It’s time for the Braves to release Dan Uggla

The Atlanta Braves have 22.1 million reasons to keep Dan Uggla on their roster, but there comes a time when even $22.1 million — pro-rating his remaining contract after 36 games of this season — isn’t reason enough. That time is now.

No team is ever eager to eat so much money, but the cost of hoping against hope he’ll remember how to be the Dan Uggla of 2010 — or even 2011, when he hit a lusty-by-comparison .233 in Year 1 as a Brave — keeps mounting. The Braves are last in the majors in runs. On such a team, he’s not an affordable luxury. He’s the hole in the order that never gets closed.

He hit .179 last season and was left off the postseason roster. He was hitting .184 as of Monday morning and had started only one of the previous six games. That there’s no obvious choice to replace him at second base — Ramiro Pena is a career backup; Tyler Pastornicky is more of a utility guy; the minor-leaguer Tommy La Stella hits only singles — has been the Braves’ non-contractual justification for sticking with Uggla, but he’s no longer even the best bad option.

His WAR (wins above replacement) rating for 2013 was, according to Baseball Reference, minus-1.3. Through 36 games, his WAR rating this year is minus-0.5, which extrapolated over 162 games would be minus-2.2. Since 1999, only four position players have compiled a WAR rating worse than minus-2.2. (One was a Brave: Nate McLouth at minus-2.7 in 2010. Another was a former Brave: Jeff Francoeur at minus-2.5 with Kansas City in 2012.)

The Braves are now in Year 4 of Waiting For Uggla. In 2011 he was batting .173 on the Fourth of July, whereupon he embarked on the strangest 33-game hitting streak ever. (On the day it ended, he was hitting only .231.) In 2012 he hit .220 but led the National League in walks, which bumped his on-base percentage to .348. For those two years, Uggla wasn’t the player the Braves thought they were getting when they landed him from the Marlins but wasn’t quite a total loss.

He has since become a total loss. He has lost the power that he displayed even in lesser years. Since July 25, 2013, he has hit three home runs, the latter two in the same game. This season he has more errors (seven) than extra-base hits (five). He has stopped drawing walks and getting on base. The Braves have spent three years and now 36 games wondering how to get Uggla going — they’ve tried everything from swing changes to contact lenses to Lasik surgery — and they haven’t found the answer. There is no answer.

Mark Bowman, who covers the Braves for MLB.com, has written that “some of Atlanta’s players have privately suggested that they believe Pastornicky would be a productive replacement for Uggla.” As much as the other Braves want Uggla to succeed — he’s considered a good teammate — they’re also professionals as, as such, pragmatists. The more he plays, the less their chances of winning. Time to try somebody else.

Except for the final three months of the 2010 season, Fredi Gonzalez has managed Uggla since spring training in 2007. Gonzalez has taken the keep-running-him-out-there tack until he can take it no more — Uggla’s omission from the playoff roster was the sign of a patient manager yielding to cold reality — and now he’s back to benching the guy. But a baseball man of my acquaintance says that a baseball man of his acquaintance once told him: “You can bench a big-name player once. If you have to bench him again, you shouldn’t have him on your roster.”

A manager cannot placate one player at the expense of the other 24. An organization cannot allow a bad contract to compromise a season. The Braves have given Uggla every chance to show he can still play at a major-league level; all he has shown is that he cannot. He remains a Brave only because the organization is balking at handing out money for nothing, but isn’t that what they’re already doing?

Bowman wrote last week that the Braves had considered releasing Uggla but had “moved away from the thought.” Barring an unlikely Uggla uprising, the topic will be broached again. (Since you asked, Uggla has the right to refuse a demotion to the minors.) How much longer can this be allowed to go on? How much is a clean slate worth?

The Braves have tried. Uggla has tried. Nothing has worked. It’s time for the team to cut its losses and let him walk. The Braves are obliged to pay him that $22.1 million no matter what. They’d be better off paying him not to play than to keep trying and failing.