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Chase Headley will be paid $8,575,000 by the San Diego Padres in 2013.

It will be the most the team has paid for a third baseman since Phil Nevin, who was more of a first baseman pretending to play third. With the increase is pay comes an increase in fear from the team’s fans that Headley might be too good, and eventually too expensive, to remain on the team much longer.

Before 2012, most Padres fans had resigned themselves to a depressing truth: Headley is a low-power, high-strikeout, high-walk guy with a great glove.

If he were smaller, he could’ve played shortstop or second base and his lack of power wouldn’t have mattered. Except, in today’s MLB, teams have to get power from their corner infield and outfield spots, and Headley wasn’t cutting it.

Suddenly, as if he were the new owner of Wonderboy — or a fancy doping plan — Chase started hitting bombs. He went from hitting a HR every 95 ABs in 2011, his fifth season as an MLB starter, to hitting one every 19 ABs in 2012. He finished with 31 HRs on the season, 19 more than he had hit in any other season, and earned himself a raise of more than $5 million over his 2012 salary.

The San Diego Padres, with their new ownership and still-fairly-new general manager, did about as little as they could during the offseason. They’re content to stand pat with a team that played like a World Series contender during the second half of the season. I don’t blame them.

But by doing so, the team chained its hopes and dreams to Headley. If he can’t produce similar power in 2013, the team will not score as much and neither the pitching nor the ballpark will bail it out.

Headley was sarcastically referred to as “The Savior” of the Padres when he was called up during a dismal 2008 season, a season in which the Padres finished with a 63-99 record. Fans knew Headley wouldn’t fix everything, but his success in the minor leagues was about the only good thing going on in the entire organization, and fans wanted something to be excited about. The demands were nonstop: “Bring us our savior, the one who can turn around the franchise!”

The Padres have yet to make the playoffs in the five years since calling up Headley, missing the postseason by one game in 2010. If they are to turn the franchise around and become regular fixtures in the postseason, they’ll need to start by retaining successful homegrown players. This simple concept has been a struggle for the cash-strapped team since 2008, leading the team to trade away contributing players like Adrian Gonzalez and Mat Latos for inexpensive prospects.

If he were to repeat his 2012 performance, Headley would be an even bigger superstar than Gonzalez and Latos. Headley’ WAR (wins over replacement) in 2012 was 7.5, which is higher than any season for Latos or Gonzalez. The team has one more year of arbitration left with the sixth-year veteran, which means it’ll need to sign him to a long-term deal soon or trade him away before he becomes a free agent.

Trading him away for inexpensive prospects would leave fans with a sense of déjà vu, and erase any confidence earned by the contract extensions for Carlos Quentin, Huston Street and Cameron Maybin. Signing Headley to a long-term deal would have fans believing in Padres ownership — and by extension, the future of the franchise — for the first time since the team’s World Series appearance in 1998.

Padres fan David Marver recently produced a half-hour online documentary titled “Padres: The Sad Truth,” which criticizes the Padres ownership since that dismal 2008 season. Marver seems convinced that Headley will be traded for a collection of inexpensive prospects and says fans should demand that the team sign Headley to a long-term contract.

By being the first homegrown superstar facing free agency since Peter O’Malley bought the Padres, Headley serves as the brightest beacon for the team’s dedication to winning. In that way, he could live up to his nickname and be “The Savior” of the franchise after all.

John Gennaro is a contributor to Voice of San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @jmglion or email johnmgennaro@gmail.com.

John Gennaro

I'm John Gennaro, contributor to Active Voice and managing editor of Bolts from the Blue. You can tweet me @john_gennaro...

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