Uggla’s Value

There are a few signposts that let us know winter has arrived – the leaves change, the grocery stores try to sell us pumpkin everything, and the Florida Marlins begin trading off arbitration eligible players. This year, the annual fire sale has already claimed Jeremy Hermida, and the expectation is that Dan Uggla will be the next to go.

I wonder, though – did the Marlins wait too long to deal him?

There was significant interest in Uggla a year ago, when he was coming off a +5 win season and was still quite the bargin; he made just $5.35 million in 2010. However, given another year of service time, Uggla is going to be looking at a ~$9 million arbitration award. That salary makes him a little pricey for small payroll clubs.

He also turns 30 in May, and his defense is considered poor enough that he’s likely to be moved off of second base by whoever acquires him. So, the Marlins are essentially marketing a third baseman who is going to get a one year salary about equal to what they would have to pay to sign a comparable free agent – in this case, Adrian Beltre or Chone Figgins.

The upside is that Uggla doesn’t require a long term commitment, but given the rate of raises in arbitration, he’s a non-tender candidate next winter. The Marlins are really only selling one year of value, and as a 30-year-old third baseman in this economy, he’s not that much of a bargain.

A year ago, Uggla would have brought a solid return of prospects from a team looking for a power hitting second baseman. Now, though, I think the Marlins will have to settle for a mediocre package just to get him off the books. Was keeping Uggla in Florida for 2009 really worth the reduction in his trade value to the Marlins?

It sure doesn’t seem like it to me. This appears to be a case of selling a year too late.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


34 Responses to “Uggla’s Value”

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  1. Kevin S. says:

    Didn’t you know the Braves are going to trade Javier Vazquez for him? I saw it on MLBTR!

    Seriously, the amount of delusion on South Beach regarding what he’ll return is hilarious.

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  2. Southsider says:

    He’ll fetch some fringy prospects but provide the Marlins with what they desire the most, a salary dump.

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    • DavidCEisen says:

      Or give them a way to play Coghlan at his natural position. Coghlan should be an upgrade both defensively and offensively.

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      • Michael says:

        “an upgrade both defensively and offensively.”

        If you don’t regress Coghlan’s offensive numbers, yes. But I think they’re more likely to be even in terms of offensive contribution. Defensively you’re almost assuredly correct, though Uggla’s numbers aren’t as bad as advertised.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Well Bill James is projecting Coghlan to have a wOBA .020 higher than Uggla’s.

        According to James:
        Uggla: .351 wOBA
        Coghlan: .371
        Utley: .384
        Pedroia: .369

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      • JH says:

        Bill James’ projection system is also ridiculously bullish on players age 25 and under. His prospect projections are way out of whack with the rest of the projection systems out there, and not too much should be read into them.

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      • R M says:

        Bill James is generally very optimistic with young players. Projecting Coghlan to be nearly as valuable as Chase Utley offensively is pretty absurd IMO. The last time Utley had a wOBA below .391 was 2004, and Coghlan had a .372 wOBA with a .366 BABIP last season. For comparison, his career minor league BABIP is .326, and that is against defenses far inferior to those in the Major Leagues.

        Of course it could be that he makes adjustments and maintains his batting average (which seems possible given his past performance), but I wouldn’t count on a .370+ wOBA out of him.

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  3. Michael says:

    I’m hearing a lot of different arbitration numbers over the last few days, ranging from $7.5M to the $9M mark Dave just posted.

    I projected Uggla as a 3.5 WAR player, and at $8M/$10M over the next two years, that would be worth $14M in surplus. At Dave’s The issue of course is what team is willing to pay the market rate for Uggla’s wins and has a need at second/third base.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Arbitration awards go up faster than that, Michael. They’re almost always 50%+ raises, and often closer to 100%. Garrett Atkins was last year’s version of Uggla, and he went from $4.4M to $7.1M, a 61 percent raise.

      Uggla’s almost certainly going to get north of $8 million in arbitration this year, probably closer to $9 million. Next year, he’s looking at ~$14 million or so.

      3.5 WAR for Uggla is also a bit overly generous, given his age and skillset.

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      • Michael says:

        I’m not well-versed in arbitration salary dealings, so I’ll take your word on the $9M, Dave. Is there a good 3rd-year comparison out there that we can consider?

        As far as the projection, that’s based on a simple Marcels-projection with a slight age adjustment. I don’t expect the bat to fall off, though in subsequent years this will likely be the case. I ran my defensive projection as 5/4/3/2, 75% on UZR and 25% on the Fans Scouting Report (except 2009, where I did not have data converted to the proper scale), and 75 games of average for regression. I didn’t count age, but dropping it five runs puts him at around -9, which is what I believe most people qualitatively would put Uggla at.

        That being said, if the salary projections are really that bad, then I would agree that Uggla’s value would be shot in terms of a second year.

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      • Dave Cameron says:

        There aren’t any great comps for Uggla as 5+ service time guys. Most good players agree to a multi-year contract before they get to that point. Still, we do have some examples, such as Xavier Nady last year getting a 91 percent raise.

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  4. Boomer says:

    3rd basemen and 2nd basemen have the same defensive value.

    Also, you wrote a series of posts on how fungible the defense of those two positions is.

    Given that, it shouldn’t make one iota of difference to his value what position he plays.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      In theory, yes. In practicality, no – teams don’t agree with me, and the return on Uggla will reflect their valuations, not mine.

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    • walkoffblast says:

      It might if it is LF. Apparently there are some rumors that the Red Sox at least have talked about him there. Seems like an interesting idea to talk about but not sure how well it would actual work out.

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    • Toffer Peak says:

      Also, while 2B and 3B may have the same defensive value, that does not mean that they have the same defensive requirements. 3Bs presumably require less range but better arms. If those are qualities that better match Uggla then it would make sense to move him there.

