to the Yankees in return for two fringe players. What happened?

Once a hot commodity who could have fetched a king’s ransom on the trade market, Chase Headley's departure from San Diego was met with little fanfare and little return.

Two short years ago, Headley was in the early stages of a breakout second half that would temporarily thrust him into stardom. But stardom was a label that left him as quickly as it came.

Nevertheless, having shown that he is capable of stardom, the Padres opted to hold on the their third baseman following his breakout campaign. The hope that Headley was the franchise player they so desperately need faded as quickly as his run production, as the former face of the franchise has been nothing more than a defensive-minded third baseman this season. His 31 home runs in 2012 are a distant memory, and yesterday’s trade marks the unfortunate ending to the player’s tenure that once held so much promise.

Although it's only fair to judge transactions, or in this case a lack of a transaction, at the time when they occur, the trade of Headley for a journeyman minor league free agent and a fringe prospect will be a black mark on this organization for years to come. There is no telling what type of return they could have receive if they had traded him following the 2012 season, but it surely would have left the still GM-less Padres in a better situation than they are today.

This isn't to say that the Padres shouldn't have made this trade, as it's rational for a non-contender to trade all free-agents-to-be in almost all cases. Rather, it proves that opting not to sell the player when his value is at its highest and instead waiting and selling when the players value is at its lowest has dire consequences. The Padres clearly didn't expect Headley’s value to drop this much, but this was a risk of their decision to not trade him. And it was a risk that ultimately led to the Padres receiving next to nothing for their former star.

Headley’s Demise

Headley is still a very good defender, but his offensive output has fallen off of a cliff since the 2012 season. Once a legitimate power threat, Headley’s 31 home runs and .498 slugging percentage have dropped all the way to seven home runs (on pace for 13) and a .355 slugging percentage this season.

A surprising aspect of this is that Headley’s line drive rate is way up this season at 26.7%, but his BABIP is way down to .285. This could be labeled as a fluke, but this could also be a sign that he simply isn’t hitting the ball with as much authority (exit velocity) as before. Line drives are categorized by their trajectory and hang time, not exit velocity, meaning that not all line drives are hard hit balls that are likely to fall for hits. This means that line drives by Ben Revere and Giancarlo Stanton are categorized the same way, even though line drives by Stanton are clearly preferable and more likely to result in hits than those from Revere.

One way to show that his power is diminished is to examine his batting average on batted ball types. His results from his breakout 2012 season and the current campaign are shown below.

Batted Ball Type20122014
Ground Balls0.2470.173
Fly Balls0.3570.229
Line Drives0.7840.63

When broken down by batted ball type, it's a bit more difficult to simply chalk this up to a fluke. If poor luck is the culprit, it seems odd that it would affect all batted ball types at similar rates.

Instead, this suggests a lack of power. I believe the reason for Headley’s lower batting averages across all batted ball types is that instead of hitting hard ground balls that are likely to find a hole, he's hitting more soft ground balls that are likely to be converted into an out. The same principle holds true with fly balls and line drives. He is hitting more line drives, but if these are merely soft liners, it is foolish to expect a high percentage of them to fall for hits.

The ZIPS and Steamer projection systems expect a slight increase in offensive output from Headley, which is unsurprising considering his track record. An expected rest of season slash line of roughly .250/.330/.395 is nothing to get excited about, but at least Headley won’t be a black hole on offense.

Headley adds value on defense, as he has totaled seven defensive runs saved in 2014. He is an upgrade over Yangervis Solarte, if for no other reason than he is a proven commodity that is unlikely to flame out. The Yankees are a better team because of this trade, but Headley will not be the one to lead the Yankees to the postseason.

The Return

In return for Headley, the Padres acquired Solarte and pitching prospect Rafael De Paula, neither of whom can be expected to provide much impact or be a significant part of the Padres’ next contender.

Solarte, a journeyman infielder, filled in admirably for the Yankees during the year of the Alex Rodriguez suspension, but has seen his production fall after a hot start. He gives the Padres a present replacement for Headley at the hot corner, but if he sticks with the club long term, it's unlikely to be as an everyday player.

De Paula, the more interesting player with the higher ceiling, is a 23-year-old right-hander in High-A. His strikeout numbers are terrific, as he has a 10.52 K/9 through 89 innings, but his walk rate is inflated at 3.84. Depending on the development of his command, he could be a starting pitcher at the Major League level, but if not he has a good chance to be a useful reliever.