May 19th: The Padres have made an official announcement of Headley’s release.
May 18th: The Padres have released Chase Headley following this past weekend’s DFA, tweets Dennis Lin of The Athletic. The veteran third baseman is now a free agent. San Diego has yet to make a formal announcement, though the move is listed both on the MLB.com transactions log and on the Padres’ transaction log at their official web site.
It’s hardly an unexpected outcome for the 34-year-old Headley, who opened the season with a dismal .115/.233/.135 performance through 60 trips to the plate and is earning $13MM in the final season of a four-year, $52MM contract that he initially signed with the Yankees. Any team to claim Headley off waivers would’ve been on the hook for the remaining $9.5MM of that figure. San Diego technically could’ve absorbed a notable chunk of that salary in a trade, but Headley’s performance this season surely didn’t drum up much interest from rival clubs in that regard.
Headley is now available to any club that wishes to sign him to a minor league contract, and he’ll only be owed the pro-rated portion of the league minimum under a new deal. That sum, subsequently, would be subtracted from the $9.5MM the Padres still owe him, so they could save at least a small portion of that money if he latches on elsewhere.
It’s unlikely that any team would plug Headley straight into its MLB roster, but he’d make sense for a club in need of some depth at the infield corners in Triple-A. While there seems to be a perception that Headley didn’t provide much of any value to the Yankees in 2017, that’s not really the case. In 586 plate appearances last year, Headley slashed .273/.352/.406 with a dozen homers, 30 doubles and a triple. That’s hardly elite production, but his overall output rated average or slightly better, after adjusting for park and league, per OPS+ (99) and wRC+ (104). Both Fangraphs (1.9) and Baseball-Reference (1.8) felt that he was worth roughly two wins above replacement.
For the Padres, the trade that brought Headley back to San Diego has provided poor results all around in the early going. The trade, of course, was never about acquiring Headley but rather acquiring right-hander Bryan Mitchell from the Yankees. In taking on the remainder of Headley’s contract, the Padres effectively purchased four years of control over Mitchell for $13MM.
Mitchell, though, hasn’t panned out whatsoever in San Diego and has already lost his rotation spot. The 27-year-old came to the Padres with a terrific minor league track record and had shown potential at times in the Majors as well, but he’s been rocked for a 6.21 ERA in 37 1/3 innings with his new organization. While early-season ERA numbers can often be misleading, Mitchell’s struggles aren’t merely the product of poor luck, though. He’s issued 29 walks in 37 1/3 frames — a considerably higher total than the meager 18 strikeouts he’s managed. Mitchell has also surrendered six home runs and yielded a 39.4 percent hard-contact rate to opposing batters, as well (30th-highest among 132 MLB pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched).
Because Mitchell is out of minor league options, the Padres weren’t able to send him to Triple-A to straighten out and were instead forced to move him into the bullpen. He logged a starter’s workload in his lone appearance out of the ’pen thus far, totaling 5 2/3 innings of long relief and allowing three runs — again with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two).
Certainly, there’s ample time for him to improve his performance and to even make the trade a worthwhile one. The Padres, after all, can afford to be patient with him in a long relief role given their 17-28 start to the season, but he’ll eventually need to display better control, as the Friars will become more serious about contending in 2019 and beyond.