What Chase Headley's Signing Means for Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees
Welcome back to the majors, Alex Rodriguez! Enjoy the bench, good sir!
Right after A-Rod gets reinstated, the Yankees agreed to a four-year, $52 million deal to bring Chase Headley back to the Big Apple. He just so happens to play the same position as the exiled ex-slugger. Interesting.
What does this signing mean for these two guys and the Yankees in general? Let's take a peak.
Headley Is a Great Signing
It's not often that you see a quality signing in free agency. Headley can serve as an exception based on the money he's being paid and the value he provides.
The start of Headley's season in 2014 was gross to the max. He hit .186/.250/.314 with a .255 wOBA in April. That's not worth $52, much less $52 million.
Headley turned things around at the plate to finish out the year strong. His walk percentage in August and September gravitated back to where it was in his monster 2012 season. This helped him post a .265/.367/.402 slash the second half of the season with a .346 wOBA.
Sure, Headley used Yankee Stadium as a bit of a fluffer (.265/.390/.434 slash in 136 plate appearances), but he was still among the best Yankees hitters last year.
Even though he only played 58 games, Headley still had the fourth-highest offensive rating on FanGraphs. This is both an indication of Headley's increased offensive abilities relative to the beginning of the season and the general ineffectiveness of the Yankees' offense.
All of that is well and good. If Headley can keep up what made him Gucci offensively in the second half, he's an above average hitter. But that's not what makes this a top-notch contract. That, mis amigos, would be Headley's unparalleled defensive abilities.
Unparalleled, for once, is not hyperbole in this instance. It's a fact. Not a single player in all of Major League Baseball accounted for more defensive runs saved last year than Headley at 22.8.
His UZR/150 was 28.0; the second-highest rating in the league was Juan Lagares at 25.3. His UZR/150 was 10.67 percent higher than any other player in the league. Let that sink in for a second.
Let's narrow this focus down to just third basemen. Obviously, Headley was at the top. But the distance by which he achieved that label is, again, mind-numbing.
Josh Donaldson is awesome defensively at the hot corner. He had a UZR/150 of 13.3, which was the second highest in the league. That was less than half the rating of Headley. Basically, based on his UZR/150, Headley was twice as good at third as any other player in the league. That, combined with an above average bat, gives you a guy that should more than reward the Yankees for their sizable investment.
The Beginning of the End
Most all aspects of Headley are positive for the Yankees. As you could probably assume, the same cannot be said about good ol' Alex.
Not only has Rodriguez not swung a bat competitively in over a year, but he wasn't very effective the last time he did so.
Rodriguez finished 2013 with a .342 wOBA in 181 plate appearances after returning from his hip injury. That's the same wOBA he had in 2012, when he recorded 529 appearances.
While this isn't a terrible number, it's still lower than the mark Headley posted in the second half of the year last year. Even after you account for some regression (Steamer projects Headley at a .333 wOBA for 2015), Headley's defense puts him years beyond Rodriguez as an every-day player. A-Rod won't be seeing much time at third this year.
So that leaves open designated hitter and first base. As if the Yankees didn't already have enough guys that would need at-bats there.
Each of these guys is either past his prime or has an injury-riddled history. Or both. Which is great. It's the "Too Many Cooks" of old baseball players.
The best way to save these guys is to plug them in the designated hitter role, and voila. Preservation.
That would squeeze A-Rod pretty badly for at-bats. But is that necessarily a bad thing? You don't know what you're going to get from A-Rod. If he comes back and starts mashing taters again, then it makes the decision to keep one of the others out of the line-up rather than use them at designated hitter becomes a whole lot easier.
If he stinks, then you're paying $21 million for a bench player. But you're going to end up paying him that regardless. It's a sunk cost. If you're going to have to pay that anyway, why not make the team around him better by finding a bargain on the free agent market?
Bringing Headley back gives the Yankees the best chance to compete this year. If they could add another arm into the rotation, then they would be even closer.
We don't know yet if A-Rod brings them closer. That's why this Headley signing is so smart. It (cheaply) improves one position while allowing for a certain degree of uncertainty (in the positive sense) with A-Rod. It's far better to have that uncertainty in a bench player, and that's exactly what A-Rod will be once April rolls around.