This off-season the Red Sox made a big splash signing two of the biggest free-agent bats in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval, in particular, was a necessary investment. Third base became a black hole for Boston in 2014. Will Middlebrooks' future in Boston died there and Xander Bogaerts proved by playing at third that shortstop was where he belonged. Sandoval solved that problem with one stroke of the pen.
Meanwhile, the Yankees brought back Chase Headley, whom they had traded for in 2014. He quietly signed a four-year, $52M deal and brought some stability to the position.
Now, the causal first-glance consensus may be that Boston has the stronger player at third. After all, they signed the third baseman from the defending MLB champions. And the Yankees have someone you may have never heard of before. But you may want to sit down if that's what you've been thinking.
Boston: Pablo Sandoval
2015: 144 G | 150 H | 83 RBI | .279 BA | .328 OBP | .454 SLG | .782 OPS | 3.1 WAR | Cost per WAR: $5,677,419 | Age: 28
New York: Chase Headley
2015: 139 G | 127 H | 73 RBI | .253 BA | .340 OBP | .427 SLG | .767 OPS | 4.1 WAR | Cost per WAR: $3,170,731 | Age: 31
That's not a misprint. Headley is giving the Yankees one more full win at third while costing about $2.5M less per win than Sandoval.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First is that Headley is slightly better in the field that Sandoval. And while that isn't shown in my admittedly-abbreviated line above, it affects overall WAR. Second, Headley is also projected to be slightly better than Sandoval in runs scored and home runs. Add all that together and you can see where he can rightly be projected to add one win more than Sandoval.
Things get even more interesting if you look at averages over the past few years
2010-14: Pablo Sandoval yearly average
2015: 135 G | 141 H | 70 RBI | 59 R | .283 BA | .778 OPS | 119 OPS+ | 3.2 WAR |
2010-14: Chase Headley yearly average
2015: 142 G | 138 H | 63 RBI | 66 R | .266 BA | .762 OPS | 117 OPS+ | 4.0 WAR |
Again, very similar lines. And while Sandoval looks like the stronger hitter, he has less WAR. Why? Fielding. Sandoval actually had a negative defense-only WAR in both 2012 and 2013. Headley has never had that problem.
None of this is meant to imply that Boston's signing of Sandoval was a bad idea. He is a massive upgrade over the debacle that existed at third in 2014. But sometimes the quieter signings can be just as effective as the ones that grab all the headlines. If not a little more so. And credit must be given to Brian Cashman for not only trading for Headley last year, but re-signing him in the off-season.* How that Cashman co-exists with the Cashman that gave $5M to Stephen Drew is beyond me.
If Boston has one advantage in this match-up it would be that Sandoval is only 28 while Headley will be 31 in May. Age matters and Sandoval is in his prime while Headley is at the end of his. But trying to predict anything based on age alone is idiocy.
But for now, the Yankees have a cost-effective solid third baseman that is just a little better overall that Boston's trumpeted free-agent signing.
*Also, it's a little amusing that both Middlebrooks and Yangeris Solarte (the player of note that Cashman traded to San Diego for Headley) are competing for the same position in SD this spring.