Scouting The Free Agent Market: Chase Headley

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees both do and do not have a third baseman for next season. Yes, Alex Rodriguez, the team’s starting third baseman from 2004 through 2013-ish is under contract and has finished serving his suspension, but the Yankees are not counting on him to play the field at all.  “Nobody here expects him to play third,” said one team official flatly to Jeff Passan. A-Rod is 39 years old and he’s played 44 games over the last two years. It would be foolish to count on him playing the field.

So yes, the Yankees have a third baseman. But they don’t, really, so they’re out looking for one this winter. They got lucky with Yangervis Solarte for a few months this past season but probably don’t want to try that again. Brian Cashman confirmed the team has had a “brief conversation” with Chase Headley, who was so very rock solid for the Yankees after being acquired at midseason, but is a free agent with plenty of suitors. The Red Sox, Giants, and White Sox are also reportedly looking for help at the hot corner. Does bringing Headley back actually make sense though? Let’s look.

The Defense

Let’s start with Headley’s defense at third because it’ll be nice and easy. We saw him for two months this past season and he was outstanding at third base, legitimately Gold Glove caliber. He had range, first step quickness, a strong arm, the works. It was no aberration either. He’s been this good for a while and various defensive stats back it up:

Innings at 3B DRS UZR Total Zone FRAA
2010 1407.2 14 16.5 14 -0.2
2011 895.1 1 -3.8 -8 -9.0
2012 1397.0 -3 7.3 10 -6.3
2013 1235.0 5 7.0 7 -8.1
2014 1082.2 13 20.9 17 3.2

I honestly have no idea what’s going on with FRAA, the preferred defensive metric over at Baseball Prospectus. When three of the systems are pointing in one direction and the fourth is pointing in other, I’m going to throw out the fourth and stick with the other three. FRAA saying Headley has consistently been a below-average fielder throughout his career doesn’t pass the sniff test at all. Weird.

Anyway, since becoming a full-time third baseman back in 2010 — the Padres had him play a bunch of left field earlier in his career because they had Kevin Kouzmanoff at third — Headley has been solidly above-average in the field most years. He looked great at third base this year and the numbers agree. That’s good enough for me. I have no trouble accepting Headley as an asset in the field whatsoever. He’s very good.

That’s at third base. First base is a bit of a different story. (He hasn’t played left field since 2009 and I don’t think he’s going to do it again anytime soon.) The Yankees stuck him there for a few games this season and he looked inexperienced, to put it nicely. He looked inexperienced because he was inexperienced — prior to coming to New York, Headley had a grand total of three career innings at first base in his career. One inning in 2009 and two in 2012. Zero in the minors. Yet the Yankees were comfortable enough to stick him over there for 54 innings late in the season and he made the best of it. He’s a third baseman first and foremost. That part is clear.

The Up And Down (And Up Again) Offense

I’ve liked Headley for a really long time, dating back to his college days at Tennessee. He was a switch-hitter with power and patience coming up through the minors and early on in his career, and I thought he’d be a star-caliber hitter during his peak years if he ever got out of spacious Petco Park. That hasn’t happened, though Headley did have a huge year back in 2012 (145 wRC+) while playing in Petco. Here’s how his career has shaken out offensively (he became a regular at age 25):


Source: FanGraphsChase Headley

Headley progressively got better once he became a full-time player, peaked in 2012, and has progressively gotten worse since. He’s never actually been a below-average hitter though. Not as a regular. At worst he was an average hitter, once you adjust for ballpark and the offensive environment around the league and all that. There’s nothing sexy about being average, but average would be an upgrade for the Yankees, sadly.

As you know, Headley was much more productive with the Yankees after the trade than he was with the Padres before the trade this past year. He hit .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homers in 307 plate appearances for San Diego before hitting .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers in 224 plate appearances for New York. Explaining why Headley’s offense improved after the trade is a bit tricky and it isn’t all park-related.

