Uggla to Braves deal a clear loss for Fish

I’ve had a few hours to let the news sink in that the Marlins have officially traded Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves for the paltry sum of Omar Infante and Mike Dunn. I have thoughts, and we’re going to go through them fairly thoroughly here. Here is what I think is important to cover with regards to this story:

1) Reiterate Dan Uggla‘s value.
2) Analyze Omar Infante‘s value for 2011
3) Consider why the Marlins again went for a reliever in a trade.
4) Analyze the financial ramifications of the deal.

I have other thoughts, particularly regarding the front office after today’s activity (trading Uggla along with signing John Buck), but I’ll save those for a piece tomorrow. For now, let’s look at each and every bit of this deal.

Dan Uggla‘s value, again

I cannot stress this part enough. The Marlins did not trade Dan Uggla away so much as they dealt one year of Uggla at around $10M in salary. In surplus value, after including Type A draft compensation, that amounts to about $10M in surplus value. That is what Uggla as an asset was worth to the Marlins and other teams. This is very important to emphasize because most people are reacting as if the Marlins dealt Dan Uggla locked into a good deal for a few years.

Having said that, it doesn’t mean that he is without value. He certainly provides value with his play to whatever team is interested in paying his salary, but theoretically you should be able to pay for $10M worth of second baseman performance in the free agent market. The truth of the matter is that there was no one as good as Uggla who could play second base in the free agent market, so Uggla derived some value in terms of scarcity. How much? I’m not sure, but there was definitely something there. For now, let’s assume that extra value from scarcity can push the surplus value closer to $15M, for a range between $11-15M being acceptable.

Omar Infante‘s value

Infante is an odd piece to this puzzle. He fills the immediate need created by the departing Uggla, as he can slide into second or third base immediately. He is also flexible enough to play either corner outfield or perhaps center field in a pinch, which would also help the Marlins in terms of flexibility in replacing the recently-traded Cameron Maybin. He was an All-Star last year, but don’t let that fool you; he clearly didn’t play like one. However, he isn’t a terrible utility player either, as his reputation prior to 2010 would have had you believe.

In order to get a sense as to how he would perform, I ran the requisite numbers for Infante. For an offensive projection, I weighed his preseason CHONE projection at 7/12 importance while I weighed his actual 2010 numbers at 5/12. This approximates doing a 5/4/3 weighted average for him, which would have taken a little more time. Doing this crude projection of his play yielded a hitter who projected to hit .297/.348/.404, good for a .333 wOBA. Let that sink in for a second; that is an average hitter, worth approximately two wins worse than Uggla with the bat.

Of course, Infante also has a defensive impact. I projected his defense at a full season at second base using the same method I used in this post projecting the Marlins’ 2011 starters. In this method, I got a projected +0 runs defense at second base for Infante. He came off as exactly average at third base as well, meaning that there isn’t much difference in switching between the positions. For the record, the projection for his defense in center field is at -3 runs, so the infield might be a better play.

This was the first season in which Infante recorded more than 500 PA since 2004, but I suspect he’ll pass that pretty easily barring injury this season. Assuming a lineup slot closer to the bottom of the order, I’d say he gets maybe 580 PA for a full year, making him worth about 2.2 WAR for the 2011 season. At around $4.4M / WAR (and I heard Dave Cameron mention that $5M / WAR is more likely this season), that is worth $9.7M in the open market. Since the Marlins are paying Infante $2.5M for the 2011 season, that is a surplus of about $7.2M for this season.

In addition, given the added playing time, there is a possibility Infante might achieve Type B status in free agency. At the same time, there is a pretty decent change the Marlins decline offering arbitration in fear of him accepting it due to a lack of better offers from other teams. If there is a 50% chance Infante reaches Type B status and a 50% chance the Marlins offer arbitration and he signs with another team, you would get almost no value from the potential picks, assuming $2.6M is the value for a supplemental pick. Best we not consider it at all.

To recap, your surplus value for Infante’s 2011 season is approximately $7.2M, well below Uggla’s $11-15M.

Another bullpen arm

The Marlins opted for yet another bullpen arm in the erratic but hard-throwing lefty Mike Dunn. The reliever came from the New York Yankees organization via the Javier Vazquez deal, but has found his way to Florida as part of the Marlins’ attempt to rebuild the pen. If Dunn sticks on the major league roster, he fulfills the Marlins’ need for a lefty reliever in the pen. The Marlins are likely to pack two of them, and Dunn will be one with some upside.

Why didn’t I bother to project Dunn? Quite honestly, I have no idea how he would do. Relievers are so hard to pinpoint, even with a few major league seasons in their belt. Projecting a guy with only 23 IP in the majors would be impossible. He was rated at around a C+ prospect by John Sickels before the season started, so giving him the mostly-appropriate $0.5M surplus value via Victor Wang’s research seems good enough. That puts the total package up to almost $8M in value, still a bit short.

Having said that, I wonder if the Marlins would not have been better served attempting to acquire at least a starter. The team was initially targeting a pitcher and a catcher, but they had already worked on acquiring relievers this offseason. Why continue the trend when the goal of the deal should have been to maximize quality? I think the front office were still suffering from the hangover of their poor 2010 bullpen and made the pen too much of a point of emphasis. The Marlins wanted to target young, cost-controlled relief options, except most of the time such options cannot be counted on to perform appropriately. I am of the school that says that, unless a relief prospect was a former starter with great stuff or a highly specialized guy who showed great results in the minors, there is no reason to acquire them as assets to your organization.

Dunn is interesting because he is a lefty and he throws hard (averaged around 94 mph on his fastball in the majors), but he has some severe control issues. During his entire minor league career, he walked 10.7% of batters faced, mostly as a reliever. As a full-time reliever in two seasons in Triple-A (67 1/3 IP), he walked 13.9% (!) of men he faced. Of course, he also struck out 32.9% (!) of them, showing that he has the stuff to compete. But is he ever going to display control? It would be insane of me to assume an answer, and that is why I don’t see much value in his acquisition.

Financial implications

With the signing of Buck earlier in the day, it seems the Marlins had already begun to commit money previously earmarked for Uggla. In a previous article, I had put the Marlins at a projected payroll of $53.3M after all of their arbitration cases were completed. Now we can make some rudimentary adjustments and see where the Fish stand today. Without Uggla’s projected $10M salary, the Marlins saved a boatload of cash. However, going back into the payroll are the salaries of Infante ($2.5M in 2011) and Buck ($6M per year for the next three years). That eats up $8.5M of that expected $10M saved, which leaves the Marlins at $51.8M as of now. This may be close enough to their targeted $50M to keep, but it certainly means that the Marlins won’t be dipping much more in the free agent market unless an increase in payroll is approved or the Marlins make other moves such as trading Leo Nunez. Lost in the shuffle today as well was the news that the Fish may be interested in signing Ricky Nolasco to a three-year deal which may or may not also impact 2011 payroll.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss more about the trade from our perspective, along with what could happened with the Toronto Blue Jays and my new feelings regarding the front office.

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Tags: Atlanta Braves Dan Uggla Miami Marlins Mike Dunn Omar Infante

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