Extending Uggla would be a mistake


As we approach the trade deadline, rumors swirl as usual about the fate of many players, including quite a few Marlins. My general opinion is that the Marlins should be dealing this season, as 2010 is more or less over in terms of playoff contention and the team has a few players heading into their third year of arbitration that might get too pricey for the limited payroll. I make the argument, among other points, in this season’s Marlin Maniac Trade Deadline Primer, which you can check out and purchase here.

Amidst the news of potential interest in Marlins players such as Cody Ross and Jorge Cantu, I was shocked to see this little ditty from ESPN’s Jayson Stark (H/T MLBTR) about Dan Uggla.

…Now it appears the Fish have decided that Uggla’s bat is such an irreplaceable commodity that they’re more focused on trying to extend his contract and commit to him as their second baseman as they move into their new ballpark in 2012.

This report seems somewhat substantiated by this blog post by MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro (H/T HotStove.com), claiming that the Marlins are considering options beyond 2011, though nothing has been decided.

What? Given the price tag on Uggla, I had figured he would either be traded or not tendered a contract at some point before the end of this upcoming offseason. Now there seems to be talk about extending Dan Uggla past 2011, his final arbitration season?

As much of a Dan Uggla fan as I am, I can tell that this is not a good move.

Who is Dan Uggla?

Let’s not be subjective in our treatment of Dan Uggla, the player/Marlins asset. This season, Uggla is hitting .271/.357/.458, which is good for a .360 wOBA. Were he to finish the season with that mark, it would be his second best offensive season of his career. He is a good bet to finish this season being worth 3.5 wins on the year, and for next season he is also likely to end up at around three wins. Uggla is challenged defensively, but makes up for it enough with his bat to be an above average player.

However, Dan Uggla is also likely to make at least $10M, and more likely around $11-12M, in 2011 from his final season of arbitration. During that season, Uggla will 31 years old, which means he should be on his way to his decline. His three-win projected performance in 2011 is likely to be worth about $1M more in the open market than what he would be paid that season.

The Age Factor

Uggla was old for his rookie season, starting at age 26. As a result, there remains a feeling that he is still “young,” because his career started so late. However, that is clearly not the case. What we witnessed the past two seasons and will likely witness for one to two more years at most are his peak seasons. Uggla will never get any better than his stretch from 2008-2012, and he likely will get worse later on. Factor in that Uggla’s offensive game is predicated upon so-called “old player skills” (walks, power, and low contact) and the fact that he is already a defensive liability, and decline may be closer for Uggla than the average player (though no one can really tell).

Why are the Marlins intrigued about handing out an extension to a player like Uggla? At 30 years of age and just an above average player, he cannot be considered a cornerstone of a franchise in the same lines that Hanley Ramirez or Josh Johnson are. With his decline phase coming soon, he cannot be more than a piece for a team, yet the Marlins are considering locking him up for multiple seasons. I once wrote that Uggla is exactly the type of player a team should go through arbitration with: an older player still in his prime who will approach a decline phase as soon as he hits free agency. With these types of players, you typically end up paying below market value through arbitration for their prime seasons and end up letting them go to free agency just before their decline. Unless the Marlins plan on cutting ties in 2012 or so, any long-term deal is going to end up looking bad for the Fish. If the team is indeed looking at a multi-year deal, they had better not go past three years; anything beyond that is bound to be tying up decline years for Uggla at high prices.

Tags: Dan Uggla Florida Marlin MLB Trade Deadline

  • Isiah

    Good Post; your points make sense, but Uggla is a real fan favorite (even more than Hanley), and good for the clubhouse/media relations. if they can pull off a 10 million a year deal for 4 years (and are willing to pay), we should be happy, as we can’t expect them to pay the 10 million to someone else if they send him off.
    Uggla will decline soon, but for now he is a key piece on the team, and every year he gets on a roll and powers 3-4 wins by himself. and his defense is not terrible enough to matter compared to his on-base/power/”clutchness”.

    if our choice is uggla or a top-flight pitcher, i hear you; but if it’s uggla or no-one, or even uggla or cody/cantu, i would take uggla, for his value as a serviceable 2nd baseman with gaudy power. we have replacements for the others in the minors, but no great 2b.

