Saturday, September 8, 2012

Extending Chase Headley

Chase Headley continued his torrid post-trade deadline pace last night by hitting 2 HR and knocking in 4 RBI, leading the Padres to yet another win in this 2nd half of 2012.

All told, Headley since August 1 is hitting .338, with 14 HRs, and 46 RBI. He will almost certainly hit 100 RBI this season, a feat not accomplished since Adrian Gonzalez in 2010.

But you all know this. I don't need to sell you on Chase Headley anymore.

What I'm here to talk about is extending Chase Headley. And what it might take to do that.

Chase Headley is currently paid $3.475 million on a one year deal. He is arbitration eligible in 2013 and 2014. Basically, Headley is a steal right now. But those days are about to be over.

So what kind of contract would it take, realistically, to keep Headley? And at what number do the Padres say "that's too high" and walk away? Let's compare:

Chase Headley 2012
WAR: 4.9
Slash Line: .287/.370/.488
HR: 26
RBI: 98
UZR: 5.2
SB: 14

Aramis Ramirez
The Milwaukee Brewers, attempting to recoup the loss of Prince Fielder from both an offensive standpoint and a fan interest standpoint, signed the 34 year old 3rd basemen to 3 yrs/$36 million. The Brewers have been rewarded with a .295 BA, 21 HR, and 89 RBI for a WAR of 4.1.

From an offensive standpoint, Ramirez is having perhaps the most comparable season. It's not a perfect comparison. For one, Headley walks far more than Ramirez (69 vs 39) which translates to a higher OBP (.370 vs .358) and is a bigger threat to steal (14/20 vs 7/9). Ramirez, for his part, out slugs Headley (.523 vs .488).

But the biggest difference is their age. While Headley turned 28 this season, Ramirez turned 34 this season in his first year of a 3 year deal.

Conclusion: A comparable WAR and offensively numbers but older, Ramirez was worth the limited risk of a 3 year contract at $12 million a year.

Pablo Sandoval
Like Chase Headley, Pablo Sandoval was a homegrown talent. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002, Sandoval made his debut in 2008. He is a fan favorite in San Francisco, garnering the nickname Kung Fu Panda which as translated into a marketing an apparel boom for San Francisco. He is now playing his first of his 3 years on a contract signed this past off-season. It is a contract that gobbles up his arbitration years and was a viewed as a reward for Sandoval's renewed conditioning and weight loss regimen to rebound from a poor 2010.

Using his 2012 numbers is a bit difficult as he has been injured quite a bit this season. I'm not factoring in injuries in doing these comparisons because, frankly, they are unpredictable. Though it is worth noting that the Giants got only 117 games out of Sandoval this year and thus far 85 games this season. Surely this played into their decision somewhat. But, using the 2011 numbers, which in effect were the basis for the Giants decision to extend Sandoval, seems a more fair comparison.

In 2011, Sandoval was good for a BA of .315, 23 HR, 70 RBI. A slash line of .315/.357/.552 and a WAR of 5.9. That WAR was good for 3rd amongst 3rd basemen in MLB.

Conclusion: Sandoval is a fan favorite and one of the best 3rd basemen in baseball when he is healthy. But his weight and conditioning are a constant struggle have lead to another injury filled season. Sandoval will be under 30 when this contract expires. 3 yrs/$17.5 million.

The above are obviously 3rd basemen which is the most accurate comparison for Chase Headley. From a statistical standpoint, their are other 3rd basemen having similar seasons as Headley but their contract situation, either due to being far too large (in a big market) or in the midst of a rookie contract (and thus far too small) are not comparable. Examples: David Wright, Brett Lawrie, David Freese.

Below are a few players who have similar WAR's (as with any stat, this one is imperfect and is used here to find players, relatively speaking, similar to Chase in value) in comparable markets to San Diego and their contracts.

Alex Gordon (LF): WAR 4.7

From a franchise standpoint, the Royals compare to the Padres in a lot of ways. A small market team that has tried to build longer lasting success through the draft a strong farm system, the Royals have now begun reaching that point of locking up some of their younger homegrown talent. It has lead to a better season in 2012, though certainly not where the Royals want to be.

One of those young homegrown talents is Alex Gordon. And if the All-Star Game and HR Derby are any indiction, a fan favorite in KC.

Slash Line: .298/.367/.454
HR: 11
RBI: 63

By every metrix Gordon is having a down year in comparison to 2011, which was the season that earned his contract extension. In 2011, .303/.376/.502 and won a Gold Glove with a WAR of 7.1. Like Chase, Gordon was a heavily hyped prospect (2nd overall pick in 2005).

This 2011 season (again, a more fair comparable as it's the season that earned the contract which is the situation we are in with Chase) resulted in a 4 yr/$37.5 million contract extension for a player that is 28 years old.

Conclusion: Homegrown talent at the same age locked up for less than $10 million.

Ben Zobrist (RF): WAR 4.8

Zobrist was traded to Tampa Bay in 2006 for Aubrey Huff (you read that right). So in that way, he is not "homegrown" though he has been with the Rays for 6 years now. In 2010, he signed a 3 yr, $30 million extension with options in 2014 and 2015. He was rewarded for his breakout year of 2009 which looked like this:

.297/.405/.543, 27 HR, 91 RBI, WAR 8.3

This year, in his 2nd year of this deal, he is hitting .266/.373/.468 WAR 4.8. Hilariously, this is his Wikipedia page for his 2012 section: "On September 7, 2012, Zobrist hit a walk off homerun vs. the Texas Rangers. This event made Buggy very sad." I don't know what that means.

Conclusion: Rewarded for a breakout year that he has yet to repeat, Zobrist remains a integral part of a team consistently in the playoff hun. 31 years old. 3 yrs, $30 million.

Miguel Montero (C): WAR 3.2

Another homegrown talent, Montero is the highest paid player on this list. Well, he will be. Signing a 5 yr, $60 million contract this May. Playing into this decision was the Diamondbacks perceived lack of a suitable and comparable replacement should they lose Montero. Not seeing a comparable replacement for the price they were willing to go for Montero, Kevin Towers locked up his young catcher for the foreseeable future.

He is the 4th highest ranked catcher in MLB per WAR (3.2), ahead of Joe Mauer, Matt Wieters and Mike Napoli.

2012 Slash Line: .285/.384/.451
Age: 29

Conclusion: A homegrown talent at one of the more important positions on the field, the Diamondbacks locked up one of the best catchers in the NL at a hefty price, driven mostly by a lack of a suitable replacement.

Of these players, the most comparable to Chase Headley in my mind is Alex Gordon. Similar hype, similar breakout year numbers in a similar market.

As such, 4 yrs/$40 million seems to be, in my mind, a fair market value. Would I go as high as Montero? I don't know. The difference here then with pretty much everyone listed on this list is that the Padres believe they possibly have a replacement for Headley, at a far cheaper price, in Jedd Gyorko. But prospects are unknown commodities. And works in progress. It's worth noting that the top prospect in the Royals farm system is Wil Myers, an outfielder, and despite this they still locked up Gordon. OF obviously being a different beast however as their are 3 possible positions to play vs only one 3rd basemen on the field.

5 yrs/$55 million. That's the deal that I'd give Headley. It's less than Montero. It's comparable in yearly salary to Ramirez for a far better (and younger) player.

Whether the Padres can do it remains to be seen. But they should.


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