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.