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Can Headley Break Out? Again?

The case for another big year from the Savior.


It's no surprise to people who have been following the Chase Headley saga, but it appears that the Padres will hold on to their prized third baseman. The odds of a trade or extension happening in this offseason were never that great - Headley followed up his best season as a major leaguer with an injury-plagued and across-the-board less effective 2013. Coupled with the fact that he is set to reach the verdant pastures of free agency in just a year, there wasn't much incentive for Chase to lock himself into a deal coming off a down year. This is probably the same calculus that prevented the Padres from seeing eye-to-eye with a trade partner. One side will view Headley as the dark horse MVP candidate he was in 2012, while the other will see him as an offensive generalist with a good glove and quiet, workmanlike approach to the game. Nonetheless, the persistent "will they or won't they" trade rumors have basically hooked fans with titillation the way vampires and abstinence hook teenage girls.

From the Padres perspective, you almost want to see him put up a season where he bats .275/375/.425 rather than a repeat of the .286/.376/.498 he posted in a homer-happy 2012. Part of the beauty of a Headley-like player is that his game is typically so devoid of flash and flair that he manages to stay undervalued relative to his production. It's the same reason NBA generalists like Andre Igoudala earn so little in free agency relative to their actual in-game impact - the #StealthSuperstar effect. If Headley was a much worse player who hit a lot more home runs, the Padres probably would have already traded him and gotten an undeservedly large haul.

The strange part of Headley's 2012 is that he was basically the same Chase Headley he always was... he just hit more home runs. For most of the season he wasn't even doing that - 8 home runs before the All-Star Break, and 23 homers in the second half. His batted ball numbers never really deviated from his career norms, other than the HR/FB ratio which jumped so high you would think I was joking.

Signs point to 2012 being a bit of an anomaly. Obviously, Headley is capable of being a great slugger when he's firing on all cylinders. As a 23 year old he posted a Trumbo-like .249 ISO in the Texas League. Chaysus manages to be very productive when he's not hitting home runs, but his game rises to a whole other level when he drives the ball with authority. Down the stretch in 2012 he seemed to carry the entire team offensively, like MC Ren after Ice Cube left NWA.

Should Padres fans say goodbye to the slugging "Hollywood Headley" and accept the "I work the count like a REAL AMERICAN" version of our savior? Am I just making up dichotomies to set up a scenario somewhere in the middle? Headley's isolated power stat was .150 in 2013, almost exactly in the median between his 2012 number and his previous career average.

In 2014 Headley won't be dealing with the broken finger that sidelined him to start 2013. He'll also have a year hitting in what appears to be a much deeper lineup, ostensibly getting him better pitches to hit and more runners on base in front of him. With the right field fences moved in, Headley has virtually eliminated his home/road split, and looks to come up big in his walk year. The Padres haven't gone "all-in" just yet, but by keeping Headley in the last year of his deal and adding short-term pieces like Seth Smith and Josh Johnson, GM Josh Byrnes is signalling that he thinks this team can win some games in the more or less wide-open NL West. A healthy and motivated Chase Headley in the middle of the order could be a significant piece in the next winning Padres team.