The Atlanta Braves shook off what was a rough stretch of games a week ago by piecing together a three-game winning streak with victories over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers over the last three days. The resurgence in offense came as a relief for players and fans alike, but it is interesting to consider the fact that second baseman Dan Uggla has been almost completely absent during this stretch and the week that preceded it.
Uggla, now in his fourth season with Atlanta, had a promising start to the 2014 season that quickly tailed off into a pattern disappointingly similar to what the 34-year-old has often brought to the Braves in his tenure.
Despite the promising beginning, which at one point saw Uggla boast an average of .237, the hitting has since slacked off, leaving the nine-year MLB veteran with a batting average of .178 with just 2 home runs (each came on Apr. 14 against the Phillies) and 10 RBIs. Uggla’s average has taken a considerably steady nosedive ever since the Braves’ victory over the Mets on Apr. 19 due in part to Uggla only recording five hits since that particular outing.
Home run hitters can be held to different standards in baseball; specifically, their paltry averages can be overlooked if they continue to deliver baseballs into the outfield seats. Uggla was a prime example of this case last season. His 22 home runs kept him at second base until his numbers declined as the season came to a close, leading manager Fredi Gonzalez to put Elliot Johnson in his place. Fans thought last season was a rough one for Uggla, but with two dingers through 107 at-bats and just six starts in the month of May, this run truly looks like the beginning of the end.
The question on many peoples’ minds is what the Braves can do with Uggla at this point in the year. The team reportedly worked long and hard in the offseason to deal Uggla and the remaining two years on his $62 million contract (Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips was suggested by many to be an interesting option), but eventually no one was willing to make a deal.
The fact that no clubs were intrigued by Uggla in the winter months is disconcerting for the Braves. Many felt that Uggla had put in a great deal of effort with hitting coach Greg Walker on adjusting his swing, leaving hope that a team may take the risk and buy low on the Florida Marlins’ all-time home run leader. Instead, Uggla has stayed put and has ultimately watched his value drop even lower than before.
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren appears to have two options on the table: leave Uggla on the bench or release him. The former choice does not seem like it is necessarily a terrible one; from the outside looking in Uggla does not appear to be a troublemaker in the clubhouse nor a thorn in Gonzalez’s side. However, Major League Baseball is not about who is likeable among teammates or who has potential that is not being proven; it is all about results. With that in mind, it is very likely that Wren decides to eat Uggla’s contract and send him packing.
Options for both the Braves and Uggla would be limited at this point in the year. For Atlanta, it would make a great deal of sense to platoon Ramiro Peña and Tyler Pastornicky at second. The team could also look at calling up rising star Tommy La Stella, who has a .291 average with 0 home runs and 20 RBIs in 42 games with the AAA Gwinnett Braves. Trading for a player is probably not the route that will be taken but may be available closer to the All-Star Break, leaving capable guys like Chicago’s Emilio Bonifacio on the team’s radar.
Meanwhile, the pickings appear to be even slimmer for Uggla. Although solely stepping in to play second base is not necessarily out of the question for Uggla, it seems like a fair assumption that also having the opportunity to serve as a designated hitter from time to time with an American League team would make the most sense.
Teams in the A.L. having the toughest time with power at this point are the Kansas City Royals (only 20 HRs) and the Baltimore Orioles (21st in MLB with 176 runs). The Royals are trying to finally make some noise in the AL Central but are having limited returns from Johnny Giavotella, Pedro Ciriaco, and Danny Valencia, a trio that have combined for 23 hits this season. Uggla would also make a lot of sense platooning and possibly starting over Baltimore’s young Jonathan Schoop, a 22-year-old rookie who has a .222 batting average with 3 home runs and 14 RBIs.
While the end has not arrived yet, it seems readily apparent that Dan Uggla’s days playing his home games at Turner Field are drawing to a close. Uggla’s stint with the Braves did not live up to the hopes of many when Atlanta traded reliever Mike Dunn and second baseman Omar Infante following the 2010 season. It will be remembered as a tenure that had some exciting moments (33-game hit streak in 2011, 79 HRs in four years) but ultimately was undone by inconsistency at the plate.
Many once felt that Uggla would be the player to revolutionize second base into a spot where power was available as often as it is in the outfield; fast-forward to today and many openly wonder if the thirty-four-year-old will still even be playing come 2015.