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

An Uggly Idea: Atlanta Braves Poor History Signing Outside Players

The release of Dan Uggla by the San Francisco Giants soon after giving him another chance after the Braves released him showed yet another chapter of the struggles the Braves have had in identifying and signing outside talent.  We’ll take an off-day look at the long list of struggles, specifically in the Frank Wren regime. (Key: *=active on 2014 roster, so evidence is still not finished)

The Good – Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Ervin Santana*, Aaron Harang*

We’ll start out with the “good” signings.  One of my qualifications is that to be examined for this list, you would have been signed for a “substantial” role, i.e. a starting position player, starting pitcher, or a closer/setup role for a full season. In reviewing these signings, there is an obvious pattern to the “good” signings – one-year deals.  Eric Karabell of ESPN’s Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast, and the former host of the Baseball Today podcast has often been quoted in saying that there is no such thing as a bad one-year deal, and in general this is true.  If the guy is bad, you just let him go.  If Saito or Wagner were bad in 2010, the Braves could have dropped them and used Jonny Venters or Eric O’Flaherty in the late innings and acquired bullpen guys in season (there are always guys who seem to be available in the bullpen at the deadline, not to mention this Craig Kimbrel fellow who came up midseason 2010 and was dominant as well).  Santana and Harang this year were gambles late in the spring to fill a rotation that had been decimated by injuries.  Anything given there would have been gold, so to get what they got out of those two this year and Sheets in 2012 was icing on the cake.  Total per season rWAR for “good” signings: 1.6

The Bad – Gavin Floyd*, Kenshin Kawakami, Derek Lowe, Troy Glaus

This is unfair to Floyd really because he produced nearly exactly what you’d like – 0.9 rWAR for $4M when in free agency, 1 rWAR typically costs ~$5M or even more in some offseason.  The reason he’s on the bad list is that he was signed only for one year, knowing he was recovering from injury, and he ended up getting injured again after only 9 starts, so while his numbers over 9 starts were productive, on a Braves team with limited finances going into the deadline, $4M extra in payroll room would have been nice.  Kawakami was a very confusing one.  He had one very solid #4 starter sort of season and then was seemingly banished after 2010 through 2011 until he returned overseas after his contract was up.  His peripheral numbers were nearly equal in 2009 and 2010, indicating he was really bitten by bad luck more than anything, but the Braves seemed not to be interested in engaging another season with him in 2011, and he was left in AA to languish.  That’s another story for another day. Lowe was mediocre for two seasons and very poor for one.  He is borderline for this or the “ugly” list because of the amount of money spent for the 1.8 rWAR cumulative for 3 seasons that the Braves got (and paid for one more season he didn’t even pitch in Atlanta!). Glaus and Lowe both are remembered for carrying the clubs at different times in their Braves careers, but fans conveniently forget just how bad they were when they weren’t doing that. Thankfully we only were subjected to one season of Glaus, not the 3 of Lowe. Total per season rWAR for “bad” signings: 0.5

The Ugly – Dan Uggla, B.J. Upton, Garret Anderson

Anderson is the one poor one year deal, but that was more that the Braves kept running him out there in spite of his struggles, but once again, he was only one year, so he was quickly dismissed before 2010 after posting the single worst negative rWAR season of any player mentioned in this discussion.  Uggla I included here because he was signed to an extension before ever playing a game for the Braves, making him a long-term signing before ever playing for the Braves.  He never did have a decent season with batting average, peaking in 2012 with a season where he really had worked hard on his defense and led the league in walks at the plate, and his last year and a half have been so negative that they nearly negate his entire first two seasons.  Upton may have found some reprieve moving to leadoff, but anyone watching the Padres series saw a lot of the same Upton clueless swings, arguing with umpires, and questionable effort running out infield grounders.  At least in 2014, Upton has shown solid defense in general, which was even poor in 2013, but he’s been easily the worst signing in per season rWAR over Wren’s entire history as GM. Total per season rWAR for “ugly” signings: -0.25 rWAR

The Wrapup

The Braves have been lauded for their pitching development for years, and in reviewing this, there’s an obvious tilt where the good and bad and ugly signings fall.  The worse the player, the more likely he was to have been a hitter.  The better the signing (and shorter the signing), the likelihood raised that it was a pitcher.  For those who were counting, multiple season signings from outside the organization thus far under Frank Wren have averaged roughly 0.25 rWAR per season, with BJ still under contract to possibly lower that number even further.  So far, as in years past with the Braves, the smart money has been single year signings of outside players and multi-year extensions to players within the organization.

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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