Durability Another Reason the San Diego Padres Should Value Chase Headley

The San Diego Padres have managed to extend five key players since the end of last season; Cameron Maybin, Nick Hundley, Cory Luebke, Carlos Quentin, and Huston Street.  One player whom the Padres have not extended is Chase Headley.  Headley is having a breakout season this year, and he was the source of countless rumors as the July 31st non-waiver deadline approached.  The Padres were not shy about the fact that they were shopping their 28-year old third baseman.  However, San Diego has eased up on their desire to move Headley and are open to an offseason extension.  

The Padres have Jedd Gyorko waiting in the wings to replace Headley at third base, and based on the limited third baseman market this winter, the Padres would certainly get a big return on any trade involving Headley.  However, beyond Headley's power-surge this season, the Padres have added reason to consider keeping him.  His durability.  

Headley's health is a commodity in high demand with the Padres.  San Diego has seen an abnormal number of players hit the disabled list this season.  On the pitching staff alone, the Padres have been forced to use 15 different starting pitchers.  As the Padres weigh whether or not to trade Headley, they will need to consider his ability to stay healthy and stay on the field.

This season, no other third baseman in baseball has played more games than Headley.  In fact, Headley has played in all but one game this season - tied with Miguel Cabrera at 152 games-played.  There are only seven third baseman that have played in more than 140 games so far this season.  And 2012 is not an anomaly for Headley.  

Headley did suffer a fractured finger in 2011 and was limited to 113 games, but since he became a full-time Major Leaguer in 2009, he has played in at least 150 games in three out of the last four seasons.  That 2011 season saw Headley fracture his pinkie finger in August.  He still managed to post the highest OBP on the team at .374.  

Even with Headley's injury limitation in 2011 - a rare occurrence for him - Headley still ranked 18th in the league in games-played.  In 2010, he once again led the league in games-played with 161.  In 2009, he was seventh with 156 games.  Since 2009, Headley has played in the third-most games among all third basemen in baseball with 582.  Only Michael Young (597) and Jhonny Peralta (586) have played in more.  

According to Fangraphs, in his 582 games, Headley was worth 15.8 WAR - higher than Young or Peralta by a large margin.  From 2009-2012, Headley has actually posted the fifth-highest WAR among all third basemen in baseball.  Only Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Beltre, and David Wright have accumulated more WAR.  That's pretty good company for a guy who also plays in more games than most.  

In his career, Headley has hit .272/.349/.414.  He has never hit more than 12 home runs in a season until now.  However, this season Headley is hitting .281/.370/.486 with 29 home runs.  His trade value has skyrocketed this season, but so has his contract value.  

Had the Padres extended Chase Headley after last season, they could have done so for much less than it will take to do so now.  Headley will be entering his second to last year of arbitration eligibility, so if San Diego were to extend his contract, they would want to buy out this final two years of arbitration and at least a couple years of free agency.  Arbitrators place more value on home runs and RBI than anything on the offensive side of things.  Therefore, Headley is due for a substantial raise this offseason.  He is currently making $3.48 million.  

A year like Headley is having this season, 6.8 WAR according to Fangraphs, would net him a huge contract in free agency.  He would likely be able to grab a deal worth north of $10 million per season.  San Diego probably will not give him that in a contract extension because they do have two more years of control with Headley's arbitration years.  They will have to shell out something close to his potential free agent value, though.  Headley, like everyone in baseball, understands his skills would be magnified if he didn't play half his games at the run-supressing Petco Park, so it's difficult to imagine him taking a discounted contract to stay in San Diego.

The Padres' alternative is to, of course, trade Headley and go with rookie Jedd Gyorko.  Kevin Goldstein, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, ranked Jedd Gyorko as the third-best prospect in the Padres' organization coming into this season.  And Gyorko did not disappoint this year.  Between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson, Gyorko hit .311/.373/.547 with 30 home runs in 126 games.  

Yet, Gyorko is a gamble.  Headley is the closest thing a team can get to a sure thing.  He hasn't quite hit his prime, he has finally proven himself a true power-hitter, and he is durable.  Headley's ability to play in more games than just about any other third baseman in baseball should make him well worth the contract extension in and of itself.  His skills should simply be the icing on the cake.  

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