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.

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  • http://www.tomahawktake.com/ Chris Headrick

    I’m not among those that believe Uggla has regressed to the point of no return, or fallen off a cliff so tall he cannot climb back up. MLB is replete with examples of players who made a turnaround after a significant decline. The odds might not be in his favor, but a trade or a DFA and a pickup to a new club might do better than anything to help Dan Uggla. Change of scenery, in the absence of any other helpful item on a player’s agenda, sometimes is all that is needed. Dan’s done? Perhaps, but I doubt it, not quite yet anyway.

    • fireboss

      Not saying Dan couldn’t have a surge, one last hoorah. But looking at his contact rate and watching him I think he’s as gone as Giles was when he left.

  • Mushy Peas

    I had read that Dan was wearing a “play me or trade me shirt”. I thought that was a joke until I saw the picture! (Good grief) Though, I can’t say I blame him at this point. Sadly, neither one of those seems like an option for him. I’d like to think he could resurrect his career (somewhat) with some other organization, but, realistically, I just don’t see that happening. Right now, his career has descended into a complete debacle. Few know what is precisely going on behind closed doors, but this incident will hopefully give Wren & Co. enough of a nudge to finally let the poor guy go his own way with whatever dignity he has left. It’s not fair to anyone to allow this to continue.
    In addition to recent events, alot of folks are quick to take their parting shots at Dan. They seem to do this with little consideration for his ongoing commitment to the ball club and his professionalism throughout, what has to be, a very humbling and difficult time for him. For certain now, many people are only able to see him as a failed ballplayer and a costly waste of space. Alot of this is due to the fact that the organization has allowed this fiasco to drag on and on and on. By doing this, they’ve essentially managed to make his failures the focal point of his career in the eyes of many; or, at best, he’s seen as just a flash in the pan with any sizzle long since diminished. I think that’s a shame and could have been avoided to some extent if, as you say, “egos” hadn’t gotten in the way. I’m glad you took great care to point out the highlights of his career and why he was sought after in the first place.
    A very respectful, honest, and well written article, Fred.

    • Mushy Peas

      Just realized that’s an old picture because there’s a McCann jersey hanging behind him. Did he wear that last season when they benched him? That’s interesting.

      • fireboss

        I suspect Dan hasn’t stopped pressing for a resolution. This whole thing casts doubts on Wren’s leadership. I saw a piece in the AJC supporting him but honestly his treatment of Uggla and Kawakami are shameful. These men haven’t failed for lack of trying, both gave everything they had which sadly – and in KKs case not so much due to his efforts but lack of support – weren’t enough.
        I’ve never been a GM but I did run a 100 man fire protection branch where I hired people to do jobs – people I liked and respected – then had to remove them for nonperformance. It didn’t cost the AF millions but it did cost them career advancement and retirement benefits. The point is I know this isn’t easy particularly when you’ve said to your boss that millions should be allocated for this person. Not taking responsibility for your decision and accepting that it has proven wrong while simultaneously exposing the player to ridicule every day on television shows a lack of respect for him as a person. The waiter rule applies here.
        “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, is not a nice person.”
        In this case that should read – “A GM who treats you right only when you play well but fails to do the right thing when you don’t, is not a nice person or a good GM.”
        I accept that all GM’s make bad decisionsm, sign the wrong player or the right player at the wrong time and that all trades don’t work. The good ones however never forget that someone hired them too and should treat players as they would wish to be treated. Somehow I doubt that thought crossed Frank wren’s mind.

        • Mushy Peas

          Unfortunately, it seems Frank Wren never learns from his mistakes and the Braves didn’t take his history of mismanagement into consideration when they hired him. Wisely, the Orioles didn’t wait to give him a chance to mend his ways. I remember when he was fired in 1999 by Peter Angelos along with other members of management for making poor decisions and failing to resolve ongoing issues within the organization….including issues with players.

          There was an article written in the Washington Post back on October 8, 1999 by Dave Sheinin and Richard Justice that I think speaks volumes as to the kind of guy Wren is.

          • fireboss

            Yea I’ve read that before. As with all things there are two sides and Wren had a supporter in this piece the same day.
            http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/sports/orioles/daily/oct99/08/boz8.htm
            My personal evaluation after watching him is that he sees himself as a combination of Dave Drombowsky and JS, shrewd enough to spot talent others miss and sign it while at the same time making steals in under the radar trades. I don’t agree of course.
            What’s funny is that his supporters will go back to the Jurjjens trade and hold it up as a slick deal buit when I say want to point out trades in the same era its, “you’re just dragging up history, let it go.” I’m used to it now but I don’t understand the logic.

