A trade that does NOT make sense for both sides


I found a trade proposition from the Anthony Hernandez at Miami Sports Generation:

Dan Uggla is expendable with the emergence of Brett Carroll. Carroll would become the everyday right fielder, Chris Coghlan would moved down to second base and Jeremy Hermida would slide back over to left field. Brett is better defensively at right than Hermida and Coghlan is lighter on his feet at second.

Relief pitcher Heath Bell was the set-up man for all time saves leader Trevor Hoffman last year. After Hoffman departed for Milwaukee, Bell got the nod for closer.

Bell leads the National League with 23 saves and is tied for second in the Majors behind Brian Fuentes who has 25. He leads the National League with a 1.49 ERA which is second to Joe Nathan’s 1.31 in the Majors.

…This trade makes sense for both clubs. It would benefit both teams and address areas of need. San Diego has a replacement for Bell in Edward Mujica and the Marlins have a replacement for Uggla in Chris Coghlan – making both players expendable.

Now, I like the guys at Miami Sports Generation; they’re on my blogroll, I check them out every so often to catch up on other South Florida sports news, and they provide an invaluable service in discussion of all Sout Florida sports and not just the Marlins or the Phins.

That being said, this trade simply wouldn’t work.

I’ve done plenty of arguing about Dan Uggla’s value, but this isn’t a time that I would do it. An Uggla for Heath Bell trade at this point in the season would be fair: Uggla has been worth about a win above replacement, wheras Bell has been worth 1.3 WAR through this point in the season. It would seem like we would come out slightly ahead in this deal, but considering who each of these players would be replaced by in the lineup is important as well. Brett Carroll would step in and play the outfield and move Chris Coghlan or Emilio Bonifacio to second base, with the other occupying third. Bell would step in and replace the Marlins last reliever. I am unsure of who that would be, but given the current signing of multiple veteran relievers, I wouldn’t doubt that the Marlins would send Brian Sanches down despite the fact that there’s a very good chance he would be better than either Brendan Donnelly or Luis Ayala.  While Carroll can’t possibly be the glove that UZR currently has him being, the expectation of an additional five runs saved over the course of the season (a fair regression, though it’s estimation with no reasoning other than an eye test behind it) seems plausible. If we then consider that a move to the infield as making Coghlan a league average defender, that would add a total of eight runs to the Marlins production, considering their offensive production duplicates over the course of the season.

If Uggla and Bell continue on their current trends, the WAR math would look something like this:

Bell over Sanches: +1.0 WAR
Carroll in right, Coghlan at second/third over Uggla: -0.2 WAR
Grand Total: +0.8 WAR

This uses some really rough estimations, so I would take it with a grain of salt. It also doesn’t consider the leverage differences in moving Bell into the closer role over a committee or either Lindstrom or Nunez. Still, chances are we’d come close to a win ahead if we simply replaced the right reliever, one of the two veterans. Not bad at all.

So why wouldn’t it work? Aside from my belief that Uggla can outperform his first half results, which are likely the worst he could ever put up offensively (his defense has always been bad), and that Bell’s win totals as I list them are not park-adjusted for Petco (I’m not sure whether tRA* is used for WAR calculations on StatCorner, otherwise I would have run with those), there are non-performance issues to consider. The most important of these issues is the salary exchange that would occur in the trade. Here is where I think Anthony did not dig deeper into San Diego’s current predicament as an organization.

Sure, Uggla’s bat would work for their lineup, in the sense that Uggla would easily be the second best hitter on a team full of offensively inept position players outside of Adrian Gonzalez. The issue is that if the Padres were to deal Bell, they would not be doing so thinking in the short-term. Over the offseason, the Padres were in full salary-dump mode, attempting to get rid of Jake Peavy to no avail. The ownership, which was in turmoil at the time due to the divorce of former Padres owner John Moores, asked GM Kevin Towers to shed payroll. This season’s trading was no different, as they dealt competent players making around $1M a year for players making the minimum in order to save the most money possible.

