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Thursday, May 2, 2013
Padres need to lock up Chase Headley

By David Schoenfield

So the Padres are on record as saying they'll make Chase Headley a big contract offer at some point this season, which I guess is sort of like promising a girl you're going to ask her to marry you some day: Well, what are you waiting for?

Headley
Headley
Headley is a free agent after 2014 and had his breakout season last year, hitting .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 115 RBIs, impressive numbers for having to play half his games in the Petco canyon. Headley's road numbers were even better (.300/.395/.541, 18 HRs), on par with what Miguel Cabrera put up with the Tigers (.327/.384/.529, 16 HRs). Headley ranked eighth in the majors in road slugging percentage, sixth in OPS and tied for sixth in home runs.

So it was a monster season, but that's the dilemma the Padres face: It's been one season. Is the power surge for real? He'd entered 2012 with 36 career home runs in 1,883 at-bats, so the 31 home runs came from nowhere, and 19 of those came in August and September. While Headley missed the first couple weeks of the season with a thumb injury, he's off to a good start, hitting .280/.373/.540 in his first 13 games, with three home runs. Small sample size, but so far he looks like the hitter of the last two months of 2012.

Even if his output is legit, there is risk to signing Headley to an extension similar to the 8-year, $138 million extension the Mets gave David Wright in Decemeber. Headley turns 29 in a few days, so he's a lot older than you may think. He's only 17 months younger than Wright, for example, so there's the possibility he just had his career season and just have a short 2-3 year run of excellence. I bring up Wright since I expect his deal is a likely starting point for Headley's agents. After all, they had similar value last season according to Baseball-Reference WAR: Wright at 6.9 and Headley at 6.2; from 2010-2012, Headley actually has the higher total at 12.8 to 11.6, some of that advantage coming with the glove.

For the most part, Headley has been a durable player, playing 156, 161 and 161 games in 2009, 2010 and 2012, missing a few weeks in 2011 with a broken finger. Which gets back to the bat. If you believe he's not going to go all Joe Mauer and revert back to more singles and fewer home runs, a contract in the Wright neighborhood seems reasonable; the Padres probably don't have to go quite that high, but you're still probably looking at seven years at close to the $17.25 million average that Wright received (some of his dollars were deferred as well).

From a baseball standpoint, the Padres could try and trade Headley, but at some point don't you have to try and win and stop building? Like Wright, Headley has become the symbolic face of the franchise, and there is probably value in keeping a guy like that around for a small-market franchise. The Padres already have a young, inexpensive team and the pitching should improve once guys like Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland eventually return. They need major leaguers, not prospects.

Headley provides a middle-of-the-order bat -- harder to find these days than a No. 1 pitcher, it seems -- and with him, rookie second baseman Jedd Gyorko, catcher Yasmani Grandal, first baseman Yonder Alonso and left fielder Carlos Quentin you have what shapes up as a pretty good offensive core. And Gyorko, Grandal and Alonso are inexpensive for several years.

This seems like a deal that can get done. Even if Headley has to wait for the official proposal.