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For Dan Uggla, Marlins Would Command a Heaping Sum in Return


In the wake of the Florida Marlins dealing away the two prized pieces from the 2007 trade that sent Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, it appears as if Detroit is willing to go back to the well and see if they can’t steal another big Marlin bat. His name is Dan Uggla.

Uggla has been perhaps baseball best hitting second sacker in recent years (apologies to Chase Utley and Robinson Cano). His lifetime .837 OPS ranks him among the most productive batters at any position, let alone second base. In five seasons he has never hit fewer than 27 homers and never driven in fewer than 88 runs. In 2010, Uggla became the Marlins franchise leader in home runs, passing Derrek Lee, Cabrera, and Mike Lowell on the way. There is no doubt that Uggla would represent a welcome addition to the Tigers lineup.

It certainly isn’t his bat that worries the Tigers or their fans, the cause for concern lies in the money and the defense. Uggla is entering his final arbitration year and has already declined a 4-year, $48 million extension offer from the Fish. The Tigers, not short on available cash, could easily absorb his projected $10 million tag for 2011, and have the resources to sign him long term. If Uggla isn’t happy with $12 million per year, the Tigers could offer as much as $15 million per season and still likely maintain enough flexibility to keep the rest of the major pieces intact.

Defensively, Uggla’s glove will never be gold, though sometimes it appears it’s made of some type of metal; anything but precious, however. The world saw Uggla’s defensive problems on the biggest of stages when he committed three errors in the 2008 All-Star game. A game in which he also went 0-for-4 with a double play ball and three strikeouts. In games that matter, Uggla hasn’t been that bad, but still not good.

In his five seasons, Fangraphs has rated him above average twice according to UZR. In the three other seasons, he’s not only been below average, but significantly so. His career UZR/150 is -4.5. Basically, think of Carlos Guillen, and then think of a defender slightly worse. Suffice to say, an infield of Cabrera, Uggla, and Jhonny Peralta will make Rick Porcello become a fly ball pitcher in a hurry.

In addition to the obvious defensive shortcomings, the Tigers would have to yield a hefty sum of young players to get Uggla to Motown. Expect any trade to involve at least one high-ceiling pitcher, but it won’t stop there. The Marlins will be looking for a replacement for Uggla and probably another prospect as well. If the idea of trading away Scott Sizemore, Jacob Turner or Andy Oliver, plus, say, Alfredo Figaro (or someone of his ilk) turns your stomach, you’re not alone.

But if we learned nothing else from the Cabrera trade, we should have learned this: not every prospect becomes John Smoltz. In a perfect world full of guarantees, Turner will become an ace, Oliver will become a great number three, Sizemore will turn into an all-star, and Fiagro will figure out how to retire a major league hitter. In reality, there’s a good chance that half of those guys never pan out, and an even better chance that none of them ever fully reach their ceilings. They’re called prospects for a reason, people. Uggla, meanwhile, is a proven commodity.

That said, I’m not in favor of giving away prospects on a whim. But I also understand, as Dave Dombrowski does, that sometimes you have to give up a player or three to make drastic improvements to your club. The Tigers, should they get Uggla, would have no need for Sizemore. They already have little need for Figaro, yet his stuff shows a pitcher who has potential. In Turner and Oliver they have two potential top-of-the-rotation starters, and while you can never have enough pitching, neither pitcher figures prominently into the 2011 plans.

When it’s all said and done, I’d be happy if Dombrowski could pry away Uggla for a package that included Sizemore, Oliver and one other prospect. I’d hate to see Turner go in this trade. He’s the one arm in the system that the Tigers should absolutely hold on to. Unless a bigger fish comes along, that is.