This is where salaries would derail this deal. Uggla makes $5.35M this season in his first year of arbitration eligibility. It would not surprise me, though I’m not an arbitration guru, for Uggla to make $6M at least next season in arbitration, even given his perceived struggles, which aren’t nearly as bad as traditionalists would point out. Uggla’s under team control for the next few years, which is good, but would still be making far more money than the Padres, even with the ownership shift to former agent Jeff Moorad being completed, would be willing to afford, especially if he is undervalued by traditional statistics. Meanwhile, Bell is under team control as well for the next two years and is making $1.25M this season. He’d likely be making close to $3-4M in his second go-around thanks to the saves, but it still would be a net loss for the Pads.

In addition, the Padres have no particular need to improve the current major league club. As a result of some poor drafts by Towers, the organization has one of the worst farm systems in baseball, with zero organizational depth. The trade for Peavy, and likewise any other deal made for Bell, would have to be for a good quantity of prospects. Peavy was going to net a young major-league ready player, a top prospect, and some low-level guys who are more like lottery tickets. With Bell’s current season, the Padres might reasonably expect to get a high-level, top 5 organizational prospect from a trade partner, plus some filler low-level B or so guys who might or might not pan out. None of those players fit Dan Uggla’s profile. Uggla is 29 years old and at this point is what he is (not to say that what he is isn’t good). The Padres would more than likely rather see Ryan Tucker and some other solid prospects in the farm for Bell, but the Marlins seem reluctant to ship prospects from a good, but top-heavy farm system.

The Marlins would be wise not to send a player like Uggla for a return like Bell, as well. Less than a win of expected value isn’t great, but if you take into account the volatility of the performance of relievers into the mix, the chances of Bell remaining a top-flight reliever may not be as great as Uggla returning to something akin to 2008 form. Hitters get so much time at the plate to gather up sample sizes that eliminate random fluctuations that it’s much easier to project their performances. Relievers, especially so-called “closers,” are on the mound for such a short period of time that dominance for a “season” of about 35 innings can quickly turn into “disaster” for another 15 to 20. It’s much harder to predict how consistent a reliever will be. In addition, since relievers are on the mound for so little, they need to be amazing to rack up the kind of win totals that Bell and Jonathon Broxton have put up this season. Fluctuations here and there may have them producing like an average player, and their value will plummet as a result.

There’s simply too much risk involved in relievers to drop proven commodities for them. There was a reason why the Marlins were able to deal for Ugeth Urbina years ago. They dealt prospects, highly ranked prospects at that. It’s the only way to deal with relievers, who are just as volatile and unpredictable a commodity as young prospects. Gonzalez turned into a stud, but at the time he had been hurt and who knows what would have happened. In this case, we would be trading a proven commodity, albeit a league average one perhaps, for a player who has just as great a chance of being an injury risk (pitchers obviously have greater risk to injury than position players), a lights-out closer for three years, or a below average seventh inning guy in a few seasons. It isn’t worth it for the Marlins, and monetarily and organizationally it wouldn’t be worth it for the Padres

Tags: Dan Uggla Heath Bell Jake Peavy Jeff Moorad John Moores Kevin Towers Miami Marlins San Diego Padres

  • Juan C. Rodriguez

    Hi Michael,
    Completely agree. As you pointed out in your previous post, Uggla’s BABIP is a good indicator his luck should change in the second half. Plus, Carroll is in an ideal role right now. You’d love to have that defense on the field every day, but offensively you risk exposing him if he’s taking 30 ABs a week.

    Regarding salary: Uggla has a lot more than $6 million coming next season. If he finishes with his usual numbers I would think minimum $7.75 million.

  • michaeljong

    I’d agree with that Juan. I wanted to go conservative because of his perceived poor performance, but you’re probably right. It’s a reason for us to trade him (his higher salary) but not for the package that’s offered.

  • BigBoynBroward

    Not to mention that if they trade Uggla for a closer, where are you gonna come close to replacing that power?

  • michaeljong

    BigBoy,

    Here it’s important to remember that a win is a win, regardless of where it’s coming from. There doesn’t need to be a power bat so long as there is some way to make up those wins. Adding Bell can reasonably be expected to add wins through areas other than power, and that’s OK. What I took issue with is the potential for less return due to volatility in a reliever’s value.

    If I knew the win would come in any case, I might be less hesitant to deal, but I’ve seen many a Scott Linebrink, Scott Williamson, and Danny Graves happen.