November 15, 2010 at 5:41 am by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Constructing a roster or part thereof with the sole intention of beating a single team is a foolish endeavor. Letting the emotions associated with a player hitting twenty three home runs against your team over the past five years effect your judgment related to roster decisions is equally foolish. The fact that Dan Uggla is perceived as a ‘Braves killer’ for not entirely rational reasons should not influence the Braves’ decision to pursue him or pass.
Granted, his career .900 OPS against the Braves over 89 games isn’t the only reason fans would like to see him hitting in the middle of Atlanta’s order. The overall career .263/.349/.488 line he’s amassed while playing his home games in a place that depresses offense (career 117 OPS+) or the fact that he’s averaged 31 homers a year or his durability (he’s missed at most 16 games in a single season over his five-year career while averaging 154 a year) are objective and rational reasons to think of Uggla as the solution to the Braves’ biggest problem–the lack of power, specifically right-handed. While having Uggla bat 5th for the 2011 Braves is undeniably a better option than anyone currently in the organization, failing to evaluate further would be ignoring several significant problems and might result in an avoidable mistake.
Problem one has to do with his position. Dan Uggla is a second baseman. The Braves already have a second baseman in Martin Prado, a second basemen who has been nearly as good of a hitter (career 115 OPS+) and a decidedly better fielder than Uggla. Moving the former to make room for the latter–who will cost somewhere between $5 and $8 million more in addition to the prospects shipped out to obtain him–would not improve the team enough to justify the cost if at all. Uggla also played 3B in the minors. The Braves already have a 3rd baseman in Chipper Jones, a third baseman who has been a better hitter than Uggla even over his most recent “down years” (OBP-heavy 118 OPS+ versus Uggla’s 121). Whether or not Uggla is a better defensive 3rd basemen than Chipper is a matter up for debate, but the fact that Chipper Jones is owed $14 million in 2011 and can’t be moved without his permission* makes the point moot; Dan Uggla will not be Atlanta’s 3rd basemen in 2011.
*Hoping Chipper changes his mind about retirement or re-injures himself so Uggla can be pursued is not productive. Furthermore, Chipper retiring or re-injuring himself would in no way be a positive thing for the 2011 Braves, regardless of the implications it may have related to Uggla. Finding a player to replace Chipper’s .400 on base average would be virtually impossible, with or without the $14 million he’s owed in 2011.
The only position Uggla could conceivably play for the 2011 Braves is left field, given it’s one of two places they don’t have a set-in-stone player installed and his immobility prohibits him from playing center field. Speaking of which, Uggla doesn’t move well enough to play an average LF, and seeing as he’s played all of twenty professional games at the position you can safely wager he is capable of providing next-to-zero defensive value as an outfielder.
It may be true that most of the other options aren’t capable of providing any more defensive value in left than Uggla is, but the fact that twenty eight other teams will have an opportunity to send a bag full of prospects to Miami in exchange for Uggla’s services and most will value him as a second basemen presents a problem. A butcher in left field is less valuable than a butcher at second base given the relative difficulty of the positions. Paying the price of acquiring a 3-win player for one that’s more likely to provide two wins on the 2011 Braves’ roster is an inefficient use of resources.
Problem two has to do with his contract. Uggla is under team control in 2011 and a free agent thereafter. He’s eligible for arbitration and will likely receive a salary of around $10 million, more than the Braves would care to spend on their left fielder. The Braves would essentially be trading for a 1-year rental at a price too high for them to stomach. Uggla would presumably be open to signing an extension, but he’s reportedly seeking a 5-year deal and the fact that he’ll want to be paid like a second basemen will only exacerbate the issue described above if said extension is agreed upon.
Problem three has to do with aging effects. Though Uggla has been in the league only five years, he’s not exactly a spring chicken. He’ll be thirty one years old in 2011 and is indisputably on the wrong side of his peak. Furthermore, he’s a player that strikes out in 26 percent of his at-bats, making him a candidate to experience a Richie Sexson-esque evaporation into worthlessness during his early-to-mid 30′s. While this is more of a concern if we’re discussing a potential extension, the possibility of Uggla losing his bat speed and, as a result, his offensive effectiveness next year can’t be ignored.
Problem four has to do with trading stars within the division. It was painful to watch the Rangers make a deep postseason run with a SS and closer the Braves originally signed. It would have been ten times as painful to watch a division rival steal Atlanta’s playoff spot on the strength of talent Atlanta developed. Refusing to ever trade with division rivals is a bad policy, but refusing to help them reload for the future is not, and not because of said pain. Making life harder for yourself in the future is a quick way to irrelevance.
If the Braves were to trade for Uggla, they’d be giving up significantly more value than they’d receive from Uggla due to market demand and the inability to take advantage of the optimal use of his defensive abilities. They’d be trading for either an expensive, 1-year rental or a player they’ll have to pay more than market rate to retain beyond 2011. They’d be getting a player possibly susceptible to rapid, precipitous decline. And they’d be helping a division rival beat them in the future. Sure, Atlanta would have a pretty cool right-handed power bat for their 2011 line-up, but the question isn’t, “is this cool?”; the question is, “is it worth it?”. The answer is “no”, and Dan Uggla would be a mistake because of it.