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Trading the Uggla Duckling

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Is it really feasible to ask for an Uggla trade?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The question isn't if we want Dan Uggla gone.

From the moment of the trade, Uggla was bound to fail in the eyes of most fans. He's not and has never been a fun player to watch. But "fun" and "productive" aren't mutually exclusive, so while the strikeouts and defense weren't pretty, the walks and power were enough to desire his presence. But Uggla continued to rotate his good seasons and bad seasons, and all of those seasons have gotten progressively worse to the point where no one's really sure if it's worth having Uggla even on the roster anymore. The very "fan" reaction to Uggla has become a very practical one.

It's fairly likely that no one else wants him on their roster if the Braves don't want him. With that being said, the Braves did acquire Livan Hernandez and Jordan Schafer after they were released or DFA'd from the Astros, so that logic doesn't necessarily apply. So the real question is what team could use Uggla more than we could.

That's a tough question initially because the Braves don't exactly have a ready-made replacement for Uggla. Tyler Pastornicky has MLB experience and enough talent/youth to think he could at least be better than Uggla's half a win contribution from last season, but he hasn't exactly impressed in his admittedly brief MLB showing. Tommy La Stella is a hot name from the prospect ranks, but he's played in a grand total of 81 games above A-ball. Elliot Johnson had his flashes of brilliance last season, but the dude is a replacement-level player. Ramiro Pena is another possibility, but do the Braves want to bet second base on a guy coming off injury and one of the few flashes of production in his career? Any of those guys could be the answer at second base, but none of them are particularly "good" answers.

But let's say that we're comfortable that any of them or any combination of them could do better than Uggla. It's a low bar, after all. But who wants an Uggla at $13 million dollars for each of the next two seasons? The answer is no one. No one will take him at that price. But they may take him at a different price, and the Braves have three solutions here:

  • Eat part of his salary. Yes, no one wants to owe money to someone not on their roster. But as Dan put it a few weeks ago, that money is a sunk cost. It's already in the ledger for the next two seasons. When you eat money in a trade, you're actually gaining more flexibility. For instance, if the Braves ate $7 million, they're actually gaining $6 million in salary relief. Maybe no one wants a $13 million Uggla, but a $6 million Uggla doesn't sound so bad.
  • Trade someone with him. If you wanted the salary completely gone, you could add prospects or some other players to offset Uggla's negative value. At this point, you're basically clawing your way back to zero and a random AAAA reliever, but you get the money off the books. I don't particularly recommend this strategy, but it's there.
  • Take on a bad contract in return. I'm not really sure why you'd do this - exchange one bad contract for another - but I suppose one could see something in another player the other team doesn't. Considering the Braves don't really need anything other than another second baseman - why would you trade one bad second baseman for another - or a pitcher - do you want to take on the additional injury risk? - I don't really see this as a great option, either. But hey, a worthwhile offer might come along.

For now, let's focus on who would even be interested.

New York Yankees: Their name will always come up with big-money players, and if they don't re-sign Robinson Cano, they do have an opening at second. And despite the reputation of helping lefties, Yankee Stadium actually played more favorably to righties last season. I'm guessing they keep Cano, though.

Toronto Blue Jays: Whatever you think of Uggla, Maicer Izturis was worse, and with the Blue Jays basically in all-in mode, maybe they consider moving Izturis to a super-utility role. Toronto is just as friendly to righty power as Yankee Stadium, so the power might play. But if you're banking on a rebound, why not just stick with your guy?

Detroit Tigers: They could easily re-sign Omar Infante, but they may want to avoid the additional years and regression in store for Infante. Detroit kills righty power, though.

Kansas City Royals: Emilio Bonifacio hasn't been terribly impressive outside of 2011, and Uggla offers a bit more upside. The Royals have also patently refused to give Johnny Giavotella a real chance, so they're definitely looking for someone at the keystone. The Braves and Royals have matched up a lot on trades, so this is a maybe.

Colorado Rockies: Josh Rutledge had some promise coming into 2013, but it didn't go so well for him. Coors Field definitely receives power well, so there's a possibility here if the Rockies prefer to move Rutledge into a utility role and give Troy Tulowitzki a few more games off here and there.

Those seem to be the most likely options. Each of them have a certain motivation to make an Uggla trade, but there's obviously a motivation not to.

Front offices spend all day, week, year thinking about players and needs, so you're not going to pull anything over on them. What you might be able to do is provide a picture of a $5-6 million second baseman with a decent chance at a rebound in a market where free agent prices are about to get nuts. You won't get anything in return, but sometimes, you just have to say goodbye.

But let's be realistic. How many teams are really going to be interested in a 34-year-old second baseman that looks like he already fell off a cliff? Uggla does tend to rotate his good and bad seasons, and he's due for a better season in 2014 if he keeps to his schedule. But Dan noted all the trends that give a fair indication of that the results are no fluke, and I can guarantee that other teams see the same things. You can't always depend on the Angels to take Vernon Wells.

For now, it looks like Uggla will be a Brave for the next few seasons. I'm not in favor of a straight release (unless he's really that bad) because it allows someone else to pick him up for the league-minimum. While he might not be great, he's probably worth a roster spot, and at this point, he's basically free in that roster spot. The Braves, as we've mentioned, are paying that $26 million regardless.