By Chad Jennings
Here’s what Brian Cashman said on the day the Yankees traded for Chase Headley:
“Next year is next year. Right now I just kind of frame is as what it is. He’s got an expiring contract that runs through the end of the year. It’s a rental in terms of the acquisition cost, and that’s how we approached it. We’ve taken on some money. We got some money to offset some of the remaining balance of his contract, and they’ve got some players that they can hold onto as they move forward and try to support their future. I can’t predict 2015 and what our needs will or won’t be. That’s not what this is all about. We’re all really focused on the remaining push in 2014 and trying to push through with what we’ve got.”
Truth be told, I can’t imagine that Cashman has any better idea today what his third base needs will or won’t be next season. Alex Rodriguez is still a total wild card, working out in California with no proof of how well he can play baseball in 2015 and beyond. What Cashman does have, though, is a better sense of what Headley is capable of doing and how well he’s able to handle the New York market.
During his two-plus months with the Yankees, Headley showed himself to be an awfully good fielder, and while he’s certainly not a true power hitter, he came through in big situations and got on base at an impressive rate. He’s most certainly a useful player, and he seems to have found a way to manage the lower-back issue that bothered him in San Diego.
“I feel like I played like me,” Headley said. “Even the month or so before I got traded, I felt like I started play like me, as a player. I feel like (if) I play like me, that’s a good player, and that’s going to be attractive to clubs. I’m glad that I was able to finish out the way that I did, and hopefully things will work out good.”
Going forward, is Headley still a strong fit for the Yankees?
The third base situation is well understood. Best-case scenario is that Rodriguez’s year off has left him healthy and strong, physically able to play third base regularly while contributing to the middle of the order. Worst-case scenario is that a year off, coupled with the recent injuries, has left Rodriguez unable to play the field and unable to be much of a run producer. The Yankees aren’t likely to know which is closer to the truth until spring training, and even then health and durability concerns must linger.
Signing Headley would give the Yankees a quality backup plan at third base. But Headley’s also in position to be paid like an everyday player, so it’s more likely he would lock the Yankees into a plan to use Rodriguez regularly at designated hitter while trusting Carlos Beltran to regularly handle right field. Headley is not the only player who could play that role — Pablo Sandoval is a free agent this winter as are any number of utility types — but Headley brings a comfortable blend of familiarity and experience. He was a useful rental, which makes him a more attractive target.
“I don’t know if they’re going to be interested,” Headley said. “They do have a player under contract. We’ll kinda see how that shakes out. If they do show interest, then there would be mutual interest. But that would be something we’d want to talk about, and see what the role would look like, coming into (next season). Not something that I’d be scared of, but something I’d like to have clarity on, and I’m sure the organization would as well.”