Awkward situation: Braves suspend Uggla for 1 game

Credit: Brian Garfinkel

Credit: Brian Garfinkel

CHICAGO – The Braves' Dan Uggla saga became more uncomfortable Sunday when the veteran second baseman was suspended one game for what the team said was an internal matter. People familiar with the situation said he was suspended for showing up at Wrigley Field only about one hour before Saturday's 3:05 p.m. Central Time start.

The Braves brought up hot-hitting infielder Phil Gosselin from Triple-A Gwinnett to fill the roster spot for Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Cubs, the last game before the four-day All-Star break.

When news spread that Gosselin had been removed from the second game of a doubleheader Saturday night in Norfolk, Va., and summoned to the majors, there was speculation that Uggla might be designated for assignment, traded or released.

The Braves have tried for many months to trade Uggla, who has hit .162 with two home runs and 40 strikeouts in 145 plate appearances and had his playing time severely diminished since rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella was brought from Gwinnett on May 28.

The Braves announced the suspension Sunday morning and gave no reason for the unusual measure. Gonzalez met with Uggla after Saturday’s win against the Cubs and notified him of the suspension.

His nameplate was still on his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field and his uniforms hung neatly in the stall Sunday morning, but Uggla was not at the ballpark and wasn’t permitted to be because of the suspension.

“I’m not going to say anything other than, it’s an internal matter,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the way I like to handle stuff and the Atlanta Braves handle stuff, and that’s it. So, you can ask me that question 400 different ways and my (answer) is going to be, we’re going to handle it internally.”

Braves general manager Frank Wren said in an email: “There’s nothing else to say.”

When asked whether Uggla would be with the team for its next game Friday after the All-Star break, Gonzalez said, ““I guess. Yes, I expect him to be there Friday when the season resumes.”

At least one Braves player was upset upon seeing the Uggla suspension already appearing on a sports-channel ticker on a clubhouse TV Sunday. Gonzalez was asked whether he planned to talk to the team about the situation with Uggla, who remains one of the most popular Braves among teammates.

“I don’t think so,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve got a pretty good pulse of our clubhouse, and I just came in and made a pretty quick pass around the clubhouse, and if anybody wants to talk to me my door is always open. They know that. That’s the way I handle stuff. So far right now I haven’t (heard) anything. But again, we like to handle our stuff internally. I think any time you start airing some stuff out in public, it’s not good for anybody.”

Uggla, 34, has made just two starts in 42 games since La Stella arrived, and he’s 0-for-10 as a pinch-hitter this season. The Braves have essentially been playing a man short on their 25-man roster, since Uggla plays no other position and is not well-suited for a pinch-hitting role.

He has remained on the Braves’ 25-man roster only because he’s still owed about $19 million for the remainder of this season and 2015, and the Braves haven’t been willing to eat the remaining amount of what he’s owed and cut ties with Uggla. He’s in the fourth year of a five-year, $62 million extension that he got three months after coming from the Marlins in a November 2010 trade.

Internally, there have been discussions of the complications that absorbing the remainder of Uggla’s contract could have on the Braves’ financial situation as it pertains to their planned new ballpark in Cobb County in 2017. If the Braves decide to keep Uggla on the roster for the remainder of the season, that would likely be the reason.

They have tried with no succcess to find a team willing to trade for Uggla and cover at least a small portion of his remaining salary commitment. Even if he’s not moved now or during the season, it would be surprising if Uggla were still a Brave in 2015.

Since hitting two home runs at Philadelphia on April 14, Uggla has batted .129 (11-for-85) with one extra-base hit (double) and no RBIs in his past 36 games, with eight walks, 26 strikeouts and six errors. He is 1-for-20 with eight strikeouts since May 23.

The Braves traded for Uggla after he averaged nearly 31 home runs and 93 RBIs during his first five major league seasons with the Marlins. He hit .263 with a .349 OBP and .488 slugging percentage over that period, and had a career-best .287 average and .369 OBP in his final season in Miami in 2010.

He got a five-year contract extension – which briefly made him the highest-paid second baseman in baseball — before ever playing a game for Atlanta, and Uggla has hit .209 with a .317 OBP and a .391 slugging percentage in 3 ½ seasons for the Braves while totaling 79 homers and 225 RBIs in 499 games.

He had a career-low 19 homers in 2012 and career lows in average (.179), OBP (.309), slugging (.362) and RBIs (55) in 2013. He has 535 strikeouts in 1,701 at-bats for the Braves.

Since hitting .377 with 15 homers during a 33-game hitting streak in July-August 2011, Uggla has a .201 average and 52 homers in his past 380 games.