Obviously we aren’t dealing with the biggest of samples, and I’m sure there’s a psychological component we can’t account for. Headley went from being The Man in the lineup in a terrible hitter’s park to being just another guy on a team with a good home park for hitters. Let’s look at his plate discipline and batted ball numbers to see what’s going on there:

PA GB% FB% LD% HR/FB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% Contact%
’10 674 46.1% 36.0% 17.9% 6.4% 27.6% 61.1% 44.0% 80.0%
’11 439 45.8% 32.3% 21.9% 4.3% 25.2% 62.5% 42.4% 79.9%
’12 699 48.5% 32.1% 19.5% 21.4% 25.7% 67.2% 44.5% 74.7%
’13 600 46.1% 31.3% 22.6% 10.9% 28.1% 67.2% 45.9% 74.3%
’14 – SD 307 39.3% 34.0% 26.7% 10.0% 27.6% 61.9% 44.0% 78.3%
’14 – NY 224 42.6% 29.1% 28.4% 14.6% 23.6% 61.6% 40.9% 82.4%

Plate discipline and batted ball stats are among the quickest to stabilize in baseball — they usually settle in around the 200-250 plate appearance mark, which Headley cleared in pinstripes. His HR/FB% increased after the trade and that makes perfect sense given Yankee Stadium. For whatever reason he swung at fewer pitches with the Yankees, both inside and outside the zone, and he made more contact when he did swing. Improved selectivity? The Yankees and former hitting coach Kevin Long do preach patience, after all. It’s not just about drawing walks, it’s also about swinging at better pitches.

Anyway, Headley’s offensive performance ticked up after the trade and that’s why we’re talking about the Yankees possibly re-signing him. If he came over and didn’t hit a lick, I don’t think anyone would want him back regardless of his defense. The real Headley is probably somewhere between the 90 wRC+ he put up with the Padres and the 121 wRC+ he put up with the Yankees in 2014. (For what it’s worth, Steamer projects a 112 wRC+ in 2015.) Considering the Yankees have gotten an 87 wRC+ out of their third baseman the last two years, I find it hard to think Headley won’t be an upgrade going forward. On both sides of the ball too. At the plate and in the field.

Durability Concerns

Headley has been on the disabled three times in his career and two involved fluke injuries. He missed six weeks after breaking his pinky sliding into a base in 2011, then he missed four weeks after breaking his thumb sliding into a base in 2013. Maybe he needs to spend more time on sliding drills in Spring Training or something. The third DL stint was for a calf strain this past season. He returned after the minimum 15 days.

That stuff really isn’t much of a concern. None of them are chronic injuries or anything. Headley’s back is a bit a concern even though it’s never sidelined him for more than a week, nevermind sent him to the DL. He missed a few days at the very start of Spring Training in 2012 with lower back stiffness, then missed one game with the same problem that May. More lower back stiffness sidelined him for seven days in August 2013. This past June, Headley missed four games and received an epidural to deal with a herniated disc.

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Back injuries never really get better, they just get more manageable. They affect everything too. Hitting, fielding, running, walking, sitting in the dugout … I’m not kidding when I say everything. The epidural seemed to do the trick and Headley was both healthy — he did miss a few games after taking that Jake McGee fastball to the chin, another fluke injury — and very productive after the epidural. In fact, Cashman cited Headley’s improved “hit velo” after the procedure as a reason for making the trade.

Headley will turn 31 next May, so he’s not old but he’s not a spring chicken either. Any sort of back problem is a red flag, especially when it’s slowly progressed from stiffness to a herniated disc that required an epidural. Is that enough of a reason to not sign Headley at all? Maybe, if the medicals don’t check out well. The Yankees did have him around for a few weeks, so they do know something about his injury history firsthand, which can only help them make a better decision. I don’t know how much of a red flag the back is, but I do know it’s not something that can be ignored.

Contract Estimates

I am absolutely terrible at estimating free agent contracts. Especially ones for everyday players. I’ll hit on the occasional bench player or reliever from time to time, often enough to keep me guessing, but I’m really bad at it overall. So let’s look at some other kinda sorta informed Headley contract estimations from around the web:

  • FanGraphs Crowdsourcing: Four years at $14M per season ($56M total).
  • Keith Law (subs. req’d): Three or four years at $13M to $14M per season.
  • Jim Bowden (subs. req’d): Three years at $9M per season ($27M total).

Bowden has been weirdly excellent at predicting free agent contracts the last few offseasons, so I figured it was worth it to include him here. I think he’s a bit off with Headley though. A three or four-year deal at $14M or so per season seems much more likely than a deal that only pays him $9M per year.

A four-year contract worth $46M is right in line with the contracts signed by Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson the last two winters, for reference. I think Headley has similar value as those two, though the shape of his production is different. He’s some offense and a lot of defense. Swisher and Granderson were a lot of offense and some defense. Maybe that means he won’t get four years and $56M since offense pays a lot more than defense, even nowadays.

