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Trading Uggla

In the aftermath of Dan Uggla rejecting their contract offer for four years and $48 million dollars, the Florida Marlins have reportedly put their second baseman on the trade block. It is an interesting move for what might indicate about Uggla’s current value, his potential landing spots, and where the Marlins see themselves.

Uggla’s primary selling point as as player has always been his bat, and 2010 was the best offensive season of his career with a .381 wOBA (.287/.369/.508). We don’t want to assume any player is going to repeat the best season of his career, especially not one who will be 31. Uggla’s 2011 ZiPS projection puts him at about +20 over 700 plate appearances. Both the metrics and scouts agree that Uggla is a poor defensive second baseman; 5 runs below average would seem to be fair, possibly generous, as an estimate of his true talent in the field. 3.5 WAR seems like a decent projection for Uggla in 2011.

It is hard to know how the free agent valuation will play out; at about $4.5 million dollars per marginal win, Uggla’s “open market” value would be about $16 million. 80 percent of his market value (a typical amount for a player’s third arbitration season) would be around $13 million dollars. Given the uncertainty in both the estimation of both the talent and likely salary, let’s put his surplus value at between two and six million dollars. Assuming he isn’t resigned, Uggla is going to be be a free agent after 2011 , so potential draft pick compensation needs to be taken into account. Uggla would be a Type A free agent if were on the market this season, and is likely to be after 2011. Still, anything can happen, so is general agreement with this data, let’s put his additional value due to draft pick compensation between three and six million dollars. Putting that together with his surplus value over his contract, we get between five and $12 million dollars in surplus; in terms of prospects, at the very worst that is a low-end B prospect. Teams rarely trade A prospects any more, and probably wouldn’t for Uggla, but he could potentially be worth something like a high-end B prospect and either another lesser B prospect or a couple of good Cs. It is probably somewhere in between those two… assuming the Marlins are after prospects.

There isn’t space here to speculate on all the teams that should or could be interested in Uggla. Some have suggested that Uggla could move to third to increase his options, but he (or at least his agent) has shown resistance to this in the past, and I personally don’t think he’ll be any better at third than at second (I’m open to being convinced otherwise). Given his age and contract status, a potential trade partner should probably be a team that has a good shot at contention in 2011 and that needs a second baseman. There are many possibilities, I’ll deal with just two that have been floated. The Tigers have been mentioned as a possible suitor for Uggla, and they do have a hole at second, and they’re usually willing to trade prospects (with the Marlins!) for established players. One intriguing (and puzzling) rumor involves the Toronto Blue Jays. One on hand, Uggla is “their kind of player” (DINGERS!), the Jays will probably continue to be competitive in 2011, and they do have plenty of pitching depth if that is what interests the Marlins. On the other hand, I’m not sure they are quite ready to cross the line from “competitive” to “contending,” pitching depth can disappear in a hurry, and given their division they need to make sure that even “win now” moves don’t interfere with a continual rebuilding plan. On that last point, the potential draft pick compensation from Uggla could come in handy, but it would need to offset whatever talent the Jays give up to get Uggla in the first place. Finally, the Jays would need to either sell low on current second baseman Aaron Hill (a poor man’s Uggla) or move him or Uggla to third base.

What does this say about how the Marlins see their situation? The 4/48 offer seemed fair to me, perhaps too much given his age and the Marlins’ budget — they definitely shouldn’t go any higher than that. S trying to trade Uggla in itself makes sense, but for what? I assumed above they would be looking for prospects because that’s what the Marlins usually do. But that may not be the case — after all, if they were willing to sign Uggla for 4/48 and trade Cameron Maybin for relievers (!), maybe they are seriously trying to contend in 2011. It isn’t unrealistic: the Phillies aren’t getting any younger, the Braves aren’t a juggernaut, the Nationals are still a ways off, and the Mets’ mess will probably take a little while to clean up. The Marlins have been quite respectable the last couple of seasons, but they have never been much more than that since 2003. Trading Uggla potentially opens up second base for Chris Coghlan, and they have some very talented players, but they would need to add some pieces. If they don’t plan on contending in 2011, why offer Uggla the big contract covering his likely decline years? If they do want to contend, why not keep Uggla whether he takes the four-year contract or not, and take the draft picks after the season? There is a third option, though — to try and contend by getting major league talent back for Uggla to help in areas of need (third base, outfield, pitching). The question then is whether the Marlins could get the right players back in a trade and have enough money left in their budgeted to add the remaining necessary parts. The front office generally does a good job with the resources they are given, but it would be nice to see that sort of commitment to winning from ownership given how they suckered the taxpayers have a new stadium coming (and their shoestring budget). I won’t be holding my breath.