Let's face it. We could find a place on the team for a lot of players. Dan Uggla? He hits the ball really hard, and plays second base (well, stands near it), too. Victor Martinez? He can play some games at catcher, hit from both sides of the plate and slip into the order behind Miguel Cabrera as some insurance. Carl Crawford? He runs, he hits, he fields! Jayson Werth? He hits the extra-base canyons and knocks the ball out of the park! Jim Thome? Carl Pavano? More? All of them sound so nice when you're looking for a boost of excitement on the team.
But would you pay Crawford 30 million a year? Of course not. Would you pay him 10 million? Of course. Depending how many years you have to pay it anyway, right? Trading a couple of midlevel relief pitchers for Uggla sounds like a wonderful idea. Trading Jacob Turner sounds like a pretty bad one.
What dictates a good or bad roster decision isn't the player being brought on board nearly as much as the deal that brings him to the team.
Today I'll look at what might be a good price point to bring in the Marlins' Dan Uggla by trade and what would be a bad one.
Caution: This is going to be a bit sabermetric. There's really no way around that if we want to look at the subject objectively. You can skip to the end if you want, but if you stick around for the whole thing I hope to provide a good lesson in valuing players.
We can look at this two ways. The first is a rough estimate of what Uggla brings to the team versus what the Tigers would have anyway, using stats we know and understand intuitively. Tigers second basemen hit .268 and had 12 home runs. Uggla hit .287 and had 33 home runs last year. That's a marked improvement at the cost of some defense.
The second, better, way is to use the sabermetric stat that is harder to grasp in your mind but easier to play around with when you're looking for player value: Wins Above Replacement. In short, all the good and bad things a player can do are turned into runs above what could be expected of a replacement player, you factor in the position he plays and the amount of playing time he gets. Then you turn the runs into theoretical wins.
First it's important to establish Uggla's value to the team. He is eligible for arbitration for the final time this season, and he's asking for more than the four-year, $48 million contract offered to him by the Marlins. I'm going to play it safe and say Uggla's minimal cost will be $10 million for one season of baseball, with two first-round draft picks returned to the team when he is offered arbitration and leaves after 2011. Knowing the Tigers if they traded for him they'd immediately sign him to a five-year, $60 million deal. But I get off topic.
We can assume he'd take the majority of the action at second base, although it's possible he could be moved to left field or take some swings as DH. But the most value comes at second base, regardless of his fielding ability. The quickest way to thumbnail sketch a player's value is to make a rough guess at what his WAR will be and multiply it by the going rate of a win on the free-agent market. Since Uggla is coming off a career year of 5.0 WAR and over the age of 30, I'll bump it down by 25% to 3.75 WAR next year and estimate about $4 million per win for this offseason. So a safe sketch is about $15 million in market value, or about $5 million in surplus value. If teams overpay this offseason, it could be a bit higher.
Ah, but let's assume now that he is lost to free agency after the season. He in all likelihood will retain his Type A status, thus netting two first-round picks. The value of the picks is dependent on where they fall in the draft and that is unpredictable, but Victor Wang found at The Hardball Times about $3-6 million is a good guess. So that's about $6-10 for the pair, bringing Uggla's value to his team to about $10-14 million, conservatively. Knock about $3 million off that if you think he'll fall to Type B status, but I don't.
Uggla's 2011 value: $10-13 million
Of course the Tigers would have some value in whatever second baseman played there. So you've got to subtract that. Last season, with Carlos Guillen, Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes and Ramon Santiago splitting time, the Tigers got about $5.9 million out of the position. I think it's safe to bump it up a bit from 1.5 WAR to 2.0 and call the Tigers' projected value about $8 million. Take away the cost -- Rhymes or Sizemore will make about $1 million combined and are likely to split time there in 2011 -- and you've got about $7 million in value.
Tigers' second basemen's 2011 value: $6-8 million
So when you total it up, Detroit should give up no more than $4-5 million in future value to make a deal.
So we can probably check Jacob Turner's name off the list of viable trade chips. Personally, I'd take Andy Oliver's name off the list too. If Florida wants either of those guys, no deal, sorry. It's not worth it to Detroit. We know they're probably asking for a pitcher and a catcher. So unless they get one of the 2010 draftees as players to be named later, they may have no interest at all in trading with the Tigers in any case. Otherwise, just about any other pitcher or pair of pitchers on the farm would be fine by me. (One side-note here: I leave out of my calculations the opportunity cost of not being able to trade these players for a position Detroit might need more, but so be it.)
Finally, what kind of deal would I be comfortable with Detroit offering? Due to his age (31 next season) and poor defensive play, we can expect to see Uggla's value to his club begin to drop. How about four years, $48 million, or five years, $56 million contract? Sounds a lot like what Florida offered doesn't it? That's because their offer was actually a fair one.
Uggla has clear value to the Tigers. He is an upgrade both statistically and when it comes to value. However, I would not like to see the Tigers give up one of their top two pitching prospects to attain him, nor pay him more than $12.0 million a year if they were to extend him after that. If the Tigers did pay more in prospects or contract extension, it would signal to us two things. 1) They valued him wrongly. 2) They felt like his value to them was worth more than the market value because he could dramatically improve their playoff odds. I don't think that is the case myself but it could be when you look back at the offseason as a whole on Opening Day.
So that's the sabermetric answer to the value of Uggla to the Tigers. What do you think he's worth?