Commentary

Chasing the top position player

Four contending teams targeting Padres third baseman Chase Headley

Updated: July 28, 2012, 12:07 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

Editor's note: Jayson Stark will be writing a Daily Rumble each day leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

Normally when the phrase "best position player on the market" is uttered in the final week of July, it's not about a guy who needs a name tag for most of America to identify.

Check out the list of best bats dealt before the trading deadline over the past five years and you'll see what I mean:

This year, Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante and Jim Thome have already been traded, so the "best position player on the market" is …

[+] EnlargeChase Headley
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireChase Headley leads the Padres in batting (.267), homers (12), RBIs (51) and runs (48).

Chase Headley. You were expecting maybe Albert Pujols?

I nominate the Padres' third baseman for this distinguished honor, even though names such as Justin Upton, Justin Morneau, Stephen Drew and Shane Victorino are kind of available -- and could get more available over the next 72 hours.

I nominate Headley even though his handy-dandy ESPN.com player page says he has never hit more than 12 home runs in a season, never compiled an .800 OPS, never made an All-Star team and never had a batting average higher than .289.

And I nominate him even though there's an excellent chance that, if he sat next to you on an airplane, you wouldn't know him from a traveling condiment salesman.

There are still compelling reasons Headley has ascended to the top of this list -- the most important of which is this:

He is going to get traded.

The Padres haven't acknowledged that, naturally. They're portraying him as a guy who is only 28 years old, can't be a free agent until the winter of 2014-15 and fits easily into their payroll, since he is making just $3.475 million this year.

But that's what any team would say if it were trying to get the biggest possible return for a hot July commodity. The truth is that this is the perfect time and the perfect place for Padres GM Josh Byrnes to move Headley.

He is a switch-hitter with similar left/right splits. He has hit nine homers in 177 at-bats away from Petco Park, has a .497 road slugging percentage and an .871 road OPS. He plays a position that about one-third of the franchises in baseball are desperate to fill.

No wonder teams have been lining up from La Jolla to Chevy Chase to take a run at him.

Several sources identify the four teams that are chasing him most aggressively as the A's, Orioles, Pirates and Indians, with other teams hanging around the showroom in case the planets line up right in the next few days.

You read that correctly: A's, Orioles, Pirates and Indians -- four clubs that haven't exactly been perennial buyers this time of year.

The Dodgers had serious interest until they dealt for Ramirez. The Diamondbacks and Phillies checked in but didn't match up. Even the Yankees, it appears, at least kicked the tires after Alex Rodriguez got hurt but had no appetite for filling that hole with any sort of megadeal.

Make no mistake: Megadeal is almost a mild description of what the Padres have in mind.

As the Daily Rumble reported Thursday, the Padres are looking for at least an approximation of what they got for Mat Latos last winter -- a package that brought them three highly regarded prospects (Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger) and their No. 1 starter, Edinson Volquez.

While the Padres might not equal that haul, the clubs in this hunt understand Headley won't come cheap. As one interested GM put it, they know these teams are "not bidding against themselves."

Of the four primary bidders, the Pirates and Indians appear less motivated to do this now than they might over the winter. But Oakland and Baltimore haven't backed off, because adding a player such as this, whom they can control now and for two more seasons, is exactly what they're shopping for.

The Padres have assembled their top scouts and advisers over the past 24 hours. Crunch time has arrived. They have told teams their plan was to spend Friday sifting through offers and narrowing the field before getting down to business. Talks will go "at least into the weekend," said an executive of one club in this mix.

So don't touch that remote. The fate of the "best position player on the market" is about to be determined, even as millions of Americans ask, "Chase who?"

Friday's Rumblings

Braves

• The Braves might not have announced on anybody's radio show that they've moved on with Zack Greinke, the way they did for Ryan Dempster, but they are telling teams that they're turning their focus away from the rotation and are shopping more for bullpen and bench pieces. That would be an indication they have no interest in dealing Julio Teheran for a rental player. It's also an indication that they will have a tough time convincing themselves they can re-sign Greinke in the wake of the Cole Hamels contract.

Josh Johnson
Johnson

• The Marlins' price tag on Josh Johnson remains so over the top that an official of a team that has spoken with the Miami brass reiterated our estimate that Johnson is 95 percent sure to remain a Marlin. Two players the Marlins are working hard to move are Carlos Zambrano and Carlos Lee. Remember, the Cubs are paying virtually all of Zambrano's salary. One exec who spoke with the Marlins said they have two teams interested in him. A Zambrano deal would allow them to move Jacob Turner into the big league rotation. Ricky Nolasco is also eminently available.

• According to an executive of one team that spoke with the Rangers, they are focused primarily on Greinke and James Shields. With Evan Longoria's return imminent, the odds of Shields being moved are dropping.

• The Dodgers and Cubs remain in a holding pattern on Dempster. Unless Dempster wavers on his willingness to go to Atlanta, the Cubs and Dodgers will have to find a creative solution to their stalemate, because there's no indication L.A. plans to give up its best pitching prospect, Allen Webster, when the Cubs have nowhere else to send him.

Alfonso Soriano
Soriano

• The Cubs continue to push to find a destination for Alfonso Soriano, who is on a tear at the moment (nine extra-base hits in 42 at-bats since the All-Star break). The bad news: Soriano has $36 million coming in 2013-14. The good news: The Cubs are offering to eat all but $2 million of it -- and might take it all if they get the right prospect.

• The Phillies are still considering trading Shane Victorino before the deadline. It appears they'll wait a few more days before making that call. One executive who spoke with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. reports, "I don't even think Ruben knows what he's going to do."

Padres

• The Padres continue to talk with closer Huston Street about an extension. They have told clubs they would prefer to sign him, but if they can't reach an agreement, they are likely to move him in the right deal. San Diego isn't going to deal Edinson Volquez or any starting pitcher unless it's blown away.

• Clubs that have spoken with the Reds report that GM Walt Jocketty "feels a need to do something" between now and the deadline. This is a team with lots of items on its shopping list: an outfielder who could lead off, a left-handed bat off the bench and starting pitching depth. They have even poked around for a middle-of-the-order bat who could hit behind Joey Votto, but that species is extinct in this market.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com