Trade Retrospective: Padres trade Chase Headley to the Yankees

For the fifth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

Shortly before the 2014 trade deadline, the Padres decided to trade Chase Headley to New York. The Yankees sent Yangervis Solarte and minor league pitcher Rafael De Paula to San Diego to complete the trade.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

Things were not going so great for the Padres, which sadly has been a common occurrence for the franchise, as they were 12 games below .500 and 11.5 games out of first place. They had not made the playoffs since 2006, and had a record above .500 only twice since then. The team needed to tear it down and rebuild.

Unfortunately, the Padres did not have a lot of trade assets, partially because then-GM Josh Byrnes held on to Headley too long. Byrnes had been let go a month earlier, but the damage had already been done.

The time to trade Headley was after his stellar 2012 season. He was a top ten player in the NL that year, hitting .286/.376/.498 with 31 HR and 6.4 WAR, all of which were career highs except for his batting average. He still had two seasons left until free agency, and had the Padres decided to move him that winter, they probably could have gotten a great haul for him. Instead, the Padres had to settle for what they could get.

Headley was just a rental at that point in 2014, and to make matters worse, he was having his worst offensive season outside of his eight-game debut in 2007, hitting just .229/.296/.355, which is a below average level of offense even when adjusting for Petco Park. On the bright side, he was still a very good defensive third baseman.

Meanwhile, the Yankees were only two games above .500 and four games behind the Red Sox for the division lead, with the Blue Jays nipping at their heels. Despite his struggles, Headley had the potential to be an upgrade at third base. At the plate, the switch-hitter’s left-handed swing would likely benefit from Yankees Stadium’s short right field porch.

Solarte had a flukishly outstanding April, but unsurprisingly regressed in May, and was downright terrible in June. He had some defensive upside, but it was highly doubtful that he would continue to hit well enough to help the team. Yes, Headley was struggling, but he had upside, and all he cost were two players the Yankees would not miss.

As for De Paula, it might be a little harsh to call him a throw in, but it is also hard to rate relief prospects too highly, even though he was a starter at the time of the trade. There was just no expectation that he was going to stay there with poor command and no average secondary pitches.

It’s not that this was a bad return for Headley. It was fair given his struggles and his rental status. The problem is that the Padres could have gotten so much more for him had they done a better job of assessing the state of the franchise a couple of years earlier.

The Results

Headley bounced back big-time after the trade. The Yankees did not get 2012 Headley, but I am sure they were more than happy to get the 2011 version. He continued not to hit for much power, failing to crack even a .400 SLG, but he got on base at a high enough clip to more than make up for it. He had a 123 wRC+ for the Yankees, thanks to his .371 OBP and nearly 13 percent walk rate. Combined with his defense, he was worth over two wins in just 58 games! That is two more than they probably would have gotten otherwise, which makes the trade wildly successful from the Yankees’ perspective.

Unfortunately, Headley’s great run was not enough for the Yankees. They finished with only 84 wins and four games out of the last Wild Card slot. They shockingly missed the playoffs for the second straight year, something which had not happened since their postseason drought from 1982-1994 (which was also before the Wild Card era).

Despite the fact that Headley was going into his age-31 season, the Yankees decided to bring him back on a four-year, $52 million deal. Considering that the Yankees basically print money, the deal did not work out that badly. He was worth 5.3 WAR over the first three years of the deal thanks to his defense, because his offense had sunk below average again.

With the rise of Miguel Andújar, the Yankees no longer needed Headley going into the 2018 season. They traded him back to San Diego, but he did not last long there. He just could not hit anymore, so he got designated for assignment in mid-May, effectively ending his major league career.

Solarte actually did quite well in San Diego. He was not a star by any means, but I imagine that he performed a lot better than anybody was expecting him to. He was a solid utility player who could hit some through the 2016 season. His 2017 season, however, saw him start to decline, so the Padres traded him to the Blue Jays the following winter.

The Blue Jays had no choice but to let Solarte go after the 2018 season, as he could no longer hit much and had become a sub-replacement level player. The Giants decided to take a flyer on him, but he just could not hit anymore, and was DFAed last May, eventually going on to play the rest of the season in the NPB. The Braves recently signed him to a minor league deal.

De Paula never made it to the majors, unfortunately. He has bounced around some since the trade, too, having never successfully combined a high strikeout rate without walking everyone. He spent last year in the Braves’ system before electing free agency in November. To my knowledge he is not currently in affiliated baseball.

We’ll forgo tables this time around since they would each be only one player, suffice it to say that the Yankees got the most they could have hoped for out of it, not counting when they decided to bring Headley back in free agency. As for the Padres, they failed by waiting too long, and even though Solarte was productive, it was for a rebuilding team that never flipped him for anything more. At least the Padres’ time will be coming soon.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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