Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla can flat-out hit.
Uggla has a .826 OPS in his first four Major League seasons and has clubbed 121 home runs, more than any middle infielder in history over the first four years of a career.
Just as importantly, Uggla, 29, walked a career-high 92 times in 2009, which helped offset his lowest batting average in any single season to date.
Uggla also plays in pitcher-friendly Land Shark Stadium, for now at least, which not only suppresses home run totals (by about 10 percent) but also has the highest ballpark factor for strikeouts in all of baseball—109, or nine percent above average over a three-year span.
Uggla, who finished in the top 10 in the NL in strikeouts for the third straight year in 2009, might benefit tremendously from a move out of that environment. The Marlins also feel they would benefit from getting out of paying him $7 million or more next season in the second year of his arbitration eligibility.
In a recent report, Ken Rosenthal mused that six teams could have interest in Uggla:
LA will have a tough choice to make this offseason between re-signing incumbents Orlando Hudson or Ron Belliard; pursuing free agents Placido Polanco or Felipe Lopez; or pulling the trigger on an Uggla trade.
However, with Orlando Cabrera and Marco Scutaro also on the market, the Dodgers could choose to sign a shortstop and move either the new signee or incumbent Rafael Furcal to second.
In any case, Los Angeles probably won't want to part with top pitching talent to land Uggla.
2. St. Louis Cardinals
St. Louis could be a better fit, especially if they hope to demonstrate to superstar Albert Pujols that they intend to build a championship club around him if he returns after 2010.
Unfortunately for the Cards, they spent a lot of player capital on the acquisitions of Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa in 2009 (both trades now look like mere rentals) and face a daunting task in re-signing Holliday, DeRosa, and starter Joel Pineiro, let alone manager Tony La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Economically, the deal would likely not work on St. Louis' end, and even if it did, Florida would probably scoff at any Cardinal offer.
Uggla certainly won't unseat current second baseman Brian Roberts, which makes the Baltimore case a good prism through which to look at a key question regarding Uggla's future: Can he move to another position?
By the reckoning of most baseball analysts, a second baseman or shortstop should be able to move to virtually any new position and acquit himself well. The general consensus in terms of a difficulty spectrum is as follows (from most to least difficult):
Catcher-Shortstop-Second base-Third base-Center field-Right field-Left field-First base
By this logic, Uggla could slide into the third base vacancy for the Orioles, adding a potent bat behind Nick Markakis and Adam Jones while solving the issue of his subpar defensive skills. Indeed, it seems that Uggla, with his superior arm at second, would make a relatively smooth transition to the hot corner. It may come down only to whether he's willing to accept such a move.
Again, Uggla would be asked to move in deference to midseason trade pickup Freddy Sanchez. If the Giants are ready to give up on first basemen Travis Ishikawa and Ryan Garko, Pablo Sandoval could make his switch into that position permanent, and Uggla could take over third base.
However, the Giants may look first to sign an outfield bat, knowing that their problems there are much more pressing (to wit, a combined outfield slugging average that narrowly topped .400). Money is also an issue here, and a deal seems unlikely unless the Marlins compromise their talent expectations.
This deal makes sense for a pair of reasons: First, Minnesota cannot hope to repeat as AL Central champions if they do not address the lack of offensive production they got from their second basemen in 2009; second, it would be a strong good faith gesture to superstar catcher Joe Mauer, whom the Twins can hope to keep beyond 2010 only if they impress him with their willingness to invest in winning.
The combination of Alexi Casilla, Nick Punto, Brian Buscher, and Brendan Harris hit .209/.302/.267 in 2009, an unimaginably flaccid output for anything but a 90-loss team, let alone a division winner. With a new ballpark opening in 2010, Minnesota will need to remedy that anemia in order to take advantage of new possible revenue streams.
Minnesota could offer pitching or a high-level prospect like outfielder Ben Revere, but the Marlins might develop reservations about the deal if the Twins also insist on cash considerations to offset Uggla's high cost. If money becomes a non-issue, this could the best destination for both sides.
This move could work very well for the Marlins, as Arizona's system is rich in both position players and pitchers at the minor-league level. Diamondbacks brass, however, have reiterated a decision first extolled around midseason, that they intend to fill their second base vacancy from within.
That could mean newly-begotten Tony Abreu, the erstwhile Dodger; veteran utility-man Augie Ojeda; or encouraging 29-year-old 2009 rookie Ryan Roberts. It certainly does not mean Uggla, and since both corner infield spots are also occupied, this doesn't seem to be a fit.
While Rosenthal made no mention of the following two teams, each could also be an attractive destination for Uggla and his current organization.
General manager Jim Hendry and skipper Lou Piniella each believe the team needs another bat for the middle of its order, and since the Cubs have openings only at second base and center field in 2010, Uggla is a superb fit.
Chicago's potential package for Uggla would be less attractive than some, but motivation to make the move could be higher for Hendry than any other executive. Hendry is unlikely to be restrained, in this instance, by monetary concerns.
The Tigers, who will consider but likely eschew their opportunity to re-sign aging Placido Polanco, could offer Florida a fair-to-middling package of prospects, and also have the money to take on Uggla's arbitrated salary in full.