In Conclusion

In a nutshell, Headley offers one positive (his defense) and two negatives (declining offense and bad back). His offense did improve after joining the Yankees for whatever reason and that wasn’t completely unexpected. And, again, Headley has never been a below-average hitter since becoming a regular. Even at his worst, he’s been league average. A league average hitter with above-average defense is a very good player and a big upgrade for the Yankees. It basically comes down to how comfortable the team is with the health of his back.

The Yankees have a clear need at third base in the short-term. Their top third base prospects are Eric Jagielo and Miguel Andujar, who figure to open next season with Double-A Trenton and High-A Tampa, respectively. There are also some questions about whether Jagielo will stick at the hot corner long-term. Point is, the Yankees need a third baseman in 2015 as well as 2016 and probably 2017 as well. Counting on prospects who are several years away is no way to operate. Wait until they’re knocking on the door before worrying where they fit.

Unlike Pablo Sandoval, who seems destined for a five or six-year contract at $16M+ per season, Headley figures to come on a shorter contract that is more payroll friendly. He fills an obvious positional need and will greatly improve the team’s awful infield defense while improving the offense to a lesser extent. Considering Sandoval and Headley are the only no doubt third basemen on the free agent market both this year and next — the best free agent third basemen next winter will be David Freese, Aramis Ramirez, and Juan Uribe, assuming Adrian Beltre’s option vests — it makes sense for the Yankees to push their chips into the middle of the table and plug a potentially long-standing hole this winter.

Cashman Speaks: Robertson, Kuroda, Headley, Young, Injuries, Coaches

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The GM Meetings started in Phoenix yesterday and among the items on this year’s agenda are reviews of the new home plate collision rule and the pace of game rule changes being tested in the Arizona Fall League. The league will also conduct their annual umpire evaluations. There’s a lot of official business that goes on at the GM Meetings and they aren’t as hot stove-y as the Winter Meetings in December.

That said, when you have all 30 GMs plus a bunch of agents in one place, talks do happen and the ground work for a lot of deals is laid. In fact, the three-team trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York five years ago was first broached at the GM Meetings. Brian Cashman arrived in Phoenix yesterday and spoke to reporters about a bunch of topics, some of them actually interesting. Here’s a recap, courtesy of Wally Matthews, Ken Davidoff, Mark, Feinsand, Barry Bloom, and Brendan Kuty.

