Chase Headley arrives by 2nd inning, contributes right away
The Yankees' off-and-on pursuit of Chase Headley, a flirtation with the Padres that began after Alex Rodriguez's second hip surgery in 2013, finally resulted in Tuesday's trade for the third baseman.
Then, almost 12 hours after the deal, Headley delivered the walk-off single in the 14th inning for a 2-1 victory over the Rangers.
Headley left Chicago on a 3:30 flight, and after a surprisingly fast ride from LaGuardia, was dressed (wearing No. 12) and in the dugout by the second inning. He entered the game as a pinch hitter for Zelous Wheeler in the eighth.
"I got over here quick," Headley said after the game. "I thought I'd get stuck in traffic. It was meant to be."
Looking to upgrade the position and inject some offense into a costly but underachieving lineup, Brian Cashman sent Yangervis Solarte and Rafael DePaula, a righthander from Class A Tampa, to San Diego in a swap the general manager said was three weeks in the making.
The Padres agreed to pick up $1 million of Headley's prorated salary, leaving the Yankees on the hook for just under $3 million. Despite Headley's disappointing start to this season -- which Cashman attributed mostly to a herniated disc -- the GM figured he was worth the gamble because of his improved production after a June 20 epidural injection to relieve the back issue.
"There's some risks," Cashman said. "But they appear to be something manageable and it's been managed really well. We're past three weeks now and he's responded well -- positively both in performance and how he feels."
After the epidural, Headley, a switch hitter, had a slash line of .298/.330/.405 for the Padres with a home run and nine RBIs in 21 games. The only concern is whether Headley can remain healthy as the Yankees intend to use him as their everyday third baseman. To Headley, the back isn't a problem.
"It's been great," Headley said. "I really had some struggles with it before the epidural. But since then -- knock on wood -- it's been great. I don't anticipate having any trouble with it."
Headley, 30, is a free agent at the end of this season, and with A-Rod's future still murky for 2015, Cashman was asked if Headley could be a longer-term option at third base.
"Next year is next year," Cashman said. "I can't predict 2015 and what our needs will or won't be."
Headley never has come close to matching his breakout season in 2012, when he batted .286 with 31 homers and a league-leading 115 RBIs, which earned him fifth place in NL MVP voting. But the Yankees hope that removing him from cavernous Petco Park -- and the other pitcher-friendly stadiums in the NL West -- will make him more dangerous in the Bronx.
"You look at his last month, it's been really productive," Girardi said. "And coming over here, he played in an extremely big ballpark. We think this place will help him."
Headley won a Gold Glove in 2012, but Cashman didn't necessarily rave about his defensive skills, calling him an "average" third baseman, according to his scouts. "We feel like we're at the very least getting an average everyday major-leaguer at that position -- maybe more," Cashman said.
If first impressions mean anything, Headley may end up showing Cashman that he's even better than advertised.
"I'm a firm believer things happen for a reason," Headley said. "Hopefully, I can get back to being the player that I know I am."