Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The good, the bad and the Uggla

(There's a new feature on the right side of the blog designed to group a series of related posts together: Potential offseason acquisitions for the Red Sox. Those who have already been discussed include Marco Scutaro, John Lackey and Prince Fielder. In theory, the group will grow as September and October turn into November and December.)

With his contract numbers destined to climb and keep climbing, there's a middle infielder with the Florida Marlins about whom the Red Sox might consider inquiring this offseason. His defensive numbers aren't spectacular, but he's among the best in the game with the bat at his position.

Oh, and it's not Hanley Ramirez.

FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal floated a rumor on Tuesday that the Marlins might have to consider dealing Dan Uggla this winter thanks to an arbitration number that figures to hit $7 or $8 million. (He's earning $5.35 million this season, his first since he became eligible for the arbitration process.)

The Red Sox, of course, don't need a second baseman. Dustin Pedroia isn't going to win another Most Valuable Player award this season, but he remains one of the best second basemen in the game. (He's on pace to hit 50 doubles for the second straight season, something no one could have foreseen.)

But Rosenthal drops in an interesting nugget in the middle of his bullet-point list of rumors: "The Orioles are among the clubs that would prefer him at third base."

Well, that's interesting.

The Red Sox, as has been discussed here ad nauseum, have quite a few decisions to make this winter related to third base. Mike Lowell remains under contract, but his defensive numbers this season have been so atrocious the team has to consider making him a full-time designated hitter. Jed Lowrie could play third base, but his health remains such a question mark the Red Sox can't go into next season depending on him being able to play 150 games.

Uggla might be an intriguing option.

Like several of the other options previously discussed, Uggla would fit nicely within the Red Sox lineup. His on-base percentage climbed from .326 to .360 from 2007 to 2008 and has hovered right around .360 this year. His walk rate has increased in each of the last three seasons, and his strikeout rate has dropped from 27.6 percent last year to 21.6 percent this year.

His ability to work the count has improved in each of the last three seasons as well: He saw 3.72 pitches per plate appearance as a rookie and has seen that rate climb from 3.92 as a second-year player to better than 4.10 in each of the past two seasons.

Oh, and he's a perennial threat to hit 30 home runs.

The question mark, of course, is his defense. Uggla has been an inconsistent and generally below-average defender at second base throughout his career: His Ultimate Zone Rating this season is minus-9.1 this season and was minus-9.3 two years ago. According to the Fielding Bible, he's about as bad going to his left at second base as Lowell is at third base.

But playing second base traditionally is more difficult than playing third base and requires less range. There's a chance that playing third base might make Uggla look like a better defender.

If that's the case, it might be worthwhile for Theo Epstein to see what it might take to bring Uggla to Boston.

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