Guerry Clegg

Guerry Clegg: It was time for Braves to move on from Dan Uggla

Even apart from the horrendous contract, it would be a decidedly bad trade:

Omar Infante and Mike Dunn to the Marlins for Dan Uggla.

Throw in the contract -- $62 million for five years -- and it might go down as the worst trade in Atlanta Braves history. Now that's saying something for a franchise that served up Brett Butler, Brook Jacoby and Rick Behenna for Len Barker.

Mercifully, it's over now. The Braves on Friday announced that they had released Uggla. This came five days after he was suspended for showing up late for a game against the Chicago Cubs. The All-Star break gave the Braves time to give Uggla a somewhat graceful exit. He didn't have to stick around and endure the awkward questions from the media.

By the time reports arrived, Uggla was gone. His former teammates were left to speak the obligatory platitudes, only in this case they were quite sincere. As frustrating as Uggla might have been to fans, he was genuinely loved and respected within the clubhouse.

"Ultimate professional" is how Freddie Freeman described him in a video posted on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's website.

Jason Heyward said Uggla handled his benching "the most professional way I think anybody could have handled it. He was there for everybody."

They spoke of him in such reverence almost to suggest that he had been wronged. But that's just baseball code of respect coming through. Deep down, truth be told, even his teammates would have to admit that this was a move the Braves had to make.

Forget about the $19 million he is owed for the rest of this year and all of next season. What purpose would it have served to continue carrying a player who does not play?

Even at his best, Uggla had some limitations. He played one position, second base, and was only average at best. He has made up for less than smooth hands by giving maximum effort. Give him that much. Dan Uggla always played hard. With the Marlins, he twice won the team's Heart and Hustle Award.

Offensively, his value was that he provided run production and home run pop in the middle of the infield. But for the last two seasons, he has been nothing short of horrendous.

Maybe it's his fault and maybe not. Maybe he contributed to his demise by refusing to adjust his approach. Or pitchers finally figured him out. Maybe his skills simply diminished that quickly.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter. A strikeout is a strikeout no matter what the reason, and Uggla piled up the strikeouts like credit card interest. He set the franchise record with 156 strikeouts in 2011, and broke it with 168 in 2012 and broke that with 171 last year.

He had always struck out a lot -- 760 times in his last five years with the Marlins. But he also hit a lof of home runs -- 154 over that same span, then 36 in his first season with the Braves. But then the home runs started becoming more scarce, and the batting average started falling.

At some point, no matter how likeable a guy is, the statistics cannot be ignored. If he doesn't help the team win more than the guy waiting to take his place, it's time for him to move on. The Braves reluctantly came to that conclusion with Jeff Francoeur, so they traded him to the Mets for Ryan Church.

The only difference between Francoeur and Uggla was the size of their contracts. As it became increasingly evident that Uggla had become a liability in the lineup, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez had no choice but to bench him permanently. His one redeeming quality was his veteran presence within the clubhouse, which was especially needed given that the Braves have the second youngest roster in major-league baseball, behind the Houston Astros.

Braves general manager Frank Wren has borne much blame for Uggla, and some of it's deserved. Infante had been an All-Star and giving Uggla a five-year contract when he was about to turn 31 was risky. But who could have predicted that Uggla would have plummeted so fast?

Again, blame seems irrelevant now. It's time for the Braves and for Uggla to move on.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. You can write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com

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