  • On possibly re-signing David Robertson: “I would have no clue what his market value’s going to be. Certainly they would have an idea. They turned down the qualifying offer based on a lot of parameters, I’m sure, some of which have been discussions they’ve already had in the window that they’ve had the chance to have discussions. So it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell … We have not had any level of conversation about expectations of a multi-year deal. For whatever reason, they never presented anything to us, nor did we to them.”
  • On Robertson, the pitcher: “The one thing we do have a feel for is how good of a player he is, how good of a person he is, how great of a competitor he is. In the New York environment, he’s not afraid. He checks every box off. He came in behind Mariano Rivera. (It was a) seamless transition. That’s certainly no easy task. All those things obviously went into our level of comfort, despite being a reliever, of offering (the qualifying offer). Great deal of respect and obviously we’ll engage him now in the marketplace.”
  • On next year’s closer: “Right now, we don’t have to name a closer for 2015 yet. Let’s wait and see how the negotiations take with David before I start trying to worry about who that is going to have to be. We’ll have somebody closing games out in 2015. We hope whoever it is is the best candidate possible. We have some people you can give that opportunity to if we’re forced to internally, but let’s wait and see where the conversations take with David first and go from there.”
  • On Hiroki Kuroda‘s future: “I’ve talked to his agent. Kuroda’s process is he takes the early portion of the winter to relax and get his mind clear, and then at some point, kicks in about making a decision about playing — playing in the states, playing in Japan. I think he’s probably still going through that mental cleansing process. But I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play. Let him make a decision first and foremost. We’ll see what kind of money we have and all those things. But I think anybody looking for a starter should have an interest in Hiroki Kuroda.”
  • On possibly re-signing Chase Headley: “We’ve had a brief conversation. Chase is on our radar, but I think he’ll be on a lot of radars just like Robertson, just like (Brandon) McCarthy. These guys have all put themselves in a position to have successful conversations this winter. We’ll be a part of the process, whether we’re the ones they re-up with or not, I can’t predict. We’re certainly looking forward to continuing the dialogue.”
  • On re-signing Chris Young: “(Analysts) Steve Martone and Mike Fishman pushed for me to sign Chris. They felt, from an analytical standpoint, his year wasn’t as bad as it played out, that there was a potential bounce-back situation with it. We signed him up on what we think is a fair-market value, fourth-outfielder type contract. We wanted a right-handed bat with power, which doesn’t exist much in the game anymore, it seems like. He fit that category. Our coaches are comfortable with him, he played well in the small sample that we had him in September, so he certainly earned the right to come back, and I’m glad that we both were able to find common ground.”
  • On Stephen Drew and the shortstop market: “I don’t think this past season reflects what (Drew’s) true ability is. Stephen is someone that we’ll have a conversation with. Scott Boras has been in touch, we’ll stay in touch and see where it takes us … I think it’s a limited market, and I say limited in terms of availability or acquisition cost. To me, I would describe the shortstop market as limited. It’s a limited market. We’re going to talk with the available free agents, and we’ll talk as well, trade with other teams.”
  • On the outfield: “I think right now, we’re kind of settled in the outfield unless something surprising happens in the case of a trade, which I wouldn’t anticipate. So I think we’re currently pretty well set with our outfield. Obviously we have a desire to get younger as a team.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka‘s health: “Tanaka’s a question mark. Typically, the problems occur in the throwing program, when they get back on the mound in the rehab process. If you can get through that, and the rehab games, he should be okay. Obviously, he got through two Major League starts. So that gives us hope. But there’s no guarantee.”
  • On Carlos Beltran‘s elbow: “I have no concern about Beltran’s health, (though) we probably should have had him have the surgery early on. Unfortunately, the health issue came up and we chose the route that let him fight through it and have him fight through it. In hindsight, we probably should have let him have the surgery early on. But he’s a tough guy.”
  • On CC Sabathia: “Sabathia’s supposed to be fine. He had a knee cleanup. It’s just really, can he ever regain pitching at the front end of the rotation versus what we saw in the last year and a half? But he’ll be healthy.”
  • On the coaching staff: Cashman said they are still in the process of interviewing candidates for both the hitting coach and first base coach jobs. They have not made anyone an offer for either position yet. It’s been one month and one day since Kevin Long and Mick Kelleher were fired.

Free Agent Updates: Lester, Scherzer, Sandoval, Shields, Robertson, Headley, McCarthy

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

The Yankees officially extended the $15.3M qualifying offer to David Robertson yesterday but declined to make the offer to Hiroki Kuroda. If Robertson signs elsewhere, the Yankees will receive a supplemental first round pick as compensation. Hopefully that pick will be able to pitch high-leverage innings in 2015. Anyway, here are some various free agent updates and rumors, courtesy of George King, Mark Feinsand, Jon Heyman, and Brendan Kuty.

  • The Yankees “have no plans to pursue” big name free agents Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, and Pablo Sandoval this winter. There’s been talk the  team would stay away from the top of the free agent market, but this could always be posturing. The Yankees don’t have much to gain by saying they’ll pursue these guys. It only creates more leverage for the players.
  • David Robertson said things are “quiet on the front” when asked if he and the Yankees have had any talks about a new contract. At least six teams already have interest in the right-hander, which is not surprising. Big market contenders like the Tigers, Dodgers, and Nationals all need help in the late innings.
  • The Yankees are focused on re-signing Chase Headley and have already started contract negotiations. That doesn’t mean they’re close to a deal, of course. Headley has said he’s open to returning to New York as long as he isn’t a part-time player. The presence of Alex Rodriguez may complicate things.
  • In addition to Headley, the Yankees also want to re-sign Brandon McCarthy and they plan to “aggressively” engage him in contract talks. There’s no word if the two sides are currently discussing a deal. McCarthy is arguably the fourth best free agent starter behind Lester, Scherzer, and Shields, so he’ll be a popular target this winter.
  • David Huff‘s agent Jim McDowell has spoken to the Yankees about next season and said the “feedback was really positive.” Huff is not a free agent; he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time and is projected to earn only $700k next year. He’s still a non-tender candidate despite the affordable projected salary.

