Shortly after the Braves acquired Dan Uggla we heard that the two sides were discussing an extension. The Marlins had previously failed on that front, as Uggla rejected the team’s four-year, $48 million offer. It took a little more than a month to finish the deal. The two sides finalized it yesterday, agreeing to five years and $62 million. The Braves now have someone to man second or third for the forseeable future, but will Uggla’s production match his price tag?
It’s hard to argue with Uggla’s offensive track record. Since he debuted as a Rule 5 pick for the Marlins in 2006 he has produced at least a .345 wOBA. During those five years the only second baseman with more WAR is Chase Utley, and only Utley, Ian Kinsler, and Robinson Cano have a higher wOBA. Last season, perhaps Uggla’s best, the only second baseman to out-hit him was Cano.
On defense both UZR and DRS have shown Uggla to be something of a liability. In his five seasons he has a -22 UZR, -4.5 per 150, and -29 DRS. Both marks put him well below his peers. He might regain some defensive value if he slides to third base when Chipper Jones retires, but then again there’s no guarantee that he can handle the transition.
We’ve already established Uggla as one of the game’s premier second baseman, and in that regard he appears to deserve the extension he got. He likely could have done a bit better than that if he hit the free agent market next off-season after earning around $10 million in 2011. That’s not to say that he’s a clear case going forward. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projects Uggla to hit .259/.346/.469 next season, a 116 OPS+. Unsurprisingly, those are right around his career marks. The only noticeable drop-off is in power. ZiPS projects a .210 ISO against Uggla’s career average of .224.
In some ways it might benefit Uggla to leave behind Florida and the Teal Monster. Surely he’s had a few home runs that had the distance, but not the height. Turner Field should be more friendly in that way. The left field wall is only five feet further, but considerably shorter. The problem might come with the gaps. At Sun Life Stadium the left-center gap measures 361 feet, while at Turner it measures 380. Since Uggla is a pull hitter, this extra room in the gaps could mean outfielders run down more of his balls in play.
There are certainly concerns about Uggla’s future. He’ll be 31 next year, so the contract takes him through his age-35 season. In his off-season buyer’s guide to middle infielders, ESPN’s Keith Law notes that he doesntt “want to be on the hook for his age 34 or 35 seasons, by which point his defense will probably have moved him off second base.” If he can slide over to third, that should be fine. Even a move to left field, where he probably still won’t play good defense, wouldn’t be all that bad considering his bat. We’ve seen plenty of players maintain production through age 35.
While the Braves didn’t get a steal here, they did lock up one of the league’s top second baseman, and one of the league’s top bats, for a slightly discounted rate. For a quick comparison, he and Robinson Cano are in the same year of service, and Cano stands to make a bit more over the next three years — $10 million this year followed by $14 and $15 million options in 2012 and 2013. Uggla’s contract calls for an average annual value of $12.4 million. Even if he has to move to third, or to left, his bat will still play well. For a team in need of offense now and in the future, the Braves did pretty well with this extension.