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Uggla Travels up I-75

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com broke the news late Tuesday afternoon that the Marlins had traded Dan Uggla to the Braves for lefty reliever Mike Dunn and Omar Infante. The reaction in the twittersphere was immediate and intense, mostly centering on the fact that the Marlins have seemingly cornered the market on relievers with their past few trades.

The return does seem a little light. Infante was an All-Star in name, but a super-utility guy in game: an inflated BABIP masked his utter lack of power or patience. At least his glove plays all over the diamond and he’s under control for a mere $2.5 million in 2011 – he should be worth at least twice that with enough plate appearances. If he spends the year starting at second or third base (depending on where Chris Coghlan ends up), he might even come close to matching the kind of production Uggla has put forth in his down years (2.4 WAR in 2007, 2.8 WAR in 2009). Adding that kind of surplus value to four-plus years of Dunn could be seen as an interesting haul considering that Uggla is only under contract for another year and had publicly scorned the Marlins’ last offer.

But Uggla is a Type-A free agent. If the Marlins had enough space in the budget to fit $12 million in – after all, that scorned deal was worth four years and $48 million – they had enough space to offer Uggla arbitration and receive two compensatory picks. Whether or not those two picks could have netted a utility infielder and a left-handed reliever worthy of playing in the major leagues is a topic for speculation at this point, but surely the upside of those picks would have reached beyond Dunn and Infante’s upside.

Getting a three-to-five WAR second baseman for about 80% of the cost on a one-year deal – in the waning years of Chipper Jones‘ career – makes too much sense for the Atlanta Braves, who seem a few good moves from World Series contention. Now the team can avoid the scrum for outfield upgrades, and they didn’t really have the money to jump in on Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford anyway. They can find a backup shortstop on the market or in their own system – and with Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty, they had a surplus in lefty relievers.

The only question for the Braves is what they will do once Chipper returns. He has a stated goal of returning for spring training, and if he achieves that goal, the team would have five viable infielders. The plan could be to return Martin Prado to his super-utility role, which works as long as he makes some starts in the outfield and doesn’t spend much time on the bench. Having two good third baseman is a blessing on most teams, and a need on a Chipper Jones team. If the team had more outfielders, Freddie Freeman might find himself in the minor leagues another year, but it’s much more likely that Prado shags some flyballs in the corner outfield next spring.