Chase Headley was a valuable piece of the New York Yankees in 2017. Where is he now in the team’s plans for 2018?
Chase Headley is bound by the law of physics, just like any player who has played the game at this level. What goes up must come down. Can we imagine what that feels like from the outside looking in as Headley stares at this season and beyond?
It’s conceivable Headley must be hearing the echoes of Satchel Paige when he understated his baseball equivalent of the Gettysburg Address, proclaiming “don’t look back, cause someone might be gaining on you.” Because if Headley turns his head just a bit, all he can see is the organization’s top prospect, Gleyber Torres. And if he turns his head a bit more, perennial All-Star third baseman Manny Machado pops into view as his replacement next year if Torres doesn’t do the same in the upcoming season.
And yet, Headley is the one who took it upon himself, when Chris Carter was finally sent packing last season, to walk into Joe Girardi‘s office volunteering to play first base — a position he had never played. Girardi wisely took him up on the offer, and Headley moved into the position with hardly a hiccup at the same time his bat came alive again helping to drive the Yankees home to a playoff finish.
The problem is, and it’ll always be a truism in baseball, last year has nothing to do with this year. Moreover, father time becomes an ever-increasing factor when it comes to a player like Chase Headley who, through no fault of his own, has reached the ripe old age of 33. By baseball standards, that put him well on the way to Rip Van Winkle.
Headley is not alone in the age problem of the Yankees as they transition to the era of the Baby Bombers. Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner (both 34) also fall into the abyss. Each of them is not over the hill, but they are getting ever closer to that big ugly thing in all professional sports they call retirement by choice, or as in the sad case of Nick Swisher being forced out because everyone but you realizes you just can’t do it anymore.
The problem is further exasperated by another truism in baseball that speaks to the salaries of player who have put their time in and are due to make a considerable amount of money in 2018, and in some cases even beyond (Ellsbury). In Headley’s example, put the number at $13 million.
That’s a lot of money on the table for both the Yankees and Headley. Seeing the writing on the wall, would Headley welcome a trade, assuming the Yankees could foster one, to the National League where he had success before, with the intention of prolonging his career as a free agent next season? Presumably.
But that creeps back to the question, what is it like to be Chase Headley at this stage of his career? All we can do is attempt to put ourselves in his shoes asking: how would we feel?
After all, Headley can swallow his pride, welcome the 20-year-old Torres with open arms, take a seat mostly on the bench, collect that big check and try to hook on with a team next year for one more ride. Or, take the big step retiring from the game to move on with the rest of your life.
Headley, himself, might see other avenues of pursuit I’ve missed. For instance, he might envision himself (as others have observed him) as prime meat for a future as a coach or manager. And if he’s going that route, getting started sooner rather than later is a wise move given the ever declining average age of major league managers in baseball today.
Bottom line, I can only surmise what it’s like to be Chase Headley during these days of uncertainty. But I do know this. Headley, as well as his experienced colleagues Ellsbury and Gardner, will have as much to do with the Yankees success this season as they did last year.
Headley’s head has always been screwed on right. And it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he lets it roll to whatever his season turns out to be, whether he plays in 60 or 160 games, as long as the promise of a World Championship looms in the background.
Because that would be a fitting end to his tenure with the New York Yankees. Anything else would be gravy.