The Yankees want to bring back third baseman Chase Headley, and according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the two sides have begun talks to try to make that a reality. The news comes barely less than a month after Heyman reported in early October that there were "strong indications" the Yankees had interest in re-signing their third baseman, who had a .371 on-base percentage during his final 58 games of the season after a July 22 trade from San Diego to New York.
For all that the third base position has plagued the Yankees in recent years, the team has alternatives to Headley: notably, looking to sign Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, a free agent this offseason, or playing the returning Alex Rodriguez at the hot corner.
But in reality, signing Headley makes the most sense for the Yankees—if not for his ability, for the lack of other viable replacements. Sandoval, with his consistent regular season production and back-to-back historic postseasons, will come at a steep price, perhaps even a nine-digit contract. The Yankees have significantly less payroll flexibility than in previous seasons, and even if they could afford to give Sandoval a massive contract, they would almost certainly have to engage in a bidding war with the Red Sox, which wouldn't exactly be a favorable situation. Other teams (presumably ones with less than $168 million in payroll obligations for 2015) will also be interested in Sandoval, making the Yankees' chances of re-signing Headley—for much, much less money—a more realistic goal.
A-Rod, meanwhile, is returning from a long absence from the majors and hasn't played 100 games at third base since 2010. (He last played more than 131 games there in 2007.) At 39 years of age, the Yankees might figure that Rodriguez would be a more logical fit as a designated hitter or first baseman (as Heyman touches on in his column), an argument that has its merits. Aside from the obvious decline all players undergo as they age, A-Rod's bat would likely be much more effective without the strain of playing in the field each day, or at least playing the less-taxing first base position.
The flip-side of that, however, is that the Yankees have more than enough aging veterans with creaky joints (and bloated contracts) who will also need to spend time at DH or first base. Namely, Carlos Beltran played just 32 games in the outfield in 2014, one year after spending 137 games there with the Cardinals. His -27.3 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games (meaning he was roughly that many runs below average in a 150-game span) was no anomaly either; he was at -18.7 in the same category in 2013 and has been in the black once since 2008, per FanGraphs.
Worse yet, playing A-Rod at first base would eliminate the glove of Mark Teixeira, who has played stalwart defense throughout his career at that position. (Rodriguez has never played there.) Last year was no different, with Teixeira posting a 7.1 UZR/150—again, not a product of small sample size, as it was the sixth time in the last seven years (and fourth straight year) in which he had a positive zone rating.
But all of that still might not be enough to offset the reality of A-Rod's situation. That is, how good will he actually be (anyone's guess at this point) after taking a year off? Can he last for a full season? Will he be involved in further legal troubles? No matter how poor Beltran's fielding is or how much of a downgrade A-Rod is to Teixeira at first base, signing Headley would eliminate the many risks of sticking A-Rod at third base. Plus, though Teixeira has presumably recovered from his wrist surgery and will be fully charged for the season, there's no guarantee that he and Beltran stay healthy. With a team as old and injury-prone as the Yankees, reliable position players are especially valuable, making it almost a no-brainer to bring Headley back.