The Big Reason for Optimism

In my first blog, I laid out the reasons for optimism for Padres fans in 2013. Alert readers will notice that I failed to mention the greatest reason for optimism of all: the emergence of Chase Headley as a premier third baseman. 

This was intentional, because it requires a great deal more discussion.

Headley’s performance last year was nothing short of stellar. At the age of 28, he made a huge leap from passable to extraordinary. He led the league in RBI, won a gold glove and a silver slugger, and he came in fifth in MVP voting. 

Additionally, the Padres control Headley for the next two years. Some people might view this as a negative since he could be lost to free agency. Other teams in our vicinity (cough, cough, Dodgers and Angels) see nothing wrong with overpaying to win, but the Padres don’t have that luxury. Being in a small market as they are, they have to be frugal. 

Of course, this does present a challenge for the new ownership: when Ron Fowler and the O’Malley’s took over last August, they proclaimed that they want to keep homegrown talent here. It looks like Chase Headley is going to be their first test-case to see if they really meant it.

But this is a good thing. Why? Because the Padres don’t have to make a decision right away. Headley is under their control through the end of 2014, and he just signed a one-year contract. Don’t forget that his stellar year was really a stellar two-and-a-half months. It could have been a fluke. So let’s assume it was the real deal. If that’s the case, then they can benefit from his production for two more years. 

What if the Padres discover that he’s too rich for their blood? They can trade him to a contender. This will put them in the driver’s seat, since (a) premier third basemen are in high demand and thus will reap many fruits, and (b) it’s not like the Padres would be empty-handed without him: they have Jedd Gyorko, for whom the hot corner is his natural position. 

On the other hand, if the 2013 Chase Headley is the same as the ’12 edition and they decide that he is worth the long-term investment, then they will be set at third base for at least the next 7-8 years.

Now, let’s assume that 2012 was a fluke; after all, his previous high in home runs was 12, and in 2011, he hit all of 4 (albeit in an injury-plagued campaign). Assuming that he comes back down to earth in ’13, the Padres will not have burdened themselves with a hefty, David Wright-style-mega-contract. They will realize that he is the next incarnation of Bill Mueller rather than Chipper Jones, and they will either pay him accordingly, or sub him out for Gyorko.

So as you can see, this is a win-win. 

Next time, we’ll take a look at the pesky negatives.

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