No, this is not a joke, or being a devil’s advocate for the sake of being so — there is a potential scenario where it would make sense for the Toronto Blue Jays to trade for Dan Uggla.
Besides the Atlanta Braves giving him away and eating the entirety of the $26 million left on his salary, that is. Yes, the book is out on Uggla, and it’s not a particularly enthralling read (unless you happen to like train wrecks): it’s the classic story of a veteran free agent who couldn’t live up to his contract, found his skills in decline in every aspect, and who hit rock bottom by being left off the playoff roster.
It just so happens that the Blue Jays have an even bigger train wreck waiting to happen at second base, and all options — reasonable or not — are worth considering.
Before going into the trade scenario, let’s start with the most important thing for Toronto: why in the world would they want Uggla in his age 34-35 seasons?
Well, for one … it would actually be an upgrade. Lest it be forgotten (it was quite forgettable), the bluebirds had by far the worst production out of 2B in MLB in 2013, ranking dead last with a league-worst 39.6 offensive runs below average and a 13.8 fielding runs below average, good enough for a -2.1 fWAR.
Much of that was thanks to Maicer Izturis, but the fact is that if the Blue Jays had Uggla’s measly 0.5 fWAR in the lineup throughout 2013 instead of the mish-mash of players they had, the team would already be 2.5 wins better. That’s about $12 million worth in production based on positional values in 2013.
Now, that’s misleading because Uggla is far from being a 2.5 fWAR player this season, of course, but there is reason to believe that he can bounce back around those levels even as he heads out of his prime. This requires a bit of belief in sample size, but decline curves don’t usually drop off like the did for Uggla in 2013, and it’s important to keep in mind that in his “down” 2012 season where he hit just 19 homers with a .220 BA … he was a 3.4 fWAR player.
Part of that is because he had a positive fielding value last season, but even if that is a one-year only offer, the other skill that could lead to him bouncing back has held steady: his walk rate.
Hitters who go from having a more diverse offensive repertoire to become three-outcome hitters often don’t get the respect around the league that they should, because they feel like role players; but the fact is that there’s plenty of value in three-outcome hitters. Actually, if only JPA had the 14.3 walk rate that Uggla did …
In any case, that Uggla is able to draw walks with regularity helps him from being a total black hole, and combined with his power (.183 ISO, 16.7 HR/FB), there is a useful asset here with a 91 wRC+ this season. You know who else had a wRC+ of 91? Brandon Phillips.
Yes, it’s a bit of cherry-picking with the numbers, but here’s the thing: the veteran had never been worse than a 2.2 fWAR player prior to 2013, and even his worst would have represented the Blue Jays’ best. Plus, having the 33-year-old in tow could give him a potential new role as a DH, and who knows — it might be something he can excel at. The three-outcome upside is there, and the team would be mitigating his defensive shortcomings.
As for a plausible scenario? What about a straight up swap for embattled former All-Star/team ace Ricky Romero?
The Braves would have a lefty in his prime as a revival project for the back end to replace the likely-departing Paul Maholm while saving $11 million or so, while ditching their highest-paid player that they didn’t even want in the playoffs.
For the Blue Jays, they’d essentially be paying the extra $11 million for what is almost certainly going to be an upgrade at second, and if that move means that they’d feel comfortable enough to buy out Adam Lind‘s contract? That’s an extra $5 million saved, meaning $6 extra million for two years of Uggla … who still have some upside, believe it or not.
Besides, how much worse can it really get than -2.1 fWAR for the position?