Joe’s obligatory off-season wish list

Let’s cut to the chase: The Yankees need help this off-season. Even after doling out four large contracts last year, they need even more help. With free agents officially allowed to sign with any club, the off-season has begun. What better way to kick it off than with a RAB wish list.

Here we go, in priority order.

Priority #1: Shortstop

For the third straight off-season, shortstop is a position of need for the Yankees. For the past two off-seasons the presence of Derek Jeter has prevented the Yankees from addressing that need in any real way. They now have the opportunity to improve the position. They need it, too: they tied Detroit for lowest OPS at SS in the AL, by 74 points. Jeter’s poor defense is also an easy fix.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts that the Yankees will sign Hanley Ramirez.

In a way, it’s tough to see. Ramirez, 31 in December, will command a six- or seven-year deal, probably comparable to the one the Yankees gave Jacoby Ellsbury last off-season. Will they pony up again, for a player who missed nearly half of 2013 and about 20 percent of 2014 with injuries?

Last off-season the Yanks spent big on two position players entering their age-30 seasons. It’s tough to see them going down that path again.

They could trade for Troy Tulowitzki, but he’s signed to a six-year, $118 million deal. The Rockies won’t just give him away, either. He, too, has missed plenty of time due to injury in the last three years. So while his remaining contract is more palatable than what Ramirez will command, the cost in players will make acquiring him less desirable.

To improve production at shortstop, they don’t need too much. There’s no direction to go but up — unless they plan to install Brendan Ryan as the everyday SS. The challenge is finding a player who can provide that kind of upgrade at a reasonable cost in dollars or players.

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Free agent choice: Stephen Drew. Yes, he was bad in pinstripes. Yes, he might be better with an actual spring training. He can play defense and has hit well in the past. He’ll also get nothing more than a make-good contract, again, so he’s a potential bargain. He’s certainly a better bet than Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera, who will both get bigger contracts and are both not very good on defense.

Trade choice: Didi Gregorius. Not many teams have spare shortstops, but the Diamondbacks do have a number of youngsters. It seems they have the most interest in trading Gregorius, which is sensible given his service time and mediocre bat. But again, that bat is considerably better than what the Yankees produced at SS in 2014, and plays seemingly average defense, there could be a match.

Priority #2: Starting pitching

(Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
(Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

The following starting pitchers on the 40-man roster, with MLB experience, will be back with the Yankees next year: CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Masahiro Tanaka, Chase Whitley, Shane Greene, Bryan Mitchell, David Phelps. There is also Ivan Nova, but he might not be back until the All-Star break following Tommy John surgery.

That’s not exactly a group you can rely on. Of those eight, five spent significant time on the DL in 2014. Whitley is not someone you want starting in anything other than an emergency situation. Mitchell has what, one start? Greene might be good as a fifth starter, but the Yanks need guys ahead of him.

It seems pretty clear, then, that the Yankees need to upgrade at starting pitcher. They might want to do so in a major way, too.

Step One: Re-sign McCarthy. Whatever went on between McCarthy and Larry Rothschild worked. McCarthy enjoyed his time in NY and thinks the two sides are a great fit. Get this done, and get another solid starter in the rotation.

Step Two: Sign Jon Lester. MLBTR predicts the Yankees sign Scherzer, and that’s a possibility. But Lester has AL East experience, is a lefty, and doesn’t come with a draft pick price tag. Competition for his services will be high, but the Yankees should be right at the top of the pack.

Priority #3: Another infielder

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

Relying on Alex Rodriguez to play even 81 games at third base is a mistake. They could start him there and put Martin Prado at second base, moving Prado to 3B and calling up Rob Refsnyder or Jose Pirela to play 2B when A-Rod gets hurt. But it might be best to plan on A-Rod playing no third base and deepening the infield corps.

We learned recently that the Yankees have begun negotiations with Chase Headley, and that makes plenty of sense. With him manning the hot corner, and Prado at 2B, the Yankees have strengthened the infield considerably without even addressing shortstop. A modest upgrade there, and some improvement from Teixeira, will go a long way to improving the team’s most glaring 2014 weakness.

What about Refsnyder? Prado is versatile, and has covered third base and the corner outfield positions in the past. Should the Yankees face an injury there, he can slide over and make room for Refsnyder. The idea isn’t to block him — he needs a chance to prove himself — but instead to create a strong starting corps and let Refsnyder act as depth.

