News that Dan Uggla would likely be left off the Braves’ division-series roster first leaked on Tuesday, but the impact resonated when it became official Wednesday: The team’s highest-paid player was dropped from the 25-man roster for the playoff series against the Dodgers.
The Braves will start journeyman Elliot Johnson at second base and have Paul Janish as a backup when they open the National League Division Series Thursday at Turner Field. Uggla, after batting a majors-worst .179, can only hope to be added in a later playoff round if the Braves advance.
“Yesterday might have been one of the hardest days I’ve had to experience as a major league manager,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, referring to conversations with Uggla and others left off the roster, but particularly Uggla, whom he’s known for seven years since managing him with the Marlins.
“It’s a difficult thing to take as a professioinal athlete when you compete on a high level…. You try to put the best roster you think will fit in a five-game series, and put your best 25 out there. Without getting into details on this and that, we feel like we put our best 25 out there to compete against the Dodgers.”
Other notables left off the roster included veteran left-handers Scott Downs and Paul Maholm, and right-handed reliever Anthony Varvaro. Freddy Garcia was picked as the fourth starter over Maholm, and rookie lefty Alex Wood will serve as the second lefty reliever behind Luis Avilan.
The Braves put rookie right-hander David Hale on the roster as a long reliever after the Marietta native made a strong impression in two starts, his only major league games.
But the big news at Wednesday’s workout day at Turner Field was the decision to leave off Uggla, a three-time former All-Star who has two years left on a five-year, $62 million contract he signed after being traded from the Marlins. He is owed $13 million each of the next two seasons, same as his salary this year.
(Center fielder B.J. Upton has a higher average annual value in his five-year, $75.25 million deal, but his salary this season is $12.45 million.)
Uggla took batting practice with the Braves but was not made available to reporters and did not dress at his locker stall when the clubhouse was open to reporters afterward.
“It’s tough, man,” said Braves catcher Brian McCann, whose locker is next to Uggla’s. “Dan’s one of my closest friends on the team. I feel for him. He’s put so much hard work into the season since he’s been here. We all have his back. He’s a great teammate.”
Said Freddie Freeman, another of Uggla’s closest friends on the team: “It’s tough when you battle with someone for six straight months and they’re left off. It’s something we’ve got to deal with, and hopefully he’s going to be with us all the way through.”
Outfielder Jason Heyward noted how others had filled in for struggling or injured Braves throughout the season.
“We’ve all stepped in at some point in time this season and picked each other up, myself included, when I wasn’t playing to (the level) I like to play and helping this team the way I feel like I should,” he said. “Other guys stepped in — Jordan Schafer, Reed Johnson.
“(Uggla) has fought the whole year with us and been very much a part of this first-place run in the NL East. It’s tough. It’s tough to swallow. But at the same time, we play baseball, we know it’s a business, we know that things outside the lines we can’t always control. But we’re going to have his back 100 percent.”
McCann was asked if the Uggla situation might be a distraction for the team entering the playoffs.
“Distraction? You’ve got to go out there and play the game of baseball,” McCann said. “Once the game starts, you’re competing against the Dodgers and you’re competing against (Game 1 starter) Clayton Kershaw, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Uggla’s 22 home runs were third-most on the team, but his , but his batting average was tied with Rob Deer’s .179 in 1991 as the worst among major league qualifiers in nearly a century.
Uggla was last in the majors both in average against right-handers (.188) and against lefties (.146). His .157 home batting average was also the majors’ worst, and he was third in the NL with 171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats, beating his own franchise record of 168 strikeouts in 2012.
Johnson started 11 of the Braves’ final 20 regular-season games at second base, including three of the last five. He hit .261 with seven extra-base hits, 10 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 32 games for the Braves after being claimed off waivers from the Royals.
Gonzalez had said on Friday that he expected Uggla and Upton, who also had a career-worst season, to make the division series roster “unless something crazy happens.” Upton is on the roster.
Uggla went 10-for-101 (.099) with one extra-base hit and four RBI in his last 36 games. He was 8-for-60 (.133) with one homer, two RBIs and 25 strikeouts in 24 games after a stint on the disabled list for LASIK eye surgery, which he and the Braves hoped would help solve his season-long hitting woes.
His .137 average with runners in scoring position was the majors’ second-lowest, ahead of only Upton’s .108.