Dan Uggla making his feelings on the current situation fairly clear. Screen Cap by Fred Owens Tomahawk Take

The Dan Uggla Situation

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Good hitters stay around, weak hitters don’t. Most players are declining by age 30; all players are declining by age 33. (Bill James, “Looking for Prime” page 205) via Baseball Prospectus.

Bill James is just stating the obvious. Like any profession, athletes – in the case baseball players – typically show a gradual increase to and a gradual decrease from that peak performance. How long it takes depends on many things; natural skill, injury, ability to handle the self imposed stress of being a major league baseball player and of course age.

Ask any baseball fan – sabermetricly inclined, old fashioned eye test guys and those in between – and they’ll tell you that now and then it happens differently. Now and then instead of ambling slowly and somewhat predictably down from the top of their  hitting mountain, some appear to take a wrong turn and fall off a cliff.  For some it isn’t a huge fall, their mountain wasn’t that high to begin with. But those who had rose to the highest peaks make the loudest noise when they fall.  Such is the case with Dan Uggla.

 The Rise and Fall of  Dan Uggla

With all of his issues since 2012 I think we sometimes forget why the Braves jumped at the chance to trade a utility infielder and a lefty relief specialist to the Marlins for his services. So a bit of a rewind is in order before I move forward.

Climbing the mountain

Uggla was an 11th round pick by the Diamondbacks in 2001. He kicked around the D’Backs system through the 2005 season, never played above AA, hit some home runs but wasn’t much of a glove man. The D’Backs left him unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and the Marlins grabbed him.

Between 2006 and 2010 Dan made the Diamondbacks cringe when they heard his name. In his 776 games for the Fish he put up a slash of  .263/.349/.488/.837 with 154 homers, 170 doubles, 12 triples, scored 499 runs and drove in 465.  How good was that? Between 1993 and 2013,  556 different players accumulated enough at bats in each of their first four seasons to qualify for a batting title. Of that group:

My daddy would have said that those are some pretty fair country ballplayers to be associated with.

Yes, Dan Uggla was a mighty man, In the year of 2010. . .(Apologies to Johnny Horton)

The 2010 season was a career year for Uggla. He posted his best slash – .287/.369/.508/.877- and an OPS+ of 131. This earned his a spot on the All Star team and a 17th place finish in the MVP balloting.  He was the Marlins offense hitting 21% of their home runs, driving in 15% of their total runs and scoring 13% of their 719 runs. the Marlins tried to extend him but they wouldn’t give him a fifth year and he wouldn’t take a shorter contract.

Then he wasn’t. . .

His first year in Atlanta Uggla provided the power the Braves sought in the trade delivering 36 homers (his fifth season with more than 30) and 22 doubles with a respectable (for a slugger) line of .233/.111/.453/.764. Those numbers were skewed by a 33 game hitting streak (July 5 through August 13) when he slashed .377/.438/.762/.1.200 hitting 15 homers and striking out only 27 times in 146 PA.  In his other 526 PA his slash was a depressing .194/.276/.257/.533 with 129 strikeouts.

Fredi turned to Dan
With his paycheck in his hand
Said, ‘Dan you’re a-lookin’ at a lonely, lonely man
‘I’d trade most  of that paycheck
For my long lost bat speed and a
World Series ring
On my pudgy little hand 

(more apologies to Johnny Horton)

Uggla’s 2012 season saw him lead the league in walks raising his OBP to his career norm but he failed to hit. For the first time since he reached the majors he hit less than 27 homers and posted a slugging percentage under .400.

The 2013 season was a disaster highlighted by the contact lens/ Lasik surgery disagreements and culminating in him being left off the post season roster. Excluding that 33 game aberration Uggla’s line since 2011 is a disappointing .198/.313/.372/.685 with 62 homers, 56 doubles and 468 strikeouts in 1693 PA (27.7%.)

This season has been more of the same. After giving Uggla a chance to get it going early in the year, the Braves started platooning Tyler Pastornicky and Ramiro Pena at second before eventually calling up Tommy La Stella. Today came the news that Uggla has been suspended for one game costing him about $80,250. The reason reported by David O’Brien was tardiness though Fredi Gonzalez refuses to say more than that it is an internal matter.

What Now for Uggla?

In business terms the Uggla contract is a sunken cost; the $18.42M remaining on his contract is spent and can’t be recovered. No one wants to trade anything for him, even a A ball prospect like the one the Indians provided for Derek Lowe isn’t happening. Lowe was able to provide some value in terms of innings to the Tribe while there is no prospective value gained from trading for Uggla.

The Braves have been loathe to DFA any player in whom they have a big investment. The GM traded Lowe for essentially nothing – Chris Jones is now out of baseball-  and sent his whole salary to the Indians rather than cut him loose. He sent Kenshin Kawakami to the M Braves to play out the remainder of his $24M contract rather than releasing him.  Uggla’s status as a veteran player precludes demoting him to the minors without his permission on the pretext of helping him get his stroke back. He watched the Kawakami episode unfold and probably won’t accept demotion.

Options?

The Braves have the same options now they’ve had all season; let him sit on the bench, trade him, or the elusive DFA. I expect the GM to contact all 29 teams offering him for anything and sending his money along. I also expect him to be turned down unless someone “owes him one.”  Uggla’ past the point of sitting quietly on the bench and who can blame him for that? The GM has not shown willing to DFA a big contract but something has to give soon, possibly through intervention buy Tony Clark and the MLBPA. Whatever happens I expect today’s event to speed the process up.

That’s A Wrap

The whole thing is about ego (not Uggla’s) and respect. I said last year that leaving Uggla off the post season roster in favor of Elliot Johnson showed a lack of respect for Uggla. Johnson was unlikely to provide any improved offense and while Uggla admittedly was awful he had earned a shot in a post season series through commitment and effort. I know some say that makes no difference but an honest assessment would conclude that Johnson was unlikely to make a difference. There are times when the right thing to do should be done and that I believe was one of them.

It’s no secret the Braves tried to trade Uggla all winter and were met with polite “not interested” responses. Giving him a shot early this year was the right thing to do, sitting him until he turns into a joke and an object of derision was not. No one plays harder than Uggla, no one gives you more effort whenever he’s called on; it’s not through lack of trying that Uggla’s bat is dormant. It happens; remember Marcus Giles? Andruw Jones? Jeff Francoeur?  If you hire a man to do a job and he gives you everything he’s got in an attempt to do it, the fault – if any – doesn’t rest with the employee.

Whatever spin is put on this, like the Kawakami debacle the Uggla situation looks like a front office unwilling to admit its mistakes, take its losses and move one. Having Uggla on the bench means the roster is always a player short and trust me Fredi needs all the good players he can get to make this work. Forget trying to find a face saving warm body in a trade.  Forget hoping for a miracle resurgence in Uggla’s bat.  Any rationale view of the facts leads to the conclusion that designating Uggla for assignment is the right thing to do. It’s past time for the DFA Mr. Wren. Do it now and the All Star Game will make everyone else forget it within the hour.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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