Priority #4: Bullpen

(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

The Royals proved what Yankees fans have known forever: a lockdown bullpen can carry an otherwise unremarkable team. Yet rarely will a team go through a season with three lockdown guys not getting hurt or overworked. The Royals got lucky. The Yankees need options.

Step One: Re-sign David Robertson, whether to the qualifying offer or a multi-year deal. He’s proven his mettle in New York, and the Yankees could use a closer like him.

Step Two: Sign Andrew Miller. Going into the season with a bullpen consisting of Robertson, Miller, Dellin Betances, Jacob Lindgren, Adam Warren, and Shawn Kelley will provide them with a deep core, allowing them to test guys like Jose Ramirez and maybe even Manny Banuelos.

Even after a busy off-season in 2013, the Yankees need even more in order to avoid missing the postseason for a third consecutive season. If they insist on keeping payroll even with 2014, then they have no shot. If they open the purse strings and expand payroll to near-Dodgers levels, then they could very well surpass their AL East foes.

This isn’t the only plan, but it’s one that helps address the Yankees needs without getting into the $300 million range. The Drew idea won’t be popular, but if it means not signing Hanley to a huge deal and having enough money to sign a top tier starting pitcher, isn’t that worthwhile?

A-Rod reinstated, ten Yankees become free agents

Now that the World Series is over, Alex Rodriguez has officially been reinstated off the restricted list by MLB and the Yankees. He was originally suspended 211 games for his ties to Biogenesis, but it was reduced to 162 games during an appeal. A-Rod would not have been eligible to play in the postseason had the Yankees qualified. He now counts against the team’s 40-man roster.

In other news, a total of 121 players became free agents at 9am ET this morning. Here’s the full list. Ten of those 121 players are Yankees: Chris Capuano, Stephen Drew, Chase Headley, Rich Hill, Derek Jeter, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy, David Robertson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Chris Young. No surprises there at all. Martin Prado, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Slade Heathcott all have to be activated off the 60-day DL if they haven’t been already. So, after all of that, the Yankees have 35 players on their 40-man roster.

2014 Season Review: Solving The Third Base Problem

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the second straight season, the Yankees did not have Alex Rodriguez at third base on Opening Day. He missed most of last year following hip surgery and all of this year due to his 162-game Biogenesis suspension. The Yankees tried to replace A-Rod with Kevin Youkilis (remember that?) last year but that failed when he predictably went down with a back injury. This year they took a more subtle approach to replacing Alex by signing Kelly Johnson.

But, as they tend to do, things did not go according to plan. Yangervis Solarte hit his way into regular third base duty while Johnson spent much of his time filling in for the injured Mark Teixeira at first base. Solarte mashed for a few weeks, so the hot corner wasn’t an issue. He stopped hitting after a while and Johnson never really got going, so by early-June, third base was a problem. Solarte, Johnson, and a smorgasbord of others (Zelous Wheeler, Scott Sizemore, etc.) combined to hit .261/.331/.395 through the team’s first 98 games and were trending downward.

Then, prior to Game 99, the Yankees added a permanent solution by (finally) acquiring Chase Headley from the Padres in exchange for Solarte and Single-A righty Rafael DePaula. New York and several other teams had been pursuing the switch-hitter for years — there’s no doubt San Diego missed the opportunity to trade him for maximum value two years ago — and in fact a number of clubs were hot after him at the trade deadline. The Yankees were able to get the deal done and he was in the lineup that night.

Headley’s impact was immediate. He arrived at Yankee Stadium in the middle innings of that night’s game against the Rangers, pinch-hit for Wheeler in the eighth inning, and still managed to get four at-bats when the game went into extra innings. Headley started that day in Chicago with the Padres. Here’s how he ended it with the Yankees in New York:

A walk-off hit in your first game with a new team with one helluva way to make a first impression. That was a pretty wild day for the Yankees and their fans. I can’t imagine what it was like for Headley.

Headley took over as the regular third baseman — he also filled in at first base on occasion — and showed right away that he was a top notch gloveman. The Yankees hadn’t had an above-average defensive third baseman since A-Rod was in his prime before Headley arrived, and he made every routine play and more than a few spectacular ones as well. After playing so many guys out of position at the hot corner — Youkilis was a natural first baseman, Solarte and Johnson are second basemen by trade — it was nice to see someone play third competently.

