Giving Dan Uggla a five-year extension leaves me pondering whether this is a smart decision. For one, he is turning 31 years old in March and is a below average second baseman defensively. Second, his type of offensive skills do not age well. Thirdly, the chance of him not being worth close to what he will be paid by the end of the deal is there, and any decision that enters those boundaries is not a smart decision.
Giving a 31-year-old middle infielder a five-year extension in the National League is risky. Giving a 31-year-old middle infielder that is not good defensively a five-year extension in the National League is very risky. Uggla's career UZR is -22, and Total Zone has him at -39. At 5'11 and just over 200 pounds, and by looking at his frame, he is built to be a catcher instead of a middle infielder. His range is minimal, and his hands are not good. It is also safe to say a combination of Uggla and Alex Gonzalez will not be the smoothest double play combination we have seen, nor will it provide great range, though that will have much more to do with Uggla than Gonzalez.
Uggla's already below average defensive skills will only worsen with age, and being over 30, it should start to happen soon. It may warrant a move to another position, whether it is third base once Chipper Jones retires, or left field. Uggla has already made it known he does not intend to move to the outfield, so if he is not able to recognize that his defense will hurt the team, that could be a problem. He provides very little in the way of arm strength for third base, as well. Any suggestion of first base makes no sense considering Freddie Freeman is getting his shot this year. I do not care if Uggla signs for 10 years, Freeman will not be moved for him. It is apparent that if he is forced to move from second base in the future due to poor defense, he could very well be out of a position. This risk is very realistic and is something the Braves must consider.
Then there is Uggla's offense. He has a career line of .263/.349/.488, good for a .837 OPS. He has a wOBA of .359, isolated power of .224 and OPS+ of 117. He has at least 30 homers in all but one of his five seasons. He walks at a clip of 10.8% to go with a high strikeout rate. Uggla has been one of the top offensive second basemen in the game since 2006, and it has overshadowed the bad defense for the most part. However, it does not project well for the future.
Uggla's offensive ability thrives on a serious uppercut swing. A short, stocky body means short arms, and he does not cover the plate well as far as power goes. That means he relies on pulling the ball for his power, and the majority of his shots carry the left field wall. ESPN's Stats & Info Blog mentioned Uggla's projected power at Turner Field shortly after the Braves acquired him. They say all but three of Uggla's 33 home runs in 2010 carried the left field wall, and since 2006, 114 of his 154 home runs have done the same. Sun Life Stadium's high left field wall is more friendly to right-handed batters than Turner Field, so naturally some amount of Uggla's home runs will be warning track shots in Atlanta. The blog also mentions that Uggla will no longer face a Braves staff that he murdered in the past, and the Marlins have never been too shabby on the mound.
While there should not be a significant drop in power right away, within a couple years the uppercut will lose speed and strength, and combined with a tougher place to take one out, his SLG and ISO should be expected to take hits. Uggla relies on power for his value, and if it takes a significant hit he will lose significant value. It is tough to say that he will be worth the contract if his power dips below .460 or .200. One advantage Uggla has over some with similar styles is that he is able to take walks. He has leveled out in the 70s after a flukish 92 walks in 2009. If he is able to continue that, he will not lose all value completely.
Uggla has one season of five-plus fWAR (FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement), two seasons of four-plus and two seasons under three. His five-plus was in 2010, as he posted a 5.1 season, which he will almost certainly not repeat. It was due to a .381 wOBA, and he showed solid power. His next highest was 4.5 in 2008, where he had a .372 wOBA and .254 ISO. His two seasons below three wins had terrible defensive numbers, but he also had career lows in wOBA and SLG. At Uggla's contract, if he remains close to his career averages he will be worth it. If he was entering his 28-30 seasons, I would have no problem with this. However, at age 31, he will begin to decline soon, and someone that relies solely on power with bad defense could easily decline at a faster rate. To say that he will be able to hit his value at the age of 34-35 is questionable.
With this extension, the Braves are giving themselves an upgrade on offense at a premium position and locking up a right-handed power bat that they have been needing for ages. I absolutely loved the trade for Uggla and felt great about having his bat in 2011. However, also with this extension, the Braves are risking having an average power hitter not hitting his value by his mid-30s, also with the chance of being out of a position and becoming a liability in the field. Only time will tell whether I have told the future or am completely wrong. For the Braves' and their fans' sakes, I can only hope I am wrong.