Uggla vs. Marlins: Whose offer was "fair?"

After the Dan Uggla trade, I have mostly been focusing on how the new Marlins will be playing in this upcoming 2011 season. But one comment I saw on Twitter with regards to the Uggla press conference with his new team, the Atlanta Braves, got my blood boiling a little bit. Here it is, relayed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s David O’Brien:

Uggla said that he understands some free agents want to get most dollars they can, but that he’s just looking for fair offer from #Braves

As a Marlins fan, you have to be upset about this comment. The Marlins offered Uggla a four-year deal that would have been worth $48M and taken Uggla through his age 35 season. The Marlins thought it was a fair offer for Uggla’s services, and I wrote that the deal was a surprisingly good offer given the Marlins’ limited work with extensions and how difficult it would be to offer one to a player like him. Yet Uggla rejected the option, offering back a much larger five-year, $71M counterproposal that seemed a bit out of line.

I find it difficult to believe that, after our team offered such a solid deal, Uggla would reject it in search for a supposedly fair offer. I hate to read into other people’s minds, but this comment and the rejected offer seem to imply one of two things in my opinion:

1) Uggla valued being on another team rather than being on the Marlins, and the Fish would have to overpay in order to keep him around

2) Uggla valued himself more highly than he likely should have, given his past performance.

Assuming Uggla had no intentions of spurning the Marlins for more money, let’s be fair to Uggla and see what his five-year, $71M proposal would have implied in terms of wins over the next few years.

Uggla valuing Uggla

In my analysis of the four-year offer the Marlins made, I said that the Fish were likely $5.3M ahead on the deal. This implied a 10% hike on dollars / WAR cost and a 0.5 WAR decline (equivalent to about five runs) per season for the life of the deal. My rough 2011 projection for Uggla was 3.7 WAR, which was a fair assumption in opinion. Overall, the four year deal implied that Uggla would average almost 3.0 WAR per season over the life of the contract (11.8 WAR in total). Even without the inflation from the starting point of $4.4M / WAR, we’d still expect to see that a player of that caliber would be worth approximately $52M, meaning that with any assumption, a player of Uggla’s projected caliber would be worth $4-5M more than the Marlins offered.

From the reports I have heard, it seems like the Marlins bid up past the rejected offer as well, without budging on the four-year stance. Presumably, that means that the Fish at some point offered a contract that was “fair” to Uggla in terms of money, with a value between $52-55M in total. However, Uggla thought otherwise, insisting on a fifth year and hiking up the value of the deal to more than the initially offered $12M per year. Uggla’s counterproposal was worth $14.2M per season for five years, a hefty raise. How does such a contract fit with our assumptions? A contract of that value would have Uggla being worth (drum roll) 3.0 WAR per season on the dot.

Surprised? I am too. Our contract paid Uggla a little bit less than what he was worth, but it seems as if he asked for a reasonable amount given our assumptions. In the five-year deal, Uggla would have to start off as a 4.0 WAR player in 2011, which isn’t a stretch given what we initially had him at.

What that means in money

So it seems the Uggla counterproposal was reasonably fair given our starting assumptions for the analysis of the first deal. The Marlins expected Uggla to average 3.0 WAR over the next four seasons, while Uggla expected to be able to average 3.0 WAR over the next five seasons. If both deals are fair, then what happened here is simply a matter of difference in evaluation. The Marlins thought that Uggla would worth 1.5 fewer wins over the course of five seasons, which pushed this counterproposal out of the team’s range. Given the Marlins’ starting projection of around 3.7 WAR for 2011, a five-year offer at their estimation of Uggla’s talent would have been worth around $63.4M, a difference of less than $8M in total to Uggla’s proposal.

That puts the comparison of the contracts into perspective. The Marlins valued Uggla at $8M than what he valued himself over a five-year span. The difference was only 1.5 wins, but those wins cost a decent amount of money. How difficult would it be to believe that both sides had no ulterior motives and honestly differed in opinion by this much? I would say that the most likely answer to what that statement meant is actually a third option:

3) Both parties had evaluations that differed slightly, and the two could not reconcile those differences, so they parted ways.

In this case, it is simply a matter of two sides acting perfectly reasonably and not being able to settle that difference of $8M at the negotiating table. There is no need for bitter thoughts of Uggla grabbing for money; his statement about a fair offer was acceptable given what he thought of himself. But for the Marlins, their evaluation told a different story and they decided that they didn’t want to risk the extra year and $8M if their evaluation turns out correct (or worse). This is a rare case in which both sides seemed to be acting very logically to produce a result that initially appeared quite controversial.

As for my opinion? I still believe the Marlins were right. The aging curve that I applied was a mostly standard one, but Uggla is the type of player who might see an even worse type of decline than this. If this is what the Marlins were also thinking when they broke off talks with Uggla, I can completely accept their opinion. However, Uggla was right in asking for what he wanted if he thought he was better than what the Marlins gave him credit for. I wish him the best of luck and hope that he hits the eventually payday he is looking for.

Tags: Atlanta Braves Dan Uggla Miami Marlins

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