Juan Uribe is going to be 35 years old when next baseball season rolls around. He is coming off of a not-so-great three-year contract (for $21 million) with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He underperformed as few can in the first two years of the deal, posting fWARs of 0.4 and 0.2 in 2011 and 2012, respectively. He followed those two years up with a career year as a 34-year-old. Huh?
By fWAR, 2013 was the best year Uribe has ever played in Major League Baseball. His 5.1 fWAR from 2013 is 1.6 higher than his next highest mark, 3.5 with the White Sox in 2004. He posted a slash line of .278/.331/.438 and a wOBA of .334. He also stole five bases, presumably all while Tim Lincecum was pitching, his highest total since, oh, 2004 again.
This puts a lot of clubs, including the Dodgers, in a rough spot. Uribe's fWAR through the three years of his Dodgers contract came in 0.1 lower than his mark over his two-year contract with the San Francisco Giant. Because Uribe had a great season (in a contract year!? who would've guessed!?) he's going to demand more money and more years than anyone wants to give him. The Dodgers want him back, but Uribe isn't going to just go back to Los Angeles for the weather.
Sources: #Rays interested in free agent Juan Uribe. Would play mostly at first, some at second and also back up Longoria at third.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 13, 2013
Obviously the Rays do not want to displace their superstar third baseman and they have a need to fill at first base. But shoving one of the best defensive third baseman in the league to the opposite side of the diamond seems silly. In the reality the Rays live in they will often have to choose between skill sets. Unless they draft a player that can hit and field, they're going to have to sign a guy that is either good defensively or good with a bat. With third base filled up, why give a defense-first player a multi-year deal to play a position where defense isn't all that important?
At 34, Uribe posted his best defensive season ever. He earned a dWAR of 25.3 on Fangraphs, and by Total Zone he was the fifth best defender in baseball. He's (probably) not going to do that again in 2014; after all, he posted a dWAR of 7.1 in 2012 and 2011 and even going back to 2010 he posted a dWAR of 11.
If anything, the Rays probably should consider moving Longoria to first base if they sign Uribe. Last year Longoria put up a dWAR of 15.3, which, while excellent came in a rebound year from 2012 where he only put up a dWAR of -0.2. For what it's worth, both Steamer and Oliver project Uribe to have a better year defensively for 2014.
The Dodgers still seem like the best fit for Uribe. They have a hole at third base that won't be filled until Corey Seager is traded or ready to be called up (still two or three years away), and Uribe is well liked in Los Angeles by the fans and in the clubhouse.
It's going to cost the Dodgers a longer contract than they want to give, but for a guy who is earning his keep with his glove, burying him at first base in Tampa -- or anywhere else -- seems like a waste.