One of the hottest topics of the 2014-2015 offseason was whether Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval was the better signing when they inked their current contracts.
In just over a year since then, that pair has gone from two premium third basemen to two of the biggest albatrosses in baseball. It was recently announced that Kung Fu Panda will miss the remainder of 2016 with a mysterious shoulder ailment that he conveniently suffered after losing his starting job to rookie Travis Shaw out of spring training.
Headley, on the other hand, had his worst offensive season since becoming a full time player in 2008 and committed a career high 23 errors in 2015. He has followed that up by slashing a woeful .156/.267/.156 in his first 75 plate appearances, going the entire first month of the season without a base hit. His 24 wRC+ is fourth worst among all qualified regulars through 20 games this year.
While the Yankees’ coaching staff has been supportive of Headley, in a recent interview GM Brian Cashman hinted that a change could be imminent if the third baseman’s performance doesn’t improve soon, telling Brendan Kuty of NJ.com,
"“Like anything else, you have to sing for your supper, and over time if the performance continues to be poor, you have to look for alternatives.” That’s nice to hear for fans tired of watching Headley’s struggles in the first month, but one problem is that Cashman doesn’t have an obvious replacement in-house."
The organization is heavy on outfielders and bullpen arms, but the upper-level minor league infield depth is a little thin. The best solution may already be on the 25 man roster in Ronald Torreyes, who is 9-for-24 in the early going. He’s demonstrated strong contact skills in the minors, has a little speed, and is more than capable of handling the position. Steamer600 projects him for a wRC+ and 0.7 WAR if given the reins full time. There is not a ton of upside with Torreyes because of his limited power and on base skills, but he isn’t going to hurt you much either.
The other obvious candidate is Rob Refsnyder, who has been on the cusp of earning a starting infield job with New York for two years now. Refsnyder was the favorite for Torreyes’s bench spot this spring before being hit in the face by groundballs in back-to-back games seemed to give the team pause about his ability to handle the hot corner. With another 98 innings at third on his resume with Triple-A Scranton since then, it may be time for another look.
Before that bad weekend in March he had looked like a natural at the position, making all the routine plays and even adding in a few unexpected highlights. With his bat, all he needs to do is be competent. Travis Shaw and Chris Coghlan are both clunking along as starting third baseman this season. Steamer600 sees Refsnyder as a league average starter at 99 wRC+ and 2.2 WAR, which would be a major boost for the Yanks.
The Yankees have a number of other veteran options in Triple-A to hold down the fort if they’re not sold on Refsnyder or Torreyes, but none should be expected to produce above replacement level. Pete Kozma, Jonathan Diaz, Deibinson Romero, and Donavan Solano aren’t even hitting with the RailRiders, so expecting them to take over for Headley isn’t realistic.
With most teams still basking in spring optimism, swinging a trade at this time of year is tricky. Expensive veterans on losing teams like Aaron Hill and Hector Olivera are likely the best they could do at this point. Alberto Callaspo is currently the class of the infield free agent market. Trevor Plouffe and Martin Prado are more intriguing options depending on how the Twins and Marlins respectively like their chances.
None of these options feel much more than bandaids. With Miguel Andujar and Jorge Mateo in A-Ball, the team’s closest premium talent, the Yankees have a major question mark at third for the foreseeable future. The three years and $40 million remaining on his deal will give Chase Headley a pretty long leash, but if he continues to be unplayable, they may have to just cut ties and look for an answer elsewhere.