January 5, 2011 at 7:40 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves
Signed Dan Uggla to a 5-year, $62 million contract extension.
You know by now, but for the record, the Braves have signed Dan Uggla to a 5-year, $62 million contract extension. The deal reportedly pays him something like $9 million in 2011 and somewhere around $13.25 million a year from 2012 to 2015. Sure, the deal is risky, but provided Dan Uggla does age like the average player does, it’s a pretty good deal. JC has Uggla worth ~$67 million over the next five years (I’m not sure what’s going on, but JC had Uggla worth $51 million over the next four years back in November) and my calculations agree–again, assuming an average aging pattern.
Uggla was going to make more than $9 million in 2011 via the arbitration process (I had him down for $10 million in my payroll calculations, which may have been conservative), so the Braves save some money this year. The importance of immediately saving money is increasing by the day as the offseason proceeds and Kenshin Kawakami and his $6.67 million salary sit on the Class AA Mississippi Braves roster. Having not heard so much as a peep about the situation in nearly a month, the notion that the Braves will not be able to trade him crawls toward becoming a reality. The good news is with Uggla signed for merely $9 million, the Braves are probably in a position where they can afford to keep Kawakami in the organization in 2011. They’re not going to be forced to make a salary dump they don’t want to, in other words.
And with Kawakami off the books entirely after 2011 the Braves won’t be fretting over having $13 million committed to Dan Uggla in 2012, unless he turns into a lemon between now and then. That’s basically the concern, here. Exactly when will Dan Uggla turn into a lemon? When is the Richie Sexson moment coming? Knowing this would make analyzing this deal a lot easier.
First of all, trust me, it’s coming. Dan Uggla will eventually turn into a sub-replacement level baseball player. Probably before he retires. Hopefully not within the next five years.
The one thing working against the Braves and Dan Uggla is that Uggla is not an extraordinary athlete, which means two things. The first is he’s not a very good defensive second baseman. We knew this. A certain amount of athleticism is required to play a serviceable second base in major league baseball. Uggla does play a serviceable second base in major league baseball, but with close to the minimum amount of athleticism required to do so. Athleticism ages and at some point he won’t have enough to play a serviceable second base in major league baseball. The man is 31 years old. How many 31 year olds are a) athletic enough to handle second base in the major leagues and b) going to stay that way for the next five years? Narrow the sample down to professional athletes, or even professional baseball players, and the odds are still stacked against Uggla.
There’s also a certain amount of athleticism required to swing a 33 ounce baseball bat 80 miles per hour and make contact with Drew Storen’s slider. While Dan Uggla also currently has enough athleticism to do that, this ability will too deteriorate to the point where Dan Uggla is incapable of contributing with the bat. Either his bat speed will decline and the power will go with it or he’ll turn into Cody Johnson, striking out in 35 percent of his at-bats, trying to maintain his bat speed. Uggla doesn’t have the 80 raw power to keep hitting 30+ homers through his mid-30′s without his contact skills falling apart like Jim Thome or Carlos Delgado. He’s a career .263 hitter who walks in 11 percent of his plate appearances and it’s going to be difficult to get on base enough to contribute if his strikeout rate increases much more. And, let’s face it, without the power he’s not a great offensive player. His .349 on-base average is very, very useful, but he’s not getting $13 million a year to be a .270/.350/.400, he’s getting paid $13 million a year for the 30 homers. If his athleticism does decline to the point where he’s no longer capable of being a power threat, you’d obviously rather him change his approach to maintain his on-base ability, than flirt with the Mendoza line so he can hit 20 homers, but you’re in a lose-lose situation on both sides of the ball once his athleticism deteriorates.
Which will happen, just hopefully not before 2015. And again we’re left hoping, because nobody knows when it will happen and the Braves can’t afford to be too wrong about this. The organization lacks the financial resources to overcome having a sub-replacement level player on their roster making $13 million for multiple years and the creativity and willingness to admit they were wrong and move on.
But I won’t be too grim, because for at least the couple of years Dan Uggla will be a good, right-handed power hitter on a team that both desperately needs one and has nobody else remotely close to ready to fill the need inside the organization. They should be able to find a place to hide him, defensively, for at least the next few years–be it second base, third base, or left field. And trying to guess when he’ll turn into a tub of goo is a job better left to a weatherman, so for all I know he becomes Jeff Kent 2.0 and provides 25 WAR over the next 5 years.
Do me a favor, though. Let’s not get carried away with labeling this a ‘good deal’ or ‘bad deal’ just yet. Time will tell and it’s far from clear how we’ll view this deal 5 years from now.