Guerry Clegg commentary: Dan Uggla out of second and third chances

sports@ledger-enquirer.comJune 1, 2013 

So what if Dan Uggla is still owed more than $30 million over the next two and half years.

That doesn't matter any more. The issue is no longer whether the Atlanta Braves can afford to release, but how much longer they can afford to keep playing him.

It would be a fitting metaphor in his case to say that Uggla is down to his last strike. He has set the Braves' franchise record for whiffs each of his first two seasons with Atlanta and is on pace to become the first player in club history to strike out 200 times.

There may be some hope. Uggla told reporters before Friday night's game that he needs to make an adjustment.

"I'm striking out way too much," Uggla said. "That doesn't sit well with me. Obviously, if you cut those strikeouts in half, I probably raise my average 40 points and hit a couple more homers. That adjustment has to be made, and I'm going to make it."

And while we all let out a collective "ya think?," Uggla's admission is the key.

The All-Star break is six weeks away. That should be sufficient time to determine if Uggla is committed to change. If so, terrific. If not, it will be time for the Braves to cut their losses and release him.

Releasing a healthy player with more than $30 million left on his contract might seem drastic given his history of hot and cold streaks, and unfeasible considering the money. But really, what other options do they have?

Keep playing him every day? How? He's hitting .186 and has three times more strikeouts than runs batted in. He has become almost an automatic rally killer. It would be one thing if he was just in a slump. But he has batted .222 in two-plus seasons with the Braves. His batting average has dropped five of the last six seasons. His run production has gone down each of the last three seasons.

Yeah, he will hit an occasional home run when the pitcher makes a mistake. But generally, his at-bats consist of one called strike, one feeble wave at an unhittable pitch and one swing from the heels cut trying to hit the ball 500 feet.


And over.

And over again.

How ill-advised was it for Frank Wren, the Braves' general manager, to trade Omar Infante -- a consistent .300 hitter who can play anywhere on the field -- to the Marlins and then sign Uggla to a five-year, $62 million contract? Consider this comment at the time from Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, whose baseball acumen is not exactly that of Branch Rickey.

"If somebody wants to give him five years, good luck to them. He's 31 years old."

Loria may have made a complete mess of the Marlins. But in this case, he was dead on. Uggla is 33 and in decline. Friday night's loss to the Washington Nationals was the Braves' 54th game, exactly one-third of the season. With 10 home runs, Uggla is on pace to hit 30 for the season. But that's deceiving. He has just two doubles -- TWO! -- and only 20 RBIs. He's on pace to strike out 204 times. His career high is 171.

It's not like his defense has been sterling. With eight errors, his fielding percentage is only .964, a career low. Only San Francisco's Marco Scutaro has more errors among major league second basemen.

No one can dispute Uggla's effort or his work ethic or his clubhouse worth as a veteran who plays hard. But the bottom line is production, and he's no longer producing.

The club's alternatives are limited.

Trade him? Seriously, even if he were hitting .250, who would take on that contract?

Demote him to the minor leagues? He would probably refuse to report.

Bench him for more than one or two games? Manager Fredi Gonzalez tried that last year during the pennant race, and Uggla did respond. After slogging through June, July and August with a .163 average, he hit .282 the rest of the way. He did that by making a noticeable effort to hit the ball to center and right field.

The fact that he has reverted back to his old ways of trying to hit every pitch into the parking lot suggests that he either can't or won't change. Let Ramiro Pena play more while Uggla works on his swing and his approach. Pena may prove to be a flash in the pan. But from early spring training until now, he has been one of their most consistent hitters. Maybe he just needed a chance. Uggla has had plenty of chances. This should be his final one.

Here it is June, and the Braves have three starters hitting below .200. Jason Heyward is too young to give up on. B.J. Upton has been a free agent flop and is a complete mess right now. But there's still hope for him. Plus, with the Braves still owing him some $70 million over the next 4½ seasons, they really are stuck with him.

But if Uggla won't change, it's time for the Braves to cut their losses and move on.

Meanwhile, someone please hide the team checkbook from Wren.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at

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