Exploring the market for Dan Uggla

If you’re a normal reader of Marlin Maniac, you know that I am a huge Dan Uggla fan. He hits laser shots for home runs, his name is cool, and he has developed over the last two years as a patient hitter who brings great value.

Of course, I know Uggla’s faults as well. His skillset doesn’t breed a great BABIP. He strikes out a lot, though that isn’t necessarily bad. And of course, he has been awful at second base, though the stats think he is somewhere in between awful and mediocre.

The total package, however, leaves you with an excellent player. Since his rookie year in 2006, FanGraphs has Uggla worth 14.6 WAR, worth an astonishing $61.6M in the open market from 2006-2009. Given that Uggla has worked for the rookie minimum for three years and a $5.35M salary this most recent season, clearly he has provided a great deal of surplus value to the team, regardless of whether or not fans believe he is any good.

This season, however, there is a good deal of resignation on the fact that Uggla will be dealt. He is expected to make around $7M in arbitration, and the Marlins are not willing to use that kind of money given their budgetary limits. Thus, the team will be forced to trade Uggla to the highest bidder. What kind of market can we expect for Uggla, and what can we see as a return? I’ll look at some teams with second base needs for the answers.

The Expected Haul

I believe the Marlins have a good comparison as to what kind of haul they should expect for Dan Uggla. Last season, Nate McLouth was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Atlanta Braves for a bevy of nice prospects, headlined by outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and lefty Jeff Locke. McLouth and Uggla are very similar players; both are well above average hitters who should be moved to another position because they are awful defenders.

Of course, there is a distinct difference between Uggla and McLouth. McLouth was locked into a four year deal at a very favorable cost to the team, thus he was providing a lot of surplus value. Uggla is a similar player in terms of production, but he is in his last two years of arbitration and thus should bring less surplus value. To find out, I ran a quick projection of Uggla using a Marcels style system, projecting him at 669 PA and 155 games. This projection came out to 3.6 WAR, right around his seasonal average. Let’s use that level of production for his two remaining seasons.

Uggla is likely to make around $7M this year in arbitration. Let’s make it $7.5M this year and $9.5M next season. Keeping the same free agent WAR rate for the next two years (in order to make the projection more conservative), we could expect $15.4M in surplus value for Dan Uggla. For reference, that is approximately the type of value you would get from a top 51-75 hitting prospect or a top 50 pitching prospect.

The Interested Parties

I looked at the FanGraphs leaderboards to find any teams with significant holes at second base. Teams with a second baseman underneath 2 WAR were considered, though some common sense was also inserted into the equation. I came up with four clubs who have a good reason to be interested in acquiring a 30-year old second baseman who has averaged 3.7 WAR a year over the last four seasons.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs ran Aaron Miles, Jeff Baker, Andres Blanco, Mike Fontenot, and Bobby Scales at the second base position last season. These players all totaled less than 1 WAR, with a few splitting time at other positions as well. If there was ever a team that needed a second baseman, it would the Chicago Cubs. Provided the team does not make any moves, they would likely enter 2010 with Jeff Baker at the position, but Uggla would undoubtedly be an improvement over Baker, even with his poor defense and Baker’s improvements at the plate.

Two things preclude the Marlins from making some sort of deal with the Cubs. One is the fact that the Cubs farm system is lacking in terms of top prospects that the Marlins would like back. The Cubs have only two top 100 prospects according to Baseball America’s Top 100 list released before the season began, third baseman Josh Vitters and righty Jeff Zamardzija. Vitters is untouchable as far as I have heard, and the Cubs are very high on Zamardzija. Neither player was ranked in the top 50 prospects. After that, there are B-ranked pitchers such as Andrew Cashner or Jay Jackson available, and a package could be built on one or two of these players and a major-league ready fringe player, but it would not be a very beneficial one to the team.

The second issue is that there are a few minor leaguers the Cubs may be interested in using as their middle infielders of the future, including Starlin Castro and Ryan Flaherty. Along with incumbent shortstop Ryan Theriot, the team is looking to be set in the near future and may not be willing to give up talent to get a current fix on their position.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers appear to be certain in not signing Orlando Hudson after Hudson put up a solid 3 WAR season on the cheap for them. Late in the year, Hudson was replaced in the lineup by the entirely replaceable Ronnie Belliard, who magically put up 1.3 WAR in his short time with the team. Still, the team will probably be looking to upgrade at second base, and Uggla could definitely be an option.

Almost any trade involving the Dodgers I would assume would have to include right-hander James McDonald, who is a starter by trade but worked primarily out of the pen this season for LA. A package of McDonald and another B-level pitcher along with a filler C-rank lottery ticket could be worth it for the Marlins. The Dodgers do not appear to have any position players ready to contribute for the Marlins next season, so pitchers would have to be the name of the game.

The Others

Next time, I’ll look at the other teams that may be interested in our second baseman. Keep in mind again that Uggla is at this point projected to present $15M in surplus value to the team. As much as these types of packages may be more plausible, you never know when a trade like the Freddy Sanchez – Tim Alderson deal might happen. If it does, the Marlins will be very well off for it.

Tags: Chicago Cubs Dan Uggla Los Angeles Dodgers Miami Marlins

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