Dan Uggla. His 2013 season was bad. Really bad. Just how bad? Historically one of the worst as far as batting average… actually tied for historically the worst. Per SBN Baseball here are the lowest qualified batting averages since 1920:
Uncanny how that worked out. Though Uggla’s season was far worse than Deer’s. Deer was worth 1.0 bWAR while Uggla was worth -1.3 bWAR. Yep, negative WAR. That’s probably why Elliott Johnson — a guy who was released by the Royals during the season — was starting at second base the final month of the season and the postseason.
Not including Uggla on the NLDS roster was a pretty strong indication that he will not be back with the Braves in 2014… and he shouldn’t be. The Braves will try to unload him on another team, and with the power he has shown in the past there could be a
gullible sucker willing trade partner to match him up with. The most often mentioned team so far seems to be the Blue Jays, in some package that would either include Ricky Romero or R.A. Dickey coming back to Atlanta. Though these are simply suggestions by fans without any knowledge of actual interest from either side.
Most people believe that the Braves will have to eat a large portion of the $26 million remaining for the next two years of Uggla’s contract. Wren has already proven that he is willing to eat salary for players he wishes to shed from his roster. This was the case when the Braves paid two-thirds of Derek Lowe’s salary to play for Cleveland in 2012, and all of Kenshin Kawakami’s salary to play for Mississippi in 2011.
As for who would play second base for the Braves in 2014, there are actually plenty of candidates within the Braves system. Elliot Johnson might get a chance, though Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky should be considered the front runners. Pena could have a good chance to make the jump from utilityman to every day player in much the same way that Omar Infante did in 2011. Any of these guys should only be keeping second base warm for one of the top hitting prospects in the Braves system, Tommy La Stella. He will be the batter that all Braves fans will keep an eye out for this off-season as he participates in the Arizona Fall League. A strong performance by La Stella this Fall could strengthen the Braves’ case for dumping Uggla.
What would the team gain or lose by replacing Uggla? While much has been made about the walks Uggla has drawn the past two years — 2nd in the league to Joey Votto — that alone does not represent enough value to keep him around. He has become the media’s poster child for all the ills that plague the Braves, specifically his prolific ability to strike out. He’s also the poster child for poor defense, and no matter how much his manager tries to convince people that Uggla’s defense is not that bad, the truth is that it is that bad. Not only does his glove have more than a few holes in it, but he simply can’t get to enough balls to make him an asset to a ground-ball inclined starting pitching staff. Uggla ranked next to last among MLB qualifiers in UZR and dead last in UZR/150.
With any of the internal options — Elliot Johnson, Tyler Pastornicky, or Ramiro Pena — there is a definite uptick in defensive range at second base, though there would be a significant decrease in power. But with that lack of home run power there would hopefully be better hit-to-contact ability (read: fewer strikeouts), and more of an NL-type player who would likely only be counted on to contribute as the 8th place hitter. The arrival of La Stella would add more offense, but subtract some from the stopgap defensive range at second base, but even La Stella’s average range is not as bad as Uggla’s.
As a prospect evaluator (of sorts) I’m very high on La Stella, especially his bat. He’s the best pure hitter to come through the system since Jason Heyward. Granted he doesn’t have the power of Heyward, but he’s an on-base machine with no holes in his swing. I was reluctant to speak up about my belief of Anderlton Simmons being the better prospect when he and Tyler Pastornicky were both gunning for shortstop a couple of years ago. I should have been more emphatic about Simmons, and so I’m not going to undersell how good I think La Stella can be. He’s a .300 hitter the day he arrives, with an anti-Uggla approach of limiting strikeouts while still collecting lots of walks. He’ll hit a ton of doubles and grow into some home runs in much the same way that Martin Prado did. The Braves are building up a strong core of young players, and La Stella will add to the strong youth movement in Atlanta.
The Braves could also look to trade for a second baseman, with someone like the White Sox Gordon Beckham fitting the Braves desire for a solid/average defensive second baseman with a good bat and a little pop.
However the Braves decide to move forward at second base, they will almost certainly be doing it without Dan Uggla. He’s played his last game for Atlanta. If the Braves don’t find someone to take him off their hands, then he will be released. The Dan Uggla experiment in Atlanta is over.
His departure will be a sign that the Braves are serious about remaking the 2013 squad into something more potent in 2014, and they’re willing to spend money to do it. In the case of Uggla, the money will be spent so that a particular player will not play for the team.