Saturday, November 13, 2010

Should the Tigers Trade For Dan Uggla?

As extension talks with the Marlins break down, talk around the hot stove has turned to where Dan Uggla will be traded. It's also become apparent that the Tigers are a likely landing spot.

Let's delve into the numbers to try and get an idea of how Uggla would fit in at Comerica.

Dan Uggla is a terrible defender.

Uggla posted a -7.4 UZR/150 at second base last year. Consistently ranked as a poor defender at second throughout his career, he carries a career UZR/150 of -4.5 which is buoyed somewhat by his rookie year, where he posted a +5.7 mark, the only season he's been above average. Beyond that he's also rated poorly by Dewan's +/- system (-8) and the Defensive Runs Saved metric (-11). Among qualified defenders, he ranked 3rd worst in baseball in UZR/150, 6th worst in +/-, and tied for worst in DRS. So it should be pretty safe to say he's a bad defender.

Dan Uggla is a great offensive second baseman.

A career .263/.349/.488 hitter, Uggla posted a .287/.369/.508 triple slash line last year on the back of a .330 BABIP. Those marks ranked 4th in OBP and 2nd in SLG among all qualified second basemen. Overall, his .877 OPS was second to just Robinson Cano.

Overall, Dan Uggla is pretty good.

Overall, Uggla's combination of great offense and terrible defense still leave him rated as a very good player, as his 5.1 WAR last year indicated. That 5.1 was a career best, and probably not what should be expected on a yearly basis. But it shows that he has the upside to be one of the 30 best players in baseball in any given year. Indeed, that 5.1 WAR was tied for 26th best in baseball with one Joe Mauer.

Throughout his five full seasons, Uggla has been worth an average of 3.8 WAR per season. As a player who will enter the 2011 season as a 31 year old, in the prime of his career, it's likely that he'd be worth somewhere around that amount - and maybe slightly more - for the next couple seasons, provided his defense doesn't fall off any further.

A lot of really smart people think Scott Sizemore will be pretty good next year.

Looking at Bill James' projections for Scott Sizemore next year, you have to be excited as a Tigers fan. While Sizemore struggled mightily out of the gate in 2010, it's likely that was at least partially due to the knee injury he suffered during the off season. As the season went on, Sizemore really heated up and ended up hitting well in AAA to the tune of a .850 OPS. He then got a late season call-up and showed off why so many folks think so highly of his bat.

James is projecting Sizemore for a .277/.343/.438 line next year which I think is right around what I expect. That looks pretty similar to Uggla's career line .263/.349/.488, with a bit better average and a bit less power.

Dan Uggla will be expensive.

This is where things get tricky. Uggla just turned down a 4 year, 48m deal from the Marlins, which has created all the trade buzz. Presumably, he did so at least partially because he wants more money and/or more years. If Uggla wants more money, presumably by at least a couple million, the signing team could end up paying him  around 14m per year.

If we can agree that a player is worth 4.25m per WAR (which is around average) in free agency, then even his average season is worth around 16m per season. He'd certainly be worth the money - as a second baseman. The question is, can he stick at second over the course of a 4 or 5 year deal?

If not and he has to move to third, or worse, first base or designated hitter, suddenly his offense isn't nearly as impressive when compared to his positional peers.

The next part of the equation is how much will he cost in terms of prospects? There aren't a lot of recent comparables in terms of high WAR middle infielders being dealt. I don't imagine Uggla would cost a Top-50 Prospect, but I also don't think they'd be out of line to seek a Top-75/100 type player in return. I'm fairly confident they could get a player of that caliber in return. The market for players with Uggla's skill set (good bat, bad glove) has diminished over the past five years, but not to that extent.

My guess would be that there will be enough interest and competition that the Marlins will be able to secure a Top-100 prospect. The Tigers however, have a pretty thin farm system. I'd assume that Jacob Turner, the Tigers top prospect would be out of reach. But someone like Brennan Boesch, Casey Crosby, or Daniel Schlereth could headline a deal.

Ultimately, Dave Dombrowski will have to decide if dealing players as well thought of as Crosby and Schlereth, in addition to forking out a sizeable contract is worthwhile. And that's not as cut-and-dry as it might seem.

Will Uggla be an upgrade over Sizemore? Probably. Will it be by a significant margin? Maybe. Maybe not. What is certain is that the Tigers would have to put out a significant outlay in both dollars and prospects to get Dan Uggla in stripes.

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