The Two-Year Black Hole at Third Base Should Not Compel the Yankees to Overpay for Chase Headley

Now that Pablo Sandoval has signed with the Red Sox, the free agent market for third basemen looks like this:  Chase Headley and – gigantic step back – everyone else (Juan Francisco, Jack Hannahan, Kelly Johnson, Donnie Murphy, Mark Reynolds).  The teams in need of an upgrade at third base include the Braves, Marlins, Yankees, Giants, Astros, and Angels.  In other words, although demand is high, supply is low.

For this reason, the rumor swirling around the Winter Meetings that Headley has a four-year contract worth $65 million on the table does not necessarily seem unbelievable.

If this report is true, the Yankees would be – and I’m paraphrasing Cypress Hill here – insane in the brain to even think about approaching the universe of that offer.

By giving away only a recently signed minor league free agent (Yangervis Solarte) and single-A pitcher projected to be a reliever (Rafael De Paula), Headley was a slick and low-risk acquisition by Brian Cashman at last season’s trade deadline.  Certainly, Headley provided a slight jolt to the Yankee lineup, and compared to the dreadful performances of the Yankee third-basemen for the prior two years, Headley played rather admirably during his short stint in pinstripes (.262/.371/.398/.768 with 6 home runs in 191 at-bats).

But, let’s not let the memories of the David AdamsJayson Nix duo or the Solarte-Kelly JohnsonZelous WheelerScott Sizemore collective wholly distort our perception of reality.

Yes, compared to his predecessors, Headley looked like Mike Schmidt.  However, make no mistake about it – Headley is merely a league-average hitter.  Chasing the ghosts of his 2012 miraculous season (31 home runs, 115 RBI, .875 OPS) or hoping for an offensive surge in his age-31 season are not sound strategies for success.

The reality is that, outside of 2012, Headley has never hit more than 13 home runs or slugged higher than .420 in a season.  That seems like pretty meager production to justify a $16.25 million-per-year commitment.

The recent ineptitude of the Yankee third basemen and the uncertainty surrounding Alex Rodriguez (age, time away from the game, multiple hip surgeries, etc.) rightly have the Yankee front office petrified of entering yet another season without a bona fide starting third baseman on the roster.  But fear of the unknown should not be a justification for overpaying Headley.

On paper, Headley and the Yankees could be a good match.  The Yankees need a starting-caliber third baseman and, based on all reports, Headley acclimated himself well to New York and his teammates at the end of last season.  From Headley’s perspective, playing his home games at Yankee Stadium can only help his offensive production.  Since he is only 30 years old, if Headley performed well over the course of a three year deal, he could re-enter free agency with a realistic chance to obtain another multi-year contract.  The potential for another payday has to be a factor in Headley’s current decision making.

All that having been said, despite coming off of two sub-par seasons, Headley is not signing at a discount and is not signing a one-year “prove-it” deal.  Due to the utter lack of available third base talent, Headley is in a position to be paid like a top-five player at the position.  But, he is simply not worth a four-year commitment or anywhere near the dollar amounts that have been suggested.

Unless something dramatically changes, the Yankees should not let prior poor decisions at third base dictate another poor decision.  The Yankees should sit this one out and allow another team overpay for Headley’s services.

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