It took the announcement of his one-game suspension to remind us that Dan Uggla is still an Atlanta Brave. He has had 16 at-bats since Memorial Day. (One hit, five strikeouts.) His most recent RBI came April 14. He’d become the 25th man on a 25-man roster, which meant the Braves have essentially been working with a 24-man roster, which puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
An All-Star in 2012, Uggla has become the worst player in the major leagues – can’t hit, can’t field (nine errors in 39 games), can’t run. He’s on the roster only because the Braves owe him $19 million through the end of next season and can’t find another team willing to give them a box of baseballs to take him off their hands. Players are always curious as to what their “role” on a club is. Uggla’s role is to sit in the corner, count his money and be quiet.
Alas, unlucky Dan couldn’t even get that right. He managed to get himself suspended for the final game before the All-Star break. Manager Fredi Gonzalez called it “an internal affair.” The AJC’s David O’Brien tweeted that he’d been told Uggla arrived at Wrigley Field an hour before Saturday’s game. (For road games, three hours before first pitch is considered an industry standard.)
The Braves are known for having few hard and fast rules, but “be on time” tops the short list. That the man who has managed Uggla for parts of each of the past eight seasons was moved to take punitive action tells us that the deep reservoir of Fredi G.’s patience has run dry. It also tells us that the Braves cannot keep Uggla any longer.
A good player can get away with being a distraction. A bad player can hide so long as he ruffles no feathers. Uggla has now turned the dire double play of being a bad player who has caused a stir. The Braves had to make an impromptu roster move – they summoned Phil Gosselin from Gwinnett late Saturday – so as to have 25 able bodies for Sunday’s game. (Though Gonzalez had to welcome the change, however brief. In effect, he’d been a man short for two months.) Yet again, the Braves had to answer questions about a player for whom there are no answers.
Nobody knows why Uggla stopped hitting the minute he arrived via trade. He’d been a consistently good hitter with the Marlins – he struck out a lot but managed 27 or more homers with 88 or more RBI’s for five consecutive seasons – and it wasn’t as if he was changing leagues. Heck, he didn’t even change divisions. But only an out-of-the-blue 33-game hitting streak salvaged his first season as a Brave, and everything since has been a dizzying case of diminishing returns. As O’Brien noted, Uggla has hit .201 since that 33-game streak, which ended Aug. 14, 2011.
Uggla hit .179 last season and didn’t make the Braves’ playoff roster. He’s hitting .162 in 2014. Still, even as we concede that re-upping him for $62 million over five seasons ranks as one of the biggest whiffs in franchise history, it didn’t seem that big a risk at the time. Yes, the Braves overpaid, but they had their reasons: Uggla was on the final year of his contract when acquired, meaning the team wanted more than a year’s rental for Omar Infante and Mike Dunn, and they needed a right-handed bat to offset Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann and Jason Heyward.
And let’s face it: Nobody in this world expected Uggla to go this bad. Who hits .179? Who hits .162? How do you go from being known for your hitting to being known for not hitting?
All that’s done now, though. Uggla isn’t worth keeping at any price. One game could be the difference between this team making the playoffs and sitting home come October, and it’s not fair to the 24 other Braves (to say nothing of Gonzalez) to have a non-contributor taking up roster space. For the past two months, we kept hearing that Uggla had taken his demotion well, that he was “working hard” and “being a good teammate.” That just changed. Good teammates don’t get suspended.
The Braves have held out hope that some other team will take a flyer on Uggla, but no team is that silly. He has nothing to give anybody. The Braves need to pay the $19 million, which is already lost, and bring an end to this failed experiment.
They tried. He tried. It didn’t work. Cut those losses and move on. Do it now. Those 24 other Braves and their long-suffering manager deserve no less.
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