    • Michael Jong

      Isiah,

      The problem is that those tail-end years aren’t going to be worth it, and at that point why wouldn’t the team just go through one year of arbitration and evaluate afterwards? With a guy as risky (in terms of decline) as Uggla, at his age, why go out on a limb and sign him through his age 35 season?

      Also, the Marlins do have a viable option at second base in Chris Coghlan. Coghlan’s value is maximized at second base, where he has played most of his professional career. Moving Coghlan to second opens up spots in our outfield as well.

      My point is that we should not sign Uggla just because “he’s been here for long” and he’s marginally good (like I said, about a win or so above average). That isn’t worth it given the threat of decline.

  • http://www.pennantracebaseball.com Cliff G.

    While your argument on being a seller and trading Uggla might make sense in the wild card league, in the pennant race league you’re still in the hunt. Your win over Atlanta last night puts you in 3rd place, 2 1/2 games back.

    Also I would be careful about who you trade, because if you break down a team your chances year-to-year of making it to the post-season decreases.

    • Michael Jong

      Cliff,

      I think you meant 5.5 back. In any case, the Marlins are chasing too many teams and are too many games back, a double-whammy of bad situations. It would be highly improbable for the Fish to make the playoffs at this point, in either the division or wild card. The odds are too slim, and the Marlins can’t make personnel decisions for the future based on those slim odds.

  • aramgh

    I think another aspect of extending Uggla is that it would prohibit the Marlins from playing players at their natural positions. Coghlan should really move back to the infield and after watching Cantu at 3rd this year I think we all shudder at the idea of watching Sanchez play over there for a few years. Trading Uggla would allow Morrison to play left (I’m assuming we’re about to get a trial run to see how that goes over the next few months) and Coghlan to move back to the infield. If the Marlins are gonna throw 10 mil at an infielder, I’d rather give it to Beltre.

    • Michael Jong

      aramgh,

      Totally agree. We should not spend that money on Uggla given his defensive issues and increasing age. We’ll have players naturally playing those positions (ideally) in the near future, there’s no need for three more seasons of Uggla. I’d be more than happy going to arbitration this season with him and cutting ties, even though I’m a huge Uggla fan.

  • Isiah

    after looking at a facebook post on the marlins keeping Uggla, u may change your tune, not based on stats or production, but the fact that the fans all love uggla more than anyone (possibly more than JJ). http://www.facebook.com/#!/Marlins?v=wall&story_fbid=453141862348
    over 100 “likes”/comments about how Uggla is their favorite marlin and we must keep him.

    if we keep him based on sentimental value and “overpay”, it may make Miami a preferred choice for future free agents/draft picks, who want a team that will keep them around and award them for putting in their dues. The Yankees may overpay jeter soon, but its worth it in the long run, and also makes a closer “family/community” feel for the team and the fans.

    if they do, it’s a smart business decision, whether or not when he’s 35 he bats 240/350 OBP with 25 homers. at the least, he will always have value to a small ballpark team who needs some offense, and can be traded in a few years to the AL if his defense gets worse.

    Finally, i think we are missing the possibility that he is on HGH (i hope not, but wouldn’t be totally surprised), which should keep him bopping past 35.

    • Michael Jong

      Isiah,

      If free agents don’t think we’ll hold on to players after seeing Hanley and JJ’s deals, I don’t know if they ever will. They were both below market moves, but they were good, deserving moves as well. I don’t think players are as motivated by seeing organizational loyalty as we’d like to think they are. If we aren’t willing to pay market prices for free agents, free agents won’t sign with us. As of now, we haven’t proven that we are willing to spend the money it takes to move into the next level of small-market status ($60-70M payroll).

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE Uggla fan, but I think the team would be better off spending its money more wisely after 2011. It’s a delicate balance; guaranteeing him three years after this year locks the Marlins in too long, especially in a situation in which Uggla’s decline begins earlier. But waiting until after this year guarantees that we won’t get a chance to sign him unless no one else is interested.