Why the Dodgers should be after Chase Headley

I’ve been a Chase Headley fan for a few years now. He’s undoubtedly one of the best third basemen in baseball, yet he won’t get paid like it. So, the Dodgers should absolutely be in on him.

After seeing Pablo Sandoval sign for $95 million and seeing Jim Bowden project Headley to get a 3-year, $27 million deal (which is low), the Dodgers could very well end up with a bargain.

Headley, 30, hasn’t been a great hitter since his breakout 2012 year that saw him hit .286/.376/.498 with 31 home runs, but he’s still been a valuable baseball player because of his top-notch defense. According to FanGraphs, he has been the best third baseman in the game since 2010, has the fourth-best UZR/150 (11.2) and fifth-most defensive runs saved (30) in that time. He has also played the most innings at the position (+209 1/3 innings on David Wright) at the hot corner in that time.

He is a great defender, and proved it even more so this season by leading the majors in UZR/150 by a wide margin (28.0 to Josh Donaldson‘s 13.3) and saved the third most runs at 13. For this reason alone, he’s worth a 4-year deal in the $7-8 million per season range. But his offensive potential and ability make him an easy $10-plus million a season player.

In his last two seasons, Headley has been solid at the plate: .246/.338/.387. His slugging percentage leaves a lot to be desired — especially from a third baseman, but remember, he played most of his home games in Petco Park. That park is notorious for suppressing power numbers. He was traded to the Yankees in July, where he became more of an offensive threat. His power has never returned to 2012 levels, and it probably never will. But, he has plenty of gap pop and spending more time out of San Diego should only do wonders for his numbers. He hit just .243/.331/.372 in 456 career games in Petco.

Headley also improved his plate discipline as a whole in 2014.

Year O-Swing% Z-Swing%
Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Zone%
F-Strike% SwStr%
2013 28.2 74.0 46.4 58.4 83.5 74.3 39.7 11.6
2014 26.3 65.6 43.0 63.4 88.7 79.8 42.5 8.5

He improved from 2013 to 2014 in every single category. He’s swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone, taking more pitches inside the zone, swinging less, making more contact inside and outside the zone, seeing more pitches in the zone, getting fewer first-pitch strikes and swinging and missing less. It’s quite the improvement from the year before. Being a more patient hitter, making more contact and missing less all bodes well for a hitter’s overall performance.

Headley is also a switch-hitter. He’s better against right-handed pitching (.269/.357/.411) in his career, but he isn’t close to unplayable against left-handers (.258/.324/.403). That’s another notch in his belt.

The Yankees recently said they won’t go longer than three years for Headley. That’s their loss, as Headley should prove to be a much better value at third base than Sandoval will be in Boston. Some really smart guy named Mike Petriello wrote as much at ESPN a few weeks ago.

“Above, we shared estimates that Sandoval would go somewhere in the neighborhood of five years and $80 million, which might even be low, given his relative youth. But let’s say that’s in the ballpark, and let’s also note that both Law and FanGraphs came in at approximately four years and $56 million for Headley. That actually feels a little high to me considering his ups and downs of the past two years, but considering he reportedly turned down a three-year deal of approximately $36 million last winter, maybe that’s about right.

If those numbers prove close to being accurate, is Sandoval worth the extra $24(-plus) million or more he’d require? Is he worth the extra cash plus the loss of a draft pick, considering he received and declined a qualifying offer, whereas Headley has no such anchor? Remember, at this time of year, it’s not entirely about getting the best player. It’s about getting the best value for the money you have available, the best bang for your buck.”

I might be in the minority, but I’d go 4/56 for Headley without batting an eyelash. It’d be almost $40 million cheaper than Sandoval and he’s more likely to hold up at third base than Sandoval is.

The Dodgers probably can’t continue to rely on Juan Uribe to be their everyday third baseman. That isn’t a slight to Uribe. He had a really strong 2014 season. But, he played just 103 games after playing 132 the season before. He’s going into his age-36 season. There aren’t a ton of 36 year olds who play 140-plus games at a high level.

There is almost no one better defensively at third than Uribe is, but Headley might be one of them. Uribe would thrive in a super utility, Justin Turner-like role. Having a strong bench is one thing a contending team needs. A bench that were to include Uribe, Turner, Scott Van Slyke and (maybe) Andre Ethier would be awfully tough to beat.

Not only would a Headley signing push Uribe to a more efficient utility role, it would — for lack of a better term — force the Dodgers to commit to Corey Seager as their shortstop for the next handful of years. We’ve been hearing everyone inside the organization say Seager will be able to handle shortstop at the next level.

Andrew Friedman seems convinced.

“‘His hands work really well. We have a number of guys who feel like he has a real chance to stick there. In the few games we got to see him a couple weeks ago he had a lot of different chances and completed plays from all different angles – to the backhand, up the middle. His body control is really good.'”

Seager was ranked as the second-best prospect in this year’s Arizona Fall League crop by Baseball America, and there were some encouraging words written about his defense by Bill Mitchell.

“Defensively, he enhances his range at shortstop through good positioning. While there are persistent questions as to his ability and likelihood of staying at his current position, there are fewer voices maintaining that he’ll have to shift to the hot corner.”

This, after having ranked 18th and had this written about him last year.

“He won’t stay at shortstop but will have the size, actions and arm to handle the hot corner.”

So, signing the best all-around third baseman available would test this theory. While Seager isn’t rangy, he seems to have all the other makings of at least a defensive shortstop. His offense, if he stays there, should be above-average.

The fact is, the Dodgers don’t have long term solutions on the left side of the infield. Headley at third base and Seager at shortstop in 2016 and beyond would go a long way toward hiding the lack of depth the Dodgers have at shortstop and (particularly) third base in the minors.

I would have been fine with the Dodgers giving Russell Martin a 4-year, $60 million deal. If they were to give Headley that kind of deal, I wouldn’t be terribly upset. I’d prefer something like 4/48-52 to maximize the value. The Dodgers probably aren’t going to make a tremendous splash on the free agent market, and a guy like Headley could be the “biggest” free agent they pursue this winter. Plus, he’d go a long way to at least trying to replace Hanley Ramirez‘s production in the lineup. As of now, Carl Crawford is penciled in as your No. 5 hitter. I’m not sure the Dodgers, or anyone, really wants that.

About Dustin Nosler

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Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosted a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He was a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times and True Blue LA. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.