Uggla rejects stunning four-year Marlins deal

According to Ken Rosenthal, Dan Uggla rejected a four-year, $48M deal from the Marlins over the weekend. This is off the heels of news that the Marlins offered a four-year deal recently, which would start at $8M for the 2010 season.

Initially, the Marlins were talking about a deal that would start at $8M, but would most assuredly be going up in value. Marlin Maniac readers had surmised that the deal would have been around a four-year deal worth $42M based on the most recent poll taken here at MM. The fact that the Marlins offered a deal worth $12M annually was a signal that the team was serious about keeping Uggla around long-term, moreso than perhaps most Marlins fans would have liked to see. With this rejection, how should fans of the Fish and the people in Uggla’s camp feel about this move? Let’s examine.

Uggla’s side

Since Uggla was likely to receive a $10M+ award this offseason for arbitration if he didn’t sign long-term with the Fish, the offered deal would have equated to something along the lines of a three-year, $38M offer for his first three free agent years. Apparently Uggla felt that he would be able to do better than that on the open market. Given his past performance, it may seem like a logical thought process:

2008: 4.5 fWAR, $20.4M free agent value
2009: 2.8 fWAR. $12.7M FA value
2010: 5.0 fWAR, $20.4M FA value

In each of the past three seasons, Uggla has been worth more than the amount the Marlins offered him annually. It is easy to imagine why he would feel shortchanged by such an offer in the short-term, since even with his poor defense he has more than outperformed that value.

Of course, his past value isn’t what is important but rather it is his future value that should matter. Doing a rough projection based on 2010 actual numbers and an average of pre-2010 numbers, I got a projected wOBA for Uggla of .365, which is pretty impressive for a player playing second base. A .365 wOBA at Uggla’s typical 650 PA is worth about +19 runs above average. Using my season projection of -6 runs in almost a full year on defense, Uggla still projects as a 3.7 WAR player for 2011. If you put the free agent market at a conservative $4M/win this season, Uggla’s value on the market would be $14.8M, which does slightly beat the AAV of the contract the team offered. So in that respect, he probably would not have gotten his money’s worth in 2011.

On the Marlins’ side

The argument for the contract the Fish offered is more geared towards future seasons. As Uggla ages, his production is undoubtedly going to fall, and any drop in those numbers is only going to hurt his chances on matching his value. Let’s assume the $12M AAV of the contract breaks down into something like this:

2011: $8M
2012: $12M
2013:$14M
2014: $14M

Uggla would have outplayed his salary by about $7M in 2011, but how well would he have done in his remaining years? Let’s use the quick-and-dirty Tango method for aging players and strip 0.5 WAR in each year past 2011. I’ll also add a 10% increase in dollars/win value in each year.

2011: 3.7 WAR, $14.8M FA value
2012: 3.2 WAR, $14.0M FA value
2013: 2.7 WAR, $13.0M FA value
2014: 2.2 WAR, $11.7M FA value

The numbers look comparable, and it would seem as if the Fish appropriately paid Uggla (we would have gained a surplus of $5.5M, if you were counting). But a large amount of that depends on how much the market for wins inflates in the coming years, which puts a wrench in the Marlins’ plans. What if the market readjusts one more, as it did last season with deflated FA values? If so, then the Marlins would risk getting shortchanged.

Nevertheless, I am shocked at how fair the offer was given the assigned decline rate. Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, and the rest of the front office must have assumed something of a similar decline rate. The question is how much would Uggla really decline during this time? Most of us Marlins fans initially thought a defensive decline would be the first obvious thing to happen, and a shift to an easier position like left field might be necessary. If Uggla, however, was a competent (read: average) left fielder throughout most of the deal’s duration, the team would not really feel the effects of the move (the positional scarcity adjustment is approximately the same difference between an average defender and Uggla’s capability at second base). If he was any worse, however, and we might see a bit of decrease in value, and Uggla himself has said that there is reason to believe that he would be worse to begin with on defense in other positions due to a lack of familiarity.

Going forward

Nevertheless, it seems like $12M AAV was just about what the doctor ordered. The deal was a fair one for the Marlins to offer, and the fact that Uggla rejected it has to mean that he felt he could get more in free agency next season. With the prejudice currently against his defense, which could be somewhere between “passable but decently below average” to “must move positions,” especially in the coming years, I don’t think he will be able to get the offer for $15M annually after the regression that’s likely to come from his 2011 season, but the comparison between Uggla and Jason Bay, another defensively-challenged power-patience bat is a pretty good one. If Uggla can have the kind of season that Bay did in his last year in Boston, a bigger offer than the one the Marlins sent over could be on its way.

For the Marlins, this may be a setback that they can look at in two ways. On the one hand, they could attempt to offer Uggla a vesting option for the fifth year, if the extra year is what Uggla is really pining for. Based on Uggla’s initial request, the two sides are actually fairly close in terms of annual salary. However, with the uncertainty of how well Uggla would fit on the team in 2014 and beyond, the team may opt to just offer arbitration this season and allow Uggla to walk, netting draft picks in the process. The return for Uggla in terms of picks would be worth at least $4-5M (he would undoubtedly be a Type A player given his playing time and accomplishments), which combined with this season’s projected performance over his base salary (surplus of about $7M) would net the Marlins an additional $10M in value that would easily outstrip the worth of the long-term deal. In short, while the rejected deal may initially feel bad for Fish fans, the truth of the matter is that the Marlins may come out ahead regardless of the outcome of these negotiations.

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