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Why a trade is best for Chase Headley's career

Headley won't have to fear the qualifying offer any longer, and that should open up his market this winter.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A midseason trade was the best possible thing for pending free agent Chase Headley. If he stayed with the Padres, things might not have gone his way in the offseason if San Diego submitted the qualifying offer to its homegrown third baseman, which would attach draft pick compensation to him should he leave. As we just saw with Stephen Drew and Kendrys Morales this past winter, if there are any questions at all about a qualified player's performance going forward, his market will crater once there's the potential to lose a draft pick. Thanks to the Yankees and Padres, though, that's no longer an issue for Headley.

The 30-year-old switch-hitter was scuffling at the plate and never did sign the long-term deal he was looking for over the last few seasons; San Diego and Headley were miles apart in terms of both years and dollars despite what were reportedly reasonable terms from his side. His struggles in 2014 don't necessarily justify the Padres' refusal to spend on him, either, as they're an organization lacking in quality bats and Headley posted a .274/.366/.439 line from 2011 through 2013.

That might not seem like all that much, but PETCO Park is death to hitters and especially lefties. As a switch-hitter, Headley spends the majority of his time batting from the left side, and his adjusted performance helps tell just how productive he was, as his three-year cumulative OPS+ of 128 ranked 22nd in the majors, right behind far more celebrated bats like Adrian Gonzalez, Yadier Molina, and Carlos Gonzalez. On top of that, Headley has been a great defensive presence at the hot corner since switching back to the position full time in 2010. There's a reason he deservedly finished fifth in the NL MVP vote just two years ago.

In 2014, though, Headley has hit .229/.296/.355 for an 88 OPS+. He's right around his career rate in strikeouts and while his walks are down, they haven't completely cratered. His batting average on balls in play has slipped precipitously, though: Headley's career BABIP is .331, and he's at just .285 this season. There's a very good chance he recovers from what could just be a half-season batted ball blip, but again, any potential question mark about his future production could kill his market were he to have received the qualifying offer.

Considering that the Padres know how BABIP works even if they are without a general manager at the moment, it's fair to say that a qualifying offer would have given Headley a raise and the Padres his potentially-rebounding bat for another year. The one-year offer would attach a compensation pick if Headley rejected it and signed a long-term deal elsewhere, a poison pill that hurt both Drew and Morales last offseason. In fact, it's confounding that the Padres didn't try to make this happen when one sees the minimal package they received for Headley, but that's another story.

Headley can't be given the qualifying offer when he becomes a free agent now, as he would have had to be with the same team from Opening Day onward per the collective bargaining agreement's rules. He might still receive a contract reminiscent of the qualifier in terms of length and value -- as teams might be loathe to fork over money coming off of a down year -- but he won't have to wait until someone is desperate enough in March to sacrifice a draft pick for that to happen.

Instead, Headley gets to go to a park that rewards left-handed hitters with even the tiniest shred of pop before he becomes a free agent, giving him a chance to salvage this year and reignite interest around the league. He gets to leave the notoriously-difficult PETCO Park for a change of scenery that might have been necessary after playing for a club who just couldn't make an extension happen for a player who deserved one. Without draft pick compensation attached, he won't have to worry about focusing on signing with a team with a protected first-round pick, as anyone who needs help at third base can negotiate with him with only money and years being the focus (not just the teams who were awful in 2014).

Whether this deal ends up working out for the Padres and Yankees is somewhat secondary for Headley, as simply getting himself out of qualifying territory has opened up a more promising short-term future on the market. If he manages to turn things around in the Bronx before then, it works out even better for a third baseman who should have no shortage of suitors now.