The Yankees need to field a third baseman in 2017, so Chase Headley gets the position by default. That’s mainly the view that many Yankee fans, and perhaps even the team itself have of Headley. He’s the “other guy” in the lineup, of whom the team is not expecting much, and as long as he doesn’t embarrass anyone, all is well. Maybe, but maybe not too.
The Yankees, it seems, have always had a Chase Headley in their lineup. The much-heralded Championship team of 1961, for instance, had Clete Boyer at third base, hitting .224 with a .308 OBP in 148 games. And Bucky Dent played shortstop for the 1978 Champion Yankees, contributing a .243 BA, .286 on-base percentage, and a hard to imagine .317 slugging percentage.
But often, you need these cogs in a lineup to put together a successful team. Chase Headley is “that guy” in 2017. And it probably irks many fans that he is set to collect $13 million this year (and next year) for his services, such as they may be. And it probably also is said that, if the team had a better option and could swallow the money, there would be another name in their lineup, with no hesitation. And it can also be said that Headley could become a high-priced backup for Manny Machado in 2018 if things fall into place when Machado becomes a free agent at the end of 2017.
And it’s probably also true that Headley will never repeat the year he had in 2012, when he led the National League in RBI with 115, along with 31 home runs, a .376 OBP, while finishing 5th in the MVP vote that season. But instead of concentrating on all the things he probably won’t do for the Yankees this year, how about we take a look at all the things he can (and will do) for the team.
First, he will be in the lineup almost every day. Headley has averaged 148 games over the last two seasons, and that alone highlights his value to the team. Because if he goes down, who do the Yankees have to replace him? No one. Next, he’s going to be hitting near the bottom of the lineup, where it will be important not to be a rally killer and being able to extend an inning so the top of the order can turn over for the following inning. To that end, it’s worth noting that Headley grounded into a double play only seven times last season.
And then, you get to the stuff that often goes unnoticed. Headley has won two Gold Gloves over his career and that skill has not diminished over time. For every 38 times he fielded a ball, he made the play 37 times (10 errors in 378 chances). That’s called reliability. Is he a diver and a dancer at third? Hardly, but he gets the job done.
Headley also has just enough power (11 home runs in 2016) to keep the pitcher aware of not leaving a fat one over the plate, plus he can occasionally sleep-walk himself into a stolen base (8). And finally, except for an occasional outburst about playing time, he’s not going to hurt the team in the clubhouse. A leader, Headley is not. But, he doesn’t have to be one. Gary Sanchez will grow into that role.
Now, we are not talking about Babe Ruth here. But what would happen if those 11 home runs last year became 18 or 20, and those 55 RBI became 70, and those 118 hits became 150. The Yankees line would appear far different, wouldn’t it? And the good news is that those numbers are not far out of reach for Headley.
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And besides, he is, or at least he should be, motivated. Because with the looming chance that Machado could be a Yankee shortly, Headley might realize that 2017 represents an opportunity to increase his trade value (to a contender), along with a chance to extend his career, in spite of the $13 million owed to him in 2018. Yes, Chase Headley could very well be the sleeper on this team who emerges to provide a surprise contribution from a place in the lineup that few would expect.