Moving the Unmovable: Swapping Uggla for Weeks

With less than a month before the July 31st trading deadline, many MLB teams are trying to decide whether they’ll be buyers or sellers before the deadline. With the addition of the second Wild Card, the buyer/seller dichotomy has probably outlived its utility. Last summer, Jayson Stark attributed the lackluster trading deadline because the second Wild Card increased the amount of teams in the buyer category than ever before, which provided a shortage of quality players to acquire. Given the dearth of players available leading up to the 2014 trading deadline, teams will have to be creative in their acquisition of players. Due to the addition of the second Wild Card, two teams that are almost guaranteed buyers at the deadline are the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers. Both Braves General Manager Frank Wren and Brewers General Manager Doug Melvin will be looking to add players to help their playoff chances. A move that would make sense for both teams is trading underperforming second basemen Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks for each other. This essay will examine their contracts and why each team should pursue this deal.

The Contracts and Performance
Both teams wanted to move each player (Uggla; Weeks) before this season, but they had similar unmovable contracts. Weeks has the more favorable contract, making $11 million this season with an $11.5 million vesting option for 2015 if he’s healthy and reaches 600 plate appearances this season (or 1,200 PAs in 2013-14), which won’t happen since he only has 146 PAs with 76 games to play. Uggla has a more undesirable contract, making $13 million this season and a guaranteed $13 million in 2015. For this deal to workout, the Braves would have to consume Uggla’s entire 2015 contract in order to get any compensation in return. As ESPN’s Dan Schoenfield argued for the Braves to cut Uggla in April because his performance has made his contract virtually untradeable. As such, the only way to get any value in return for Uggla is for the Braves to eat his entire 2015 salary.
What is amazing about these two players is how similar they have been over the past three seasons.

Weeks

WeeksUggla

UgglaWeeks is the more athletic player as demonstrated by his 16 steals in 2012, whereas Uggla has demonstrated more plate discipline as he led the NL in walks in 2012. Their last two seasons of fulltime service produced very similar OPS numbers (.728 to .732 in 2012; .663 to .671 in 2013). Additionally, both have been long described as a defensive liability, which further makes the comparison apt. While both players have displayed significant declines, they also are former All-Stars who could possibly benefit from a change of scenery.

Why the Braves Should Make this Deal
The Braves should trade Uggla for Weeks for a variety of reasons. First, the Braves would receive a former All Star in Weeks who is three years younger than Uggla (31 to 34) and has performed reasonably well this season. He hasn’t been an everyday player so these numbers could be misleading, but a .265/.336/.409 slash line demonstrates Weeks can still produce at a reasonable level. Second, Weeks also has extensive experience hitting from the leadoff position, which is a position the Braves have been looking to fill since they decided to sign BJ Upton over retaining Michael Bourn. While he’s never been a prototypical leadoff hitter, Weeks would provide more balance to the Braves lineup that would allow Jason Heyward to hit fifth, which is a more natural fit for Heyward. Third, prospect Tommy La Stella could be a steady major league second baseman in the future, but he’s just 2 for 27 since moving into the leadoff position on June 18th, which probably indicates he’s not ready for that type of pressure. Lastly, the Braves could remove the “Dan Struggla” hangover from their roster. Uggla is a renowned positive clubhouse guy, but Braves fans have long since turned on him and he represents the second worse signing in the Frank Wren era with only BJ Upton besting him. Yes, the Braves will have to pay his entire 2015 salary, but they would have to in every other possible scenario. Trading Uggla would allow the Braves to close the Uggla chapter and hope that Weeks can provide some stability at second base. Is it a stretch to think Weeks will be a productive everyday player? Yes, but you know Uggla isn’t a productive everyday Brave.

Why the Brewers Should Make this Deal
The Brewers should trade Weeks for Uggla for several reasons as well. First, the Brewers have an everyday second baseman in Scooter Gennett, who has demonstrated over the past year that he can hit in the big leagues. Second, much like Uggla in Atlanta, Brewers fans turned on Weeks last season and management is probably unhappy with Weeks after he refused a possible position change to left field in May. Weeks is still very popular with teammates, but he’s been a poor investment for the Brewers and a change of scenery could help both parties. Third, the Brewers have only made the playoffs twice since 1982 (most recently 2011) and Uggla, who won a World Series with the 2007 Marlins, could provide veteran leadership to a club hoping to fend off the St. Louis Cardinals in the second half. Uggla’s role with the Brewers could be similar to that of Jason Giambi’s with the Cleveland Indians as a leader in the clubhouse and be a potential game changing pinch hitter. Lastly, Gennett struggles against lefties, just slashing .129/.156/.161 and Uggla could spell Gennett against tougher lefties while not having to carry the burden of being an everyday player like he did with the Braves.

An underlying assumption to this trade is that a change of scenery could help both players. Fangraphs’ Max Weinstein provided an extensive examination of the change of scenery effect, which illustrated the 25 best and worst player performances after changing teams. Weinstein does not make any causal claims about when a change of scenery works, but both the Braves and Brewers should be optimistic about their chances. The possibility that Uggla or Weeks could be any worse than they have been over the past three seasons is unlikely. Both players signed long-term deals to be cornerstone second basemen for their franchises. This trade would take that pressure off of them and their clubs, provide more reasonable expectations, and provide them with a fresh start. These former All-Stars probably won’t make a considerable difference for either team, but this trade would allow both teams to move on from players they clearly would have sooner if their contracts weren’t so bloated. The worst thing that could happen is that both players continue to be awful and their respective fans create new demeaning Twitter accounts for them. And at least that’s better than the status quo, right?

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