For all of the great work Frank Wren and company have done to build the roster over the last few years; there have been some moves that looked good on paper, but have turned out to be disasters. In this post we will review two of those moves and the next steps the organization may take.
In 2010 Dan Uggla put up the best numbers of his career and won the Silver Slugger award for National League second basemen. He went to the Marlins and stated he wanted a multi-year deal and to be paid like one of the best second basemen in the game. The Marlins being the Marlins laughed and said, “Uh…no.”
The Braves were coming off a season where they had no real right handed power and were being forced to face a bunch of lefties, which they couldn’t hit. Wren saw an opportunity and made a move for Uggla and signed him through 2015.
If you remember, Uggla’s 2011 season started off terribly. Then on July 06, 2011 he started a 33 game hitting streak and raised his average 60 points. He finished the year with 36 home runs (a career high) and played pretty well the second half of the season. It appeared the weight of the new contract may have been to blame for his slow start.
The 2012 season started off better for Uggla. He played well enough to be elected to start the All Star Game. He did fall off during the second half, but was still able to lead the league in walks. To this point, Uggla had been decent overall.
There were some rumblings in the early part of the 2013 season that Uggla was having vision issues and needed contact lenses. There was a sense of hope that once Uggla’s vision was corrected he would be back to the 2010 form. As they year went on and Uggla’s average went down, it was decided that corrective eye surgery was the way to go.
By late August, when it was apparent the surgery hadn’t fixed Uggla, the team picked up Elliot Johnson who was released by the Kansas City Royals. While Johnson wasn’t great, he played well enough to earn the starting job in the playoffs. When Uggla was informed he wasn’t going to be on the playoff roster, it appeared evident he probably wouldn’t be in Atlanta in 2014.
Prior to the 2013 season, the big debate amongst Braves fans was “Do we give Michael Bourn all the money? If so, we will probably lose Brian McCann.” Bourn’s 2012 pitiful second half probably convinced the Braves he was not worth a long term deal. Since there was no one in the organization to play center field, the Braves made a run at super talented free agent BJ Upton.
Tampa Bay drafted Upton with the second overall pick in 2002 and he made his big league debut almost two years after signing. While he had never lived up to his second overall pick status, it was obvious he was a very good player who was about to hit his prime. The Braves locked him into a five year $75.25 million dollar deal, the largest free agent deal in team history. Then made a trade for his brother, Justin. The size of the contract pretty much guaranteed McCann would be playing somewhere else in 2014.
Upton’s 2013 got off to a terrible start. While his brother was giving fans in the outfield plenty of souvenirs, BJ was looking totally over matched at the plate. This probably didn’t help his confidence very much and he never got things turned around.
Much like Uggla, Upton eventually lost his starting spot and was relegated to pinch runner duties in the playoffs. He finished the season with almost 20 fewer home runs (28 to 9) and an OBP of .268.
Where Do We Go From Here:
The value of both players right now is very very low. Both players appear to be popular with their teammates. It also doesn’t appear that the terrible seasons are related to poor effort. Any media reports on their situations usually contained, “has watched lots of film” and “put in hours of extra work in the cage.”
If it were up to me, I would look very seriously at moving both. However, I believe the Braves are only actively looking to move Uggla for a deal that has them pick up the least amount of the bill. There are also more internal options to replace Uggla.
Upton is a little more difficult. He is younger and has a better chance to rebound. Plus at this point in his career, he has a much high upside than Uggla. There are relatively no internal candidates to replace him, unless the organization wants to play Jason Heyward there every day. There is also a risk of ticking off his brother and have a clubhouse fallout. That being said, I would still keep my options open.
Perhaps there is another team out there with a bad contract we can work out a “change of scenery swap.” At one point this fall I read interesting ideas of flipping BJ for Matt Kemp or Uggla for Brandon Phillips.
Based on various media reports, the Braves are only actively looking to move Uggla. They will probably wait until after the Arizona Fall league is complete to see how Tommy La Stella finishes.
I expect Uggla will be moved (probably to an American League team to DH) and Upton to be the starting center fielder for the Atlanta Braves in 2014.