Of course, there were questions about how much Headley would be able to contribute offensively. He had a monster year with the Padres in 2012, hitting .286/.376/.498 (145 wRC+) with 31 homers, but he dropped down to a .250/.347/.400 (114 wRC+) batting line with 13 homers in 2013, production that was on par with his 2008-11 output. Before the trade, Headley hit .229/.296/.355 (90 wRC+) with seven homeruns in 77 games for San Diego while battling a back issue that required an epidural. History suggested there was more there offensively and the back injury suggested that maybe there wasn’t.

The Yankees rolled the dice and while talking to reporters following the trade, Brian Cashman cited Headley’s improved “hit velo” as a reason for making the deal. The team’s internal metrics showed Headley was hitting the ball harder as he got further away from the back injury that seemed to continue after the trade. Following the walk-off hit in his first game with the Yankees, he went 9-for-26 (.346) with two doubles and a homer in the next seven games before putting up a .233/.343/.344 (97 wRC+) line with four doubles, two homers, and 14 walks in 27 August games. Headley hit this walk-off homer in early-September:

About a week later, Headley took a 96 mph Jake McGee fastball to the chin and was on the ground for several minutes. He had to be helped off the field — the plunking led to the game-winning rally, as Chris Young swatted a walk-off three-run homer a few batters later — and it looked very bad, but tests showed no fracture and eventually a concussion was ruled out as well. Headley needed two stitches and there was some nice bruising around his chin and neck, but he escaped with relatively little damage.

After returning to the lineup four days later, Headley went 12-for-41 (.293) with two doubles, two homers, and eight walks in his final 13 games of the season. He hit .279/.410/.441 (147 wRC+) in September overall and finished the season with a .262/.371/.409 (113 wRC+) batting line in 58 games with the Yankees. Headley had eight doubles, six homers, a 12.9% walk rate, and more standout defensive plays than I care to count during his time in pinstripes. WAR isn’t perfect, yadda yadda yadda, but he finished with 2.1 bWAR and 2.8 fWAR with the Yankees and I can totally buy him adding 2-3 wins to the team in those 58 games between his bat and glove.

Those 2-3 wins didn’t get the Yankees into the postseason but it helped keep them relevant a little longer than they should have been. Solarte hit .267/.336/.355 (101 wRC+) for San Diego and DePaula had a 6.54 ERA (5.36 FIP) in eight High Class-A starts after the trade. I’m guessing both teams are pretty happy with the deal. The Yankees got an actual third baseman who improved their chances of contention in 2014 while the Padres received a cheap, versatile bench-ish player and a lottery ticket pitching prospect. Headley didn’t get the Yankees into October and the Padres didn’t get as much for him as they could have a year or two ago. That’s baseball.

Headley was a pure rental who will become a free agent in a little more than two weeks now. He has said he is open to returning to the Yankees but he doesn’t want to be a part-time player, and A-Rod complicates that. The Yankees have said they view Alex as a DH but that doesn’t really mean anything to Headley. Other teams will pursue him for their third base opening with no strings attached, and the lingering uncertainty of A-Rod could lead to Headley signing elsewhere this winter. If he does, so be it. That’s life. There is definitely a place for him on the team going forward though (at the right price, like always) and based on what I saw down the stretch, I’d welcome him back with open arms.

Headley indicates willingness to return, doesn’t want to be “a part-time guy”

Via Dan Martin: Chase Headley indicated a willingness to re-sign with the Yankees following the team’s season finale last weekend, but made it clear he wants to be an everyday player. “I know they have a player under contract,” he said, referring to Alex Rodriguez. “We’ll see how that shakes out. We’ll see what my role would look like … I want to be a guy that plays. At what position? Obviously, third base I think is my strongest position. I don’t want to be a part-time guy.”

Headley, 30, hit .262/.371/.398 (121 wRC+) with six homers while playing top notch defense in 58 games for the Yankees this year. Joe Girardi said the Yankees are counting on A-Rod to be their third baseman next season but that’s just a ruse — saying otherwise would give guys like Headley and Pablo Sandoval more leverage. In fact, Nick Cafardo says the team views Alex as a DH until he proves otherwise. There’s an obvious place for Headley on the roster and in the lineup, but I think he’s going to wind up getting three or maybe even four years from someone. Free agent contracts always end up bigger than expected and I think clubs will look at him as buy low candidate with standout defense and switch-hitter who showed more life with the bat outside Petco Park.