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  5. Bobby Boden says:

    I hope the cubs are smart enough not to overpay for Uggla, and stick him at second base, they already have enough people underperforming their salary.

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    • lookatthosetwins says:

      Uggla will almost certainly perform up to his salary. He should be about 6-7 WAR for about 20-25 mil, which is good value, as long as you don’t give up too much in terms of prospects to get him.

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  6. Logan says:

    “This appears to be a case of selling a year too late.”

    And this article, while well-written, funny, and accurate, appears to be a case of “Hindsight is 20-20″. The Marlins thought they’d contend this year. Between the game’s second best player (Hanley), a duo of aces (J. Johnson and the real, FIP-valued Ricky Nolasco), and a solid core of hitters, the organization felt they had the talent to contend. Did it seem that absurd after their 11-1 start? Or when they swept Philly and took two of three from Colorado in early August, putting them in the thick of two playoff races?

    Dave, the Marlins didn’t make it, they’re definitely not gonna get the value from Uggla that they would’ve last year, but they were banking on contention this season. When you’re payroll is equal to that of one Yankee player, it’s not often that you have the opportunity to be in a pennant race, so the upside of keeping Uggla this year was greater than trying to ship him off at his highest value. In my humble opinion, of course.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Did it seem that absurd after their 11-1 start?

      You mean the 11-1 start that lead Keith Law to propose the “Not against the Nationals” split? The 11-1 start that had people thinking Emilio Bonifacio was the real deal?

      Oh, and if they were planning on contending last year, I think they would have sucked it up and hung onto Willingham instead of dumping him for a non-prospect.

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      • Fresh Hops says:

        Willingham is an overrated player; his defense does a lot to cancel his offense and he never plays a full season. Uggla’s defense may be questionable, but at least it’s questionable against a field of good defenders (Second basemen) and not lousy defenders (corner outfielders.)

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Willingham’s been worth at least 2+ WAR four years running; he made less than $3 million this year. The Marlins had a total of four 2+ WAR players this year (Cody Ross was fifth at 1.9). Somehow, I get the feeling Willingham could have been useful on that team for $3 million.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Position players, that is.

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      • Logan says:

        Kevin-

        Last year Uggla was a 5 win player, Cody Ross a 4 win player, and Jorge Cantu a 3 win player. All of those guys dropped off this year, I think for a total one year loss of about 5 wins. I don’t have each in front of me as I write this, but I think that approximation is roughly accurate.

        The Marlins won 87 games this year. Philly won 93, Colorado 92. If those guys gave the kind of production they gave last year, hell, if even if they regressed by a total of two wins, then Florida’s in the race until the final week of the season. Any way you slice it, that’s contention.

        As it is, Florida contends about every sixth year (ask Cleveland or the Yankees). Do I believe in stupid patterns like a team will win every nth year? No. But for a team with very little spending capacity, when you have a shot, even an inkling of a shot, it’s worth taking.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        My point is they half-assed it over less than $3 million. A useful piece was traded for nothing in return.

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    • Fresh Hops says:

      While I’m not sure you’re right about this, you do make a good point. Many teams would have kept Uggla for exactly this reason. Of course, the Marlins ownership is so slimy I’m not sure I’d think they were among them, but some teams would have acted this way and I don’t *know* for certain that the Marlins wouldn’t.

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  7. R M says:

    Uggla hardly seems to be a butcher defensively at 2B, why would a team be sure to move him off the position? Plus, wouldn’t the possible defensive improvement be cancelled out by the offensive positional adjustment from 2B to 3B?

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    • Michael says:

      There is no adjustment between 2B and 3B. According to most metrics, they’re viewed as equal positions in terms of production. The key is to see whether Uggla can handle the skillset at third base (strong arm, quick reactions) better than he did at second.

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  8. Montero says:

    Cameron i get where you are coming from but i think you missed a few points. Uggla was having a career year and injured his shoulder just before the all-star game and went off to a horrible second half. The front office said that there will be trades to get better defensively and get more speed. The trade for Bonifacio was proof of this but we only got a backup player in return. The Marlins traded Jacobs because of his horrible defense and Willingham for his back issues. After giving up a lot of power Uggla was more important than the return we could have gotten. Also i think that Uggla”s stats this year are deceptive. He had the third lowest BABIP of all starting second basement and was hitting hard out all year long. He could have easily been a .265 or better hitter.

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  9. Andy S. says:

    This appears to be a case of hindsight being 20/20.

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    • JH says:

      How? Every factor that Dave mentioned was perfectly knowable (and known) last offseason.

      Awful defense? UZR didn’t hate his defense in ’08, but his ’07 number was awful, and that gelled with what scouts had said about his glove. I’m going with check.

      Uggla’s not a great bet to repeat a 5-win season? Well, he beat his previous career-best wOBA by 27 points, and his BABIP was 23 points above his career average to that point despite no noticeable change in his batted ball rates. Check

      Going to be 30 in a year’s time? I’m gonna give the Marlins’ brass the benefit of the doubt and say they know that 29 + 1 = 30.

      Going to cost more in a year? Players universally get raises in arbitration if they play anywhere near their established rate of performance. Check.

      What exactly do we know about Dan Uggla now that we couldn’t have predicted in the winter of 2008?

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  10. Taylor H says:

    His defense is way too iffy for my liking. Hopefully he doesn’t end up a Mariner.

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  11. It is absolutely pathetic how cheap the marlins are. They won’t even spend on good players. The MLB total payroll/revenue was 45.63% last season. For the Marlins, it was 26.50%. In 2008, it was an even less at 17%. The marlins can’t spin gold faster than Jeff Loria pockets the $$.

    http://gameofinches.blogspot.com/2009/12/marlins-are-cheap-sobs.html

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