Dan Uggla to the Braves

Dan Uggla has one year left on his contract, but interestingly rejected a 4-year, $48M offer from the Marlins last week, the team he has played for his entire 5-year career. He made $7.8M last season, good for second highest salary on the team, and will likely make more in the final year of his contract. Uggla’s average “free market” value over the last 3 seasons, according to Fangraphs, has been approximately $17M. However, he’s 30 and likely past his prime, which is perhaps why the Marlin’s offer didn’t match his recent value.

In any case, he was traded today to the Braves in return for utility infielder Omar Infante and southpaw reliever Mike Dunn. On the surface, this looks like a fine trade for the Braves, who, as Eno Sarris of Fangraphs points out, had an excess of lefty relievers and utility players. Since Uggla is arbitration-eligible, he can choose to reject the Braves offer (whatever it may be) and let a judge decide his 2011 salary, if I understand arbitration correctly. History has shown that arbitration payouts tend be about 80% of projected value, so he’ll probably get something between 12 and 14 million buckaroos. To the numbers (or more numbers, I guess) !

Let’s start with Uggla. 2010 was a career year offensively for the slugger, as he recorded his personal best average, OPS and wOBA. Though another career year isn’t likely, his career .837 OPS and .359 wOBA are both still well above average, especially for a second baseman. The Braves will be forfeiting some defense, however, since Uggla has been consistently below average in that department. Overall, in all likelihood, his 2011 value will come out higher than his salary suggests, so the Braves should be getting surplus value out of their new second baseman.

As for the team as a whole, with Uggla at 2nd, Martin Prado will continue to fill in practically every position in the infield. With Chipper Jones recovering from ACL surgery, and the breaking in of Freddie Freeman at 1st, Prado will probably cover the corners more often than not.

Free Agents and Arbitration 101:

An added bonus for the Braves is that Uggla is likley to be a Type-A free agent after the 2011 season. Wikipedia informs us: “Teams that lose a Type A free agent, to whom they have offered arbitration, receive the top draft pick from the team that signs the free agent, plus a supplemental draft pick in the upcoming draft as compensation. Teams losing Type B free agents, or Type A’s not offered arbitration, receive only a supplemental pick as compensation.” Thus the Braves will get at least a supplemental pick relatively early in the draft, and likely a first round pick on top of that. Type-A free agents rarely accept arbitration, since they can probably find a more lucrative, long-term deal on the open market. If the Braves do offer Uggla a long-term deal, it will be because he fits well with the team and that the Braves expect to him to continue producing. So it’s a win-win for the Braves: they get their surplus value year in 2011 before Uggla hits free agency, and then get to decide to sign him again, or take the draft picks.

As for what the Braves gave up, Infante and Dunn are hardly game-changers, but their surplus value is what’s important here. The Marlins don’t have or want a huge budget, and Infante and Dunn can offer cheap value. Infante’s career 1.7 WAR/700 PA is worth approximately $7.7M; the Fish will be paying him $2.5M. Math tells me that’s a deal. Dunn is a 25-year-old, hard-throwing lefty who strikes out a bazillion people, but walks 0.7 bazillion, approximately. With an improvement to his walk rates, a legitimate possibility for a guy that young, Dunn could be a great reliever. Dunn is on his minor league contract and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2013, which means he represents a shit ton of upside at the cost of infield dirt (and maybe some chalk), relatively.

I don’t think either team “lost” in this deal. The Marlins obviously don’t want to pay Uggla’s arbitration amount this season, nor do they want him for any more than $48M/4 years, so they got their “cheap value” to stay afloat. The Braves, a more competitive team right now, got a slugging infielder to get them one step closer to the World Series.

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