On Tuesday, the Padres traded third basemen Chase Headley and $1 million cash to the Yankees for shortstop Yangervis Solarte and right-handed pitcher Rafeal De Paula. It was hardly an inspired return for the once highly sought after Headley, with Solarte having regressed back to replacement level after a hot start this season and High-A prospect De Paula projecting as nothing more than a middle reliever down the road. Just two years ago, Headley batted .286 with 31 homeruns and 115 RBIs within the cavernous confines of Petco Park – numbers that led to his first All-Star nod and a top-5 finish in MVP voting. Since that 7.2 fWAR season in 2012, Headley has hit a meager .243/.330/.384 with just 20 homeruns, his value plummeting along with his numbers. If ever there were an example of a team holding on to an asset too long, the Padres and Headley are surely it.
For a small-market team like the Padres, cashing in on players like Headley while they are at peak value is a crucial aspect of building and remaining a competitive team. It’s why the Rays traded Matt Garza to the Cubs in 2011 and James Shields to the Royals two years later, and why they will likely do the same with ace David Price before the end of this season. It’s also why, despite reports of mutual interest in an extension, the Twins should do everything in their power to move catcher Kurt Suzuki before this year’s trade deadline.
Signed as a stopgap solution at catcher and tasked with replacing Joe Mauer behind the dish, Suzuki’s revival has been one of the few positive stories in yet another disappointing Twins season. Thought by most to be all but finished as a productive major league backstop (myself included), Suzuki is on pace for his best overall season since 2009 (in terms of WAR) and the best offensive season of his career. Aided by a very fortunate .333 BABIP, his .312/.370/.397 line has resulted in a 117 wRC+, fourth among qualified catchers and good enough to earn him his first All-Star Game selection. For all of that production, the Twins are paying him just $2.75 million this season, with zero commitment beyond 2014. Quite simply, Suzuki’s trade value will never be higher than it is today.
Presently, there are at least two contenders with both legitimate playoff aspirations and considerable holes behind the plate. The Cardinals, with star backstop Yadier Molina likely sidelined until September, and the Orioles, without stud Matt Weiters for the remainder of the season, both find themselves in tough division races where one or two wins could mean the difference between a playoff birth and an early offseason. With both teams expecting their franchise stalwarts back healthy next season, adding Suzuki and his expiring contract for the playoff push would appear to be an easy sell.
Just two years ago, the Twins found themselves in this exact same position with another veteran who was in the midst of a career year. In his first season in Minnesota, outfielder Josh Willingham set career highs with 35 homeruns and 110 RBIs, en route to a 142 wRC+ season that ranked him among the ten best offensive players in all of baseball (ironically, just behind Headley). As a power-hitting corner outfielder on a very affordable contract (three years, $21 million), Willingham was certainly an appealing commodity for any contender looking to add a veteran power bat to the lineup. And yet in the midst of a second consecutive lost season for a team in obvious need of a rebuild, the Twins chose to hold on to Willingham. Since then, he has slashed .209/.347/.381 with just 23 homeruns and 76 RBIs, his 106 wRC+ making him a roughly league average offensive player. That’s to say nothing of his having missed roughly a half-season due to injury, or his cover-your-eyes defense when he has been on the field. Simply put, not trading Willingham in 2012 constitutes an organizational failure that teams like the Twins simply cannot afford to make if they wish to contend.
The Twins are on pace to lose 90-plus games for the fourth consecutive season, and any hope of being competitive before 2016 is a pipe dream. Kurt Suzuki is not a part of the solution, so you have to trade him for one or two pieces that might be. It’s past time for this team to start learning from the mistakes of the past three seasons. #p2c