CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman filed a report saying that the Padres made a contract offer to Chase Headley this winter after the two sides agreed to a contract for the 2014 season. According to the report, which cites sources familiar with the talks, the offer was for 3 additional years (2015-2017) for "somewhere between $33 million and $39 million". The report also claims the sides are "nowhere close to a deal" and Headley is believed to asking "seeking something well in excess of that offer," but does not cite any source that validates that claim.
This reported offer, while a considerable amount of money, comes up short in a few respects. First off, it seems to have fallen short for Headley and his camp since it was not accepted. Secondly it comes up short with regards to a claim that Padres managing partner Ron Fowler was quoted in the San Diego Union-Tribune as making early May of last year. That claim was that the club was prepared to make Chase Headley the "highest-paid player in franchise history."The highest paid player in franchise history was Jake Peavy who signed a 3 year $52 million extension that also picked up an $8 million option on a previous contract. 4 years, $60 million is greater both in total value and average annual value than 3 years, $40 million. Thirdly, it falls short of what many expect Chase Headley to command in free agency, thus making it seem like a low ball offer. And lastly, I think it falls short in the fans' eyes. Fans are tired of the team being cheap and would like the team to offer contracts to potential or actual free agents that are at least competitive with what other teams offer.
That being said, a Headley contract extension is a tough nut to crack. His performances have been a mixed bag. He has never been a bad player, but one that has had the bar set high. From his rookie days in 2008 when he looked to be the answer to some of the team's offensive woes to 2012 when he showed the ceiling of what he he is capable of doing. A player like that, one where you have a hard time projecting how he will perform in the future, is one that is hard to assign a dollar value to. And when it comes to tens of millions of dollars over a number of years, one wants to only spend that when uncertainty is at a minimum. So, after a 2013 season where Headley did not come close to repeating his 2012 form, it makes sense that the Padres would want to hedge their bets some. It makes sense that the have a desire to keep Headley, to still pay him handsomely, but not break the bank.
On the other hand, Headley will only get this opportunity once. He turns 30 next month and has an chance this offseason to have teams compete for him with dollars in hand to acquire him during his prime years. It's an alluring proposition. Some of those teams out there have the financial capability to take bigger risks with their money than the Padres do. Why should he limit himself by only hearing what the Padres can offer? Even if the market for his service is not as big as expected, that offer from the Padres may still be waiting for him. It is practically a no-brainer for him to ignore nearly any offer the Padres make with only one season between him and a free agent feeding frenzy.
From an outsider's perspective evaluating this offer is difficult. On one hand, you know the team, money notwithstanding, would be best served to bring back Chase Headley. There does not seem to be a clear way to replace what he brings to the team, especially in the immediate future (i.e. the 2015 season). The team would also be best served if it does not have to pay him like an All Star-caliber player since Headley has not shown that he can consistently be that type of player. In fact, he has never even made an All Star team. However, the expectation is that a professional baseball team should not act cheap. The teams know the risks/rewards of signing Headley and they have some idea what the free agent market will bear for him. The expectation is that the team should be making an offer that both they can live with and that they think can persuade the player to sign. Anything less can only be seen as a failure. Either a failure to understand the market, failure to understand what the player is looking for or a failure to offer the amount of money that the player that they know the player should cost (i.e. being cheap). In certain cases failures in this regard can be okay. Sometimes a player can be overestimating his market value. However, in this case with a player of Headley's age, ability and history would seem to be able to command more than $13 million per year and/or more than a 3 year contract. The team should know that and not have bothered to make this offer. While not an insult, it was certainly not one that would accepted and probably was not a good starting point for a negotiation.
If this was an announcement of a contract extension at the reported price, I think many would have applauded it. The Padres would have filled a hole at 3B for the next few seasons while not paying a ton of money to a player that is not easily projectable. At the same time Headley would have secured a paycheck that is the highest he has ever received and stayed with the team he is comfortable with and has a number of fairly talented player nearing or in their prime. Many would however note that he probably left money on the table, but could understand the appeal of taking the tens of millions of dollars offered to stay in a comfortable situation. The Padres would also be handing out one of the bigger contracts they have ever given out and would get some plaudits for that.
However, that is not the case and this imaginary scenario is just a Padres front office pipe dream (albeit imagined in this case by me). The reality is still that the team either needs to make that offer at a price that Headley will accept and will at the same time help the team reach its on-the-field goals or start looking for ways to move on that will provide a different route to its goals.