          • MWSchneider

            I’m not sure it’s fair to criticize Wren for the situation without knowing the circumstances. For all we know, Wren would like to do the right thing but is being prevented by the organization for some reason. Wren undoubtedly has his issues but impugning his character by relying on Peter Angelos is rather ridiculous. And, whatever his issues, Wren has managed to put together a competitive, contending team while working within pretty strict financial limitations imposed by ownership. To simply throw Wren under the bus, as people here seem to be doing, is just as unfair as what is happening to Uggla. And, let’s not make Uggla the complete martyr here. What has he done to deserve to play? He is making a lot of money for almost no production so for him to say “play me or trade me” (especially when it’s obvious to anyone but him that no one wants him) is the height of whining. Yes, he deserves to be treated with dignity but he also needs to acknowledge how poorly he has played; the Braves didn’t bench him out of pique but because he became possibly the worst player in baseball.

          • fireboss

            I’ve no love for Peter Angelos and don’t hold the Oriole year against
            Wren. I looked at his trades and signings that year and saw nothing
            monetarily excessive. The Ripken controversy aside – and it was an
            unnecessarily bad PR move when they were flying a charter that could
            wait – his year was mostly uneventful.
            I’ve looked at his trades and
            signings for the Braves as well – in context with when they occurred
            and not with 20/20 hindsight – and found them with one or two exceptions
            to be uninspired.
            Organizationally there’s only Terry Mcguirk and JS above Wren. JS has no history of doing similar things. Why would McGuirk want to do this? Liberty are not allowed to become involved in baseball operations but as a business organization they understand sunken costs and would at least in theory write an asset that is impeding their success.
            Uggla understands how badly he’s playing. What he and no one else understand and what the organization won’t explain is why he’s sitting on the bench breathing air a useful ball player could be breathing. The team plays a man short, Uggla is continually ridiculed on social media, radio talk shows and in the papers and Fredi has to try and manage a frustrated, unhappy employee when he has no control over the situation. Dan has to find the suspension a little odd to the point of being maddening. Here’s a guy you aren’t going to start or likely play short of an emergency and you suspend him for being late. Fine him? Sure. Suspend him? Why? Are you teaching him a lesson? What lesson? Making a point to the younger players? A fine does that and even if the fine allowed is smaller than the 80K or so he lost for that game, the point is made and no one outside the clubhouse knows about it. The way this was handled just seems tacky and aimed at publicly chastising the player.
            The Mets had a huge investment in Jason Bay who after injuring himself was never worth their investment. They released him in order for the team to move on even though it eventually cost them an additional $3M. It cleared the distraction of Bay from their roster and the fans attention.The Braves should do the same.

          • Mushy Peas

            I grew up in Maryland so I’ve always followed the Orioles very closely. Peter Angelos is not my favorite person in the world. Never will be. What happened during Wren’s brief stay with the Orioles goes beyond a he said/she said. Many of his actions while he was there are a factual matter of record. He has done things throughout his career that I think have been highly questionable. I used an example of an incident I personally remember quite well. I’m was in no way trying to paint him as the worst GM that has ever existed. Wren actually does have his good points. I like that he has always been very oriented towards the development of a solid farm system; pitchers, in particular. I was very happy that he was able to lock up alot of our young, key players. It’s always a gamble and it couldn’t have been an easy task when you consider that the Braves have a limited budget given their ridiculous tv contract- among other things. I think it was a smart move and gives the team a solid foundation on which to build for the future. I like that there was some newly found flexibility in some of the arbitration negotiations. I’m not against everything Wren does but, when it comes to the Dan Uggla situation, I think it could have, and should have, been handled alot better. Dan’s certainly earned his ticket off the field. No one is denying that, but he’s also earned the right to be treated like a human being. This situation has become an embarrassment for everyone. The fact that it has dragged on as long as it has is no one’s fault but management. It’s Wren’s job to sort through this problem. As I said, very few know exactly what is going on behind closed doors; however, I do suspect that there is some matter of his ego being involved. He’s signed two players to high-dollar, multi-year contracts that will likely go down as two of the worst deals in mlb history. That’s a bitter pill to swallow. He needs to save face and, judging by his actions in the past, he doesn’t strike me as someone who will simply admit that he’s made a huge mistake. If this situation had been resolved months ago, as I feel it should’ve been, I would probably feel very differently.

  • mitch Monteith

    He needs a Play me or Put me out to pasture shirt.