To Re-Sign Or Not To Re-Sign: Chase Headley

Headley vs TEX In addition to their 2 qualifying offer candidates, the Yankees have a handful of free agents to be who are either not eligible for or not worthy of QO consideration.  Some of these players could be and probably should be high priorities for the Yankees this coming offseason, and they'll warrant serious consideration for being re-signed, especially since they don't come with draft pick compensation attached.

Since the format for the QO case posts stimulated a lot of good debate, I think we'll stick with that to break down the rest of these free agent cases.  First up from this list of non-QO guys is Chase Headley.  He shined in 58 games after being acquired before the trade deadline and was the first consistent above-average producer at the position for the Yanks since 2011-2012.

Case For:

  • Major Defensive Upgrade- Headley was an elite-level defensive player in 2014.  His 13 defensive runs saved was 3rd best among qualified third basemen and his 28.0 UZR/150 was tops.  He has consistently rated as an above-average defensive third baseman in his career and would be the best defensive Yankee third baseman since prime A-Rod.
  • Solid Offensive Production- Hit .262/.371/.398 in 224 PA for the Yanks and .243/.328/.372 for the season in 2014.  Career .265/.347/.409 hitter (114 wRC+) with a 10.3% BB rate and average-to-slight plus power as a switch hitter.
  • No Definitive Internal Replacement- Between A-Rod, Martin Prado, and Jose Pirela, the Yankees have a few guys who CAN play third next year, but none of them project to be full-time players at the position and needs elsewhere could force Prado and Pirela away from being a reliable third base option.
  • Durability- Has played in at least 113 games in each of the last 6 seasons and played in 140+ in 4 of those 6 seasons.

Case Against:

  • Anticipated Market- Headley will be among the top players available at his position.  His past performance and current status as an all-around above-average player in his prime should push him into the 4-5-year contract range.
  • Production Projection- Since his career-best 2012 season (145 wRC+, 7.2 fWAR, top 5 MVP finish), Headley has been on the decline.  That year looks more like the ceiling outlier in his career, and the recent decline entering his 30s could be the start of long-term production regression.
  • Lingering Health Concerns- Part of the reason for the recent decline has been injuries.  While he has been able to play through them, Headley's battles with leg and back problems have negatively impacted his performance and are a legitimate concern going forward.
  • Uncertainty About Playing Time- Headley has stated he wants to play somewhere where he'll be the starter and receive regular playing time.  The Yankees' uncertainty with their roster makes them unable to guarantee that.

Headley is unquestionably the Yankees' best current option at third base.  He's an excellent glove man who provides balanced, above-average production as a flexible hitter.  His patience is welcome in a lineup that has lost some of that in the last few years, his attitude and demeanor are good things to have in the clubhouse, and he showed no signs of not being able to handle playing in New York.

The Yankees have the advantage of knowing Headley better than any other team out there.  They scouted him for a long time before finally acquiring him, and there were multilple reports of in-depth analysis of his contact rates and hit locations post-back surgery to determine if that was a major red flag before pulling the trigger.  It is this knowledge advantage that may ultimately determine how hard the Yankees compete for Headley once free agent season starts.  For 3-4 years around $30-45 million, he's a safe investment.  For 4-5+ years at $50-70 million, he's significantly less so and there may be teams out there who are willing to give that to him.

No matter what they decide their limits are in terms of years and dollars, it's the playing time question that's going to determine whether or not Headley seriously considers returning.  The Yankees need to clear that situation up if they plan on pursuing Headley.