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Red Sox should sign the underrated Chase Headley

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The Red Sox need a third baseman, and Chase Headley is a perfect fit.

Stan Liu-USA TODAY Sports

Unless this winter is a disaster, the Red Sox aren't going to play Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt, or Garin Cecchini at third base on Opening Day of 2015. The hot corner is one of the only spots in the lineup where the Red Sox can actually upgrade -- they're locked in or crowded already at nearly every other spot on the diamond -- so an emphasis on bringing in someone new and productive there is one of the offseason's major plans. They can bring in a new third baseman without giving up any prospects thanks to a couple of free agent options, and if they sign Chase Headley, they can do it without giving up a draft pick, too.

It's fine if you have some concerns about Headley, but to say he's been declining for the past couple of years as some have misses a whole lot of points. His 2012 was incredible, as he posted a 145 OPS+, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. That was just a career-year, though: the seasons before and after are a better indication of who Headley is and what he will be, and that's still a great player. Red Sox fans can liken him offensively to Dustin Pedroia: they're both 30, and both have had a season or two far better than their others, but since 2010 they each possess a 117 OPS+.

Neither is a massive power bat, but they can hit doubles, get on base, and play their positions wonderfully. Headley is the inferior defender to Pedroia, who is one of the game's best regardless of position, but the difference isn't as significant as you'd think. Wins above replacement undersells Headley's defense for some reason -- as Brian MacPherson recently pointed out, Headley ranks fifth in Defensive Runs Saved at third over the last five years. Even with that, Headley has quietly averaged four wins per year since 2010, and Pedroia 5.5. Bump it up a little if you think DRS knows what's up, or leave it where it is if you prefer: They're still much closer than the uninitiated would expect.

Headley's 2014 season was a little more erratic than the others (you know, like Pedroia's), but a strong finish with the Yankees after he was traded by the Padres resulted in a 119 OPS+ for New York and a 102 mark for the year. You might have noticed that not a single slash line has been cited yet, and that's because Headley's entire career, minus those couple months in New York, have come in the game's most extreme pitcher's park, essentially rendering those lines meaningless without context.

Headley has batted .267/.357/.423 since 2011 -- that's good, but it's not eye-popping or anything that would make a team want to throw down $16-20 million per season. He did it in a park designed to hurt him, though: Petco Park is a terrible place for any hitter, but before the fences were brought in, it was especially torture for left-handed ones (and it's still not a good place for them even with the fences in). Headley isn't a lefty, but he is a switch-hitter, so two-thirds of his plate appearances have come from the left side, many of those in a park that not only limited homers but extra-base hits in general. Strikeouts even occur more often in Petco than in most other parks, as pitchers know they can get away with a long fly ball if challenging a hitter upstairs went awry.

Headley
Photo credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Now, Headley wouldn't suddenly start hitting homers were he to come to Fenway: he's not that kind of hitter. He would be in the top park in the majors for doubles, though, and that's more his style. Headley strikes out often, but posts lofty batting averages on balls in play, and has succeeded at collecting around 30 or more doubles per season for years now despite a home park that keeps both of those sorts of things from happening.

In fact, if you're searching for what went wrong with Headley in the first half of 2014, BABIP has a lot to do with it. While he possesses a .331 career BABIP -- again, with half of his games coming in a park that features a worse-than-average BABIP -- he was only at .285 while with the Padres this past season. His strikeouts were the same, and his walks were down partially as a function of an anemic Padres' offense and his struggles -- the low (for him) BABIP was what led him to a .229/.296/.355 line and 88 OPS+. With the Yankees, though, his BABIP returned to normalcy, and he finished the season with a .301 mark courtesy batting .262/.371/.398 with New York.

Bringing Headley to a park that will only further emphasize his skill -- an ability to turn balls in play into hits -- and to a lineup that is built on the idea of patience and discipline makes all the sense in the world. Coming to Fenway and the Red Sox would probably help him on the strikeout front, too, as Fenway is an average park for whiffs, while Petco has been historically one of the tougher ones to avoid punch outs in for reasons we've already mentioned. He's also a phenomenal defender at third base, and the Red Sox haven't had one of those since the best around, Adrian Beltre, was in town. He'll have more luck in Fenway when he's forced to bat right-handed than he did at Petco, and the AL East is loaded with parks that he'll have a field day in regardless of which side of the plate he's standing in. Throw in that he wasn't given the qualifying offer by the Yankees, and he's essentially the perfect pickup for the Red Sox. He fills a position of need, he's a fit for the ballpark, and he only costs money.

As the Yankees are interested in bringing back Headley, Boston will end up in a bidding war if they target him. He'll likely still come cheaper than Pablo Sandoval, though, and while he's a few years older -- Headley will be 31 in 2015 -- he's possibly a better bet to age well given his 6-2, 220 pound frame compared to Sandoval's panda-shaped physique. There isn't necessarily a wrong answer between them, but when you consider the cost, the lack of draft compensation, how Fenway and Headley make sense together, and the way they might age, Headley is clearly the more correct of the two.