Pondering Dan Uggla replacements

It may still be early to think about replacing Dan Uggla, but if he’s thinking about being traded, why shouldn’t I?

“I kind of thought about it the other day,” Uggla said. “You get kind of sad because this is the team that gave me my first shot in the big leagues, and I made a lot of friends here.”

Uggla is as cognizant as anyone that he might become too pricey for the Marlins to keep in 2010, when his salary could go as high as $8 million through salary arbitration. As such, there’s a good chance the Marlins will trade him and fill his spot at second base with either Chris Coghlan or Emilio Bonifacio.

It’s true that Uggla’s arbitration figure is likely to be very high and that the team probably won’t want to pay that much for a player not in the club’s long-term plans. After all, Uggla is 29 bordering on 30 and going into his second year of arbitration. In a few years, when he reaches free agency, he’ll be 31 bordering on 32 and the Marlins most certainly won’t pay for his services. There is something to be said about taking advantage of two of his cost-controlled but high-priced years by dealing him to a team that will be able to afford it.

But what will we do to replace Uggla? Let’s look at the options that were mentioned in the article and see what kind of net result we can expect. First, I’m going to assume for the purposes of this exercise that the return for Uggla will not involve any major league position players. This means all options to replace Uggla will be in house. This is also fairly accurate, as the Marlins are likely to get prospects back and would be more interested in pitching since their farm is deep in position players at the moment. The two options mentioned were current Marlins starting left fielder Chris Coghlan and deposed Marlins utility man and subject of the ire of many Marlins fans Emilio Bonifacio.

The easiest projection I can make is involving Bonifacio; the Marlins would simply replace Uggla at second base with Bonifacio. A while back, I did a projection of Uggla’s performance to see if he’d be worth arbitration (he was). Since then, his offense has improved, so I’ll fudge up an update that projection a bit. ZiPS has him ending the season with a .361 wOBA. Let’s make it .360. If it’s .360 and we apply the 8/4/2/1 and regression, we get a projected wOBA of .357, worth about 16 runs above average in 657 PA, his projected total for this season. Even though it’s likely that Bonifacio will receive more PA’s then Uggla (thanks Fredi!), to make it easier I won’t adjust the PA. Next, I generously gave Bonifacio a .300 wOBA for next year. I say it’s generous because he was a good deal worse than even that this season. If you do a projection and regression using just his rookie year data, it’s actually almost right; I got a .297 projected wOBA, so I’m being nice. In 657 PA, Bonifacio would be worth a whopping 32.6 runs worse than Uggla on offense.

Of course, that doesn’t count defense. In the projection I did before, I had Uggla at -5.2 runs per 150 games, but let’s make it easier on the two replacing him and call him -7 runs per 150. Looking at Bonifacio’s Minor League Splits defense page and using the Total Zone minor league adjustments to infielders as described by Total Zone creator Sean Smith himself, Bonifacio rates as a -4 second baseman per 150 games; in other words, not pretty. If that were the case, he’d be three runs better than Uggla in the field, making him a total of about 27 runs, or 2.7 WAR, worse than Uggla in the same amount of time. Not a good option.

The other option is a little more complicated. Moving Coghlan into second base, the position he primarily played in the minors, would involve replacing him in the outfield. The first part is easy. Taking only the seasons in which Coghlan registered more than 100 chances at second base, he has a regressed weighted average of -5 runs per 150 games at second base. That means he’s about two runs better than Uggla.

For the hitting part, we would have to consider the difference between Uggla’s offense and Coghlan’s outfield replacement’s offense. For the purposes of this exercise, let’s use my favorite bench guy Brett Carroll as the replacement. Carroll so far has shown a slightly better than league average bat in a very limited stretch, but that isn’t likely to stick; he has a terrible career line offensively when converted into major league equivalents. At this point, I’m inclined to give him a .300 wOBA as well, as in the minors he and Bonifacio appeared to be similar in terms of MLE production. That would also make him 32.6 runs worse in replacing Uggla in the lineup.

The last part is crucial in this equation. Throughout the minors and in his short stint (256 innings this year) in the bigs, the one thing Carroll has shown is an extremely above average glove at the corner outfield. Using just this year’s 12.8 runs above average in 39 defensive games worth of chances, you get a UZR/150 of 13.8 run above average. Similarly, we run a projection for Coghlan in left field and get a projected UZR/150 of -7.8 runs in the outfield. The difference is an astounding 22 runs more for Brett Carroll’s defense over Chris Coghlan’s in the outfield.

Of course, these are estimates, and you could expect Coghlan or Bonifacio to improve further in any of these areas, but this is all the data I have to work with, so these calculations are what I got (for what it’s worth, qualitatively Coghlan has improved slightly, but he still looks uncomfortable out there, and his UZR has not improved as the year has passed). Your tallies for each decision:

Emilio Bonifacio to 2B: -27 runs, or -2.7 WAR
Chris Coghlan to 2B, Brett Carroll to OF: approx. -7 runs, or -0.7 WAR

Both moves would be a downgrade, but the Marlins according to this would be much better off moving Coghlan back into the infield and giving Carroll an opportunity to start than throwing the black hole of Bonifacio into the lineup everyday. And given that the team is on the fringes of a playoff hunt now, every WAR is going to count ultimately. This offseason looks to be another crucial one in determining the direction of the Marlins organization and its chances for contention before the new stadium opens up.

Tags: Brett Carroll Chris Coghlan Dan Uggla Emilio Bonifacio Miami Marlins

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