Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Clear thinking

In April, I asked Chase Headley if he was feeling left out.

A few weeks earlier, the Padres had showered three of his teammates with money. Cameron Maybin received $25 million, all of it guaranteed. Nick Hundley got $9 million and Cory Luebke got $12 million as part of a deal that could reach $27.75 million. All three had provided fair returns in 2011. None, however, had established himself as a big leaguer. In fact, not one of the newly enriched Padres had done as much for the franchise as had Headley.

That's why I wanted to know if Headley was feeling left out.

"I don't worry about that stuff," he said. "I know that if I go out and play the way I'm capable of, I'm going to be OK in that department, whether it's here or somewhere else."

In two decades of covering sports, I'd seen several athletes become engulfed by jealousy. Maybe it was the attention a teammate received from the press or fans. Maybe it was a teammate's salary. The Padres, to be sure, weren't immune to the problem.

Headley told me he wasn't going to drift off course. If the Padres chose to lock up three of his teammates, that was their business. He would do his job as well as he could. The bigger salaries would come if he earned them.

"I know that if I go out and play the way I'm capable of," he said, "I'm going to be OK in that department, whether it's here or somewhere else. I think that's a trap you can get yourself into. To think about that just brings an added distraction."

Headley joined the Padres in 2007. He saw a lot of teammates come and go, including players he described as role models such as Adrian Gonzalez and David Eckstein. He understood what the club was trying to do in locking up young players before they reached arbitration and free agency. He understood baseball economics as it applied to a smaller-revenue club.

"I do think it's important that the Padres develop continuity," he said.  "I'd love to be here. It's a great place to live. It's a great place to play."

Headley is now deep into the best season of his career. In return for $3.47 million in salary, he's given the Padres pretty good defense at third base, along with a .370 on-base percentage and a team-best 19 home runs and 73 RBI. He's played in all but one game.

Whether the Padres decide to keep him or trade him and give the job to prospect Jeff Gyorko, who is 24 and has little if anything left to prove in Triple-A, Headley has made good on his comments of several months ago. He's earned a larger salary for 2013. By doing it the old-fashioned way, he's also increased his leverage should the Padres or another club seek to lock him up long-term.

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