Braves trade for Dan Uggla

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 10: Dan Uggla #6 of the Florida Marlins is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 10 2010 in Washington DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

So, the Florida Marlins have dealt second baseman Dan Uggla to the Atlanta Braves for utilityman Omar Infante and lefty reliever Mike Dunn.

The Twitterati are lampooning this deal as being evidence of the Marlins' incompetence, particularly in combination with today's news that the Marlins have given John Buck a 3 year, $18 million deal.

However...I don't think that the Uggla deal is necessarily unreasonable for the Marlins.  Florida didn't get much back in return -- Infante is a usable part, Dunn is a live arm who was okay out of the pen for the Braves last year -- but did they really give up much in parting with Uggla?

Let's break this down...Uggla will be 31 at the start of the 2011 season, is a bad defensive second baseman, and is a free agent after 2011.  He's arb-eligible this year, and is probably looking at a deal in excess of $10 million per year -- I'll guess right now he ends up settling at $10.5 million for 2011.

This is critical because, if Uggla isn't worth at least $10.5 million to whatever team employs him in 2011, he's got no value (or negative value).  If he's worth more than $10.5 million to whatever team employs him in 2011, he's got value, and that's what you are paying for in parting with the players you part with to land him -- that spread between what he's getting paid and what he's worth.  And since he only has one year left before he's able to walk, it makes the calculus pretty simple.

So...what is Uggla worth?

If we look simply at FanGraphs' WAR data, Uggla has been worth $78.2 million over his 5 full seasons in the majors -- $15.64 million per year.  He was worth $20.4 million, per FanGraphs, in both 2008 and 2010, and has been worth less than $12 million only once -- in 2007, when he was pegged at $9.9 million.

So what's the problem with Uggla?

There may not be one.  Uggla may produce in 2011 like he did in 2010, or better, and the Braves will look smart, and the Marlins will look silly for having sold low.

But...there are several things that, put together, have me thinking that he's a guy that isn't likely to improve, and is more likely to decline, ending up being worth no more than what the Braves are likely to pay him in 2011.

There's the age thing.  Uggla will be 31 next year.  He's in that stage where good, not great, players start losing their value, and that value loss can come rapidly to guys in their early 30s.

There's his position.  He's not a good defender, isn't likely to improve going forward, but beyond that, you have the fact that second basemen, in general, tend to break down earlier than players at other positions do.

There's his skill set.  He's got "old player skills," as a three-true-outcome type who racks up a ton of Ks, walks a fair amount, and hits 30 homers a year.  He doesn't hit for average and doesn't run well, and players with that skill set tend to see earlier, and steeper, declines.

There's his batted ball data from last year.  Uggla had a BABIP of .330 last season, remarkably high for a slow-footed righthanded hitter.  His line drive rate didn't support that high of a BABIP, and his infield hit percentage of 11.4% was well above his career average, and almost double his infield hit rate from 2009.

Uggla's walk rate declined from 2009, and his ISO stayed static (although both 2010 and 2009 ISO were well lower than his 2007-08 numbers)...his 15 point jump in OBP and 49 point jump in SLG were almost entirely driven by his 46 point jump in batting average, which in turn was driven by his 56 point improvement in BABIP.

So...you've got a slow player at a position where you see guys break down more quickly, who turns 31 next year, whose skill set doesn't age well, and whose offensive numbers from last year suggest that he was a beneficiary of good fortune and is a prime regression candidate for 2011.  And you only control him for one year, during which he's arb-eligible and will likely command a salary fairly close to what his true value really is.

Is that the type of player who is going to fetch you much more in a trade than a utility infielder and a young lefty reliever who will make the minimum for a couple of more years?

I get why Atlanta made this trade.  But I can also see why Florida would have pulled the trigger on this deal, and I have my doubts that they could have really landed that much more than this if they'd shopped him around more this winter.

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