Third basemen Chase Headley of the Padres is said to be on the trading block. Meanwhile, the Indians have struggled at the position in recent years (The last 3B to start even two thirds of the games in a season (108) for the Indians was Casey Blake in 2007).
Is Lonnie Chisenhall the answer? I don't know, and neither do you. Neither does Chris Antonetti, for that matter. After both 2009 and 2010 Chisenhall was one of the top 50 prospects in baseball, at at one point he was the prospect in the Indians organization. He has more than 200 Major League games to his name, but he's never really produced at the big league level to this point, with a tepid .244/.284/.411 batting line (which is better than his 2013 numbers alone). Having just turned 25 in October, I'd argue it's still too early to give up on him, especially as he's probably still two years away from arbitration, but I also think that for a team with hopes of another playoff appearance in 2014, Chisenhall seems like a weak spot.
Headley is headed into his final season before free agency. This means the Indians wouldn't make making (or getting) a long-term commitment if they acquire him. With Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn already locked in for big money through 2017 and the Indians possibly looking to extend Justin Masterson this offseason, the short-term nature of his acquisition would probably appeal to the Tribe, especially because they could be in line for a compensatory draft pick in 2015.
Here are Headley's numbers from recent seasons with the Padres:
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
Headley is a switch hitter, with better numbers against lefties, but without a massive split (that is to say, he doesn't need to be platooned). He is also a solid defender, with decent range for the position and very sure hands. All together, he's been a very good player, an MVP candidate even in 2012 (he finished 5th), before settling back down a bit but still putting up ~3.5 WAR in 2013 (when looking at his hitting numbers, keep in mind that he's played half his games at Petco, one of the strong pitchers' parks in baseball).
Entering his last season of arbitration eligibility, Headley is likely to earn $11M or so in 2014. Even if he didn't rebound at all from his relatively down 2013, he'd be worth that price (and it would represent the best season by a Cleveland 3B since Blake in 2004), and if he settled in half-way between his 2012 and 2013 numbers, he'd be a bargain, and one of the team's two or three best players. Coming off a fairly modest season, and only a year away from free agency, it's not as though the Padres are in a position to ask for a huge return, and with their eyes on the future, it's a solid prospect (or two) they'd be looking for.
Yesterday on Twitter, @tribescribe brought up Shin-Soo Choo as a comparison point, as someone traded a year before free agency. Choo was coming off a similar season to Headley's 2013, in terms of overall value, and was the same age (29). If anything Choo's season seemed better than Headley's, since the offensive numbers were stronger. The Reds gave up SS prospect Didi Gregorious and OF Drew Stubbs in order to and Choo. Gregorious was one of the Reds' top five prospects, on the edge of overall Top 100 lists a year ago. The closest match in the Indians system would probably be Dorssys Paulino.
Would he be enough? I don't know. As I mentioned, Choo cost Stubbs as well. Perhaps Chisenhall is sent in the deal too. After all, none of San Diego's top 20 prospects play 3B and they'll need someone there. I think it would be nice to keep Chisenhall, even if Headley were acquired. Let him play another year in Columbus (he has one option remaining) and then give him one more crack at the job when Headley leaves in a year (he'd still only be 26 come Opening Day 2015). If Paulino isn't enough, maybe there's a different piece with him, but either way, Dorssys would be the centerpiece.
The other issue with such a trade (if the Padres would go for it), is that the $11 million or so Headley would cost would cut pretty far into the Tribe's available budget. By most reports, they aren't going to go too far above 2013's $80 million. If they go to $85 million for 2014 they've only got ~$12M to play with this winter, unless they trade someone else away in a deal that saves money. Is the upgrade from Chisenhall to Headley bigger than the upgrade from "in-house SP #5" (Trevor Bauer? Josh Tomlin? Carlos Carrasco?) to "free agent SP #5?"
It's an interesting possibility, and it would provide the Indians with an even better lineup than they had this year (withso many switch hitters...), but unless the Indians are comfortable going above $90 million on payroll next season to really go for it, and would sign a solid pitcher in addition to dealing for Headley, I'm not sure he's a fit.