Trying to boost one of the weakest lineups in the American League, the New York Yankees acquired third baseman Chase Headley from the San Diego Padres on Tuesday for rookie infielder Yangervis Solarte and minor-league pitcher Rafael De Paula.
Headley arrived at Yankee Stadium right around game time Tuesday night and was in uniform in the dugout shaking hands with his new teammates by the top of the second inning. He came off the bench in the eighth and delivered a game-winning single in the 14th to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Texas Rangers.
"Sometimes these things happen," Headley said. "I had a chance earlier to get it done. There’s a lot of nerves, but then I thought, why wouldn’t this day go this way?"
Now that his whirlwind first day in pinstripes is over, Headley will become the everyday starter at a spot that’s been a question mark for the Yankees all year following the season-long suspension of Alex Rodriguez.
"I don’t think we’re getting a big thumper," general manager Brian Cashman said. "But I do think we’re getting an upgrade and a professional at-bat."
The 30-year-old Headley, drafted by the Padres in 2005, can become a free agent after this season. The switch-hitter was batting .229 with seven homers and 32 RBI but has a .339 average with six extra-base hits in 13 games since July 4. He was a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner two years ago, when he had a huge second half and hit .286 with 31 homers and an NL-leading 115 RBI.
He moves from a cavernous ballpark in San Diego to a homer haven in the Bronx, and the Yankees think that can help him.
"You look at his last month, it’s been really productive. He’s swinging the bat pretty well," manager Joe Girardi said. "We feel that he’s in a pretty good place."
Cashman said he thinks an epidural injection that Headley had toward the end of June has a lot to do with his recent improvement — and Headley agreed. He had been playing through a herniated disk in his back.
"Once he had the epidural, it seems like it’s had a huge impact," Cashman said. "He’s a rental for the next two months."
As part of the deal, the Padres will pay $1 million of the $3,968,443 remaining on Headley’s $10,525,000 salary this year.
Unable to reach a long-term contract with San Diego, Headley has long been mentioned in trade talks.
"It’s nice that it’s over. It’s nice that I know where I’m going to be," he said. "There were no hard feelings in San Diego. I loved every second I was in San Diego. By the same token, I think it was time to go. … Hopefully I can get back to being the kind of player I have been."
With an injury-ravaged pitching staff missing four starters, the Yankees began the day 50-48 and four games behind first-place Baltimore in the AL East. They added Brandon McCarthy to the rotation this month, obtaining him in a trade with Arizona.
But it’s the offense that’s been a major problem — New York ranked 13th out of 15 AL teams in runs with 391.
"We just keep trying to find different ways to upgrade," Cashman said. "We’re open to anything."
The punchless Padres (43-55) are selling off pieces and trying to build for the future even as they look for a new general manager after Josh Byrnes was fired June 22. In the interim, senior vice president for baseball operations Omar Minaya and assistant general managers A.J. Hinch and Fred Uhlman Jr. are handling GM duties.
"I’ve seen Chase grow up," San Diego manager Bud Black said in Chicago, where his team played the Cubs. "To say farewell is a tough one. He’s meant a lot to the organization."
Cashman said he spoke mostly with Hinch about the Headley deal, as well as Minaya.
"It was a move that we felt was needed to move this organization forward," Hinch said in Chicago. "We thought the return was right. For 64 games of Chase Headley, we knew that the time was coming for us to move in a different direction."
San Diego also traded All-Star closer Huston Street to the Angels on Friday in a six-player deal that netted four minor league prospects.
The 27-year-old Solarte was an extremely pleasant surprise early in the season as Rodriguez’s replacement. The switch-hitter was batting .336 as of May 14 but has hit .180 since and was sent to Triple-A for a week this month.
"He really saved our bacon early this year. When we had a lot of other issues going on, he stepped up and for that we’re thankful," Cashman said. "But he was a player that had to be in this situation for me to get Chase Headley back."
Black said the Padres might play Solarte at second base.
"In the last few days, as this has been getting closer, I’ve looked at the scouting reports. I’ve called around, checked around. This guy’s a baseball player. This guy knows how to play," Black said. "We’ll utilize him around the diamond. I like the fact that he’s versatile."
The 23-year-old De Paula was 6-5 with a 4.15 ERA in 17 starts and three relief appearances this season for Class-A Tampa. The right-hander was selected for the Futures Game last year.