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Chase Headley could provide stable defense at third base for the first time in years

Nick Castellanos was not adequate defensively at third base for the Tigers in 2014. He might improve, but he might not. If the Tigers want an upgrade with the glove, Chase Headley is as good as it gets.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After years of speculation, the Padres finally traded their star third baseman, Chase Headley. After a rough first half by Headley, the New York Yankees picked him up for cheap before the deadline. Now, Headley is a free agent and is not eligible for draft pick compensation.

2014 531 55 13 49 .243 .328 .372 .316 103 9.6% 23.0% 28.0 13 4.4
Steamer* 634 72 17 71 .257 .345 .409 .335 113 10.8% 22.5% - - 4.0
Career 3944 426 93 418 .265 .347 .409 .334 114 10.3% 22.6% 10.8 29 23.3

*2015 Steamer Projection

Who is he?

Headley is a 30-year-old switch-hitting third basemen who goes 6'2, 220 lbs. Drafted 66th overall out of Tennessee in the 2005 June draft, Headley was regarded as the type of player that may not amaze scouts with his physical tools but was an advanced college bat that always found a way to produce. That reputation has stayed relatively true throughout his career in the majors. He broke out in 2012, belting 31 home runs in spacious Petco Park on his way to 7.2 WAR. His numbers, especially his batting averages, have come down since then, but strong walk rates and elite defense have kept him around 4 WAR each of the last two years.

Why should we care?

Nick Castellanos was terrible defensively in 2014. Much has been made about the fact that according to just about every metric, Castellanos was actually worse at third in 2014 than Miguel Cabrera was in 2013. Headley's 28.0 UZR/150, meanwhile, was the best figure in all of baseball, regardless of position. For some context, the second through fifth place finishers were Juan Lagares, Alex Gordon, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Billy Hamilton, respectively. The Tigers could move Castellanos back to left and slot Headley at the keystone.

Though Headley's best tool is his glove, his bat isn't too shabby, either. This was his worst season offensively since 2010 via wRC+, but he was still nine percentage points higher than Castellanos's. After years of being stuck in Petco Park and the rest of the NL West, Headley's production could jump in a new home park.

Why should we stay away?

Headley figures to receive a decently sized contract this offseason, and he's coming off two straight years of average production offensively. He's 30-years old, and defense often declines sooner than offense. Advanced defensive metrics for Headley jumped a little bit in 2014, so it would probably be unrealistic to expect Headley to continue his 2014 pace. If Castellanos can even approach league average defensively, spending money on Headley could be a waste.

Likelihood: 4/10 predicts that Headley will sign a 4-year, $48 million deal this offseason, and that's certainly within the Tigers' budget.

Whether or not you're in favor of signing Headley, or any third baseman, will depend largely on whether or not you believe Castellanos will improve dramatically defensively in 2015. It's absolutely true that his growth has been stunted since he has been shuffled around from the infield to the outfield and back. The eye test and the advanced metrics both agree that Castellanos was horrible in 2014, but neither can accurately predict how much he will improve after another year of tutelage under Omar Vizquel.

In the end, it may be more prudent to give Castellanos another year to prove that he can handle the hot corner and acquire a cheaper option to play left. But, a slight uptick in offensive production combined with his elite defense could return Headley to star-level production and make any contract he receives this offseason a steal.