Dan Uggla’s slash line through Wednesday night is .202/.258/.303. Of his 18 hits (in 89 at-bats), two have been homeruns and three have been doubles. He’s only walked five times while striking out 28 times.
Before we read too much into 89 at-bats, in Uggla’s last season with the Marlins he posted an OPS+ of 131. Since then, his production has steadily declined: 107 OPS+ in 2011, 98 OPS+ in 2012 and 82 OPS+ in 2013. His OPS+ this season is under 60. So over the span of over 630 games Uggla has been in a free-fall, so this is not about freaking out over a small sample in 2014.
How much longer do the Braves stick with Uggla? What are their options?
Uggla is signed through the 2015 season at $13 million per season. Theoretically, according to Fangraphs’ WAR converted to dollars based on the cost of a win on the free agent market, $13 million could net a team the production of players in the range of 2013 Howie Kendrick, 2013 Marco Scutaro and 2013 Brandon Phillips. Fangraphs estimated Uggla’s 2013 production to be worth $2.3 million.
Do the Braves have options to make it worth eating the remainder of Uggla’s contract? They are paying $13 million regardless but with Uggla it seems the best they can hope for is a few million dollars worth of production. If they had an option/options to which they could pay somewhere around league minimum and get something like 2013 Howie Kendrick, 2013 Marco Scutaro or 2013 Brandon Phillips value out of, it would likely be worth releasing Uggla at some point soon and going with that/those option(s).
Well, the Braves have a second baseman in the minors who happens to remind me a lot of Howie Kendrick, in Tommy La Stella. La Stella has walked more than he’s struck out in the minors and has hit over .300 in his pro career. He lacks big-time power, so major league pitchers might throw him more strikes at that level and his walks might not translate. But he he can hit and has a good approach at the plate. So, like Kendrick, he might end up not walking a ton but he’ll still do enough damage to be a second-division second baseman. This seems to be an improvement over Uggla who looks no better than around replacement-level at this point.
La Stella is not some extremely young prospect who needs more growth and development. He’s 25, he’s in Triple-A this season and he has hit at every level. His glove is a question mark but he seems capable in the field, and it’s not as if Uggla has ever been a Gold Glover. There’s really not much more for La Stella to prove and the Braves have likely seen enough to know what kind of player he is.
I understand the loyalty factor with a veteran player, especially a veteran as highly regarded as Dan Uggla. Uggla was here for the collapse in 2011, for the one-game playoff loss in 2012 and struggled through the 2013 season before being left off the postseason roster. At this point, what would it say to other players if they give up on him after a month of the season? And the fact is they owed him $13 million for 2014 and will owe him $13 million in 2015 regardless. The Braves won 96 games with him in 2013 and are in first place with him now. All of these factors are contributing to the patience they’ve had with Uggla.
But at some point it’s probably not worthwhile. At some point all of that stuff will not be worth a possible upgrade in production. At some point the Braves will look at the fact that they owe just under $26 million to their second baseman and they’ll want try their best to get close to $26 million worth of production. Early-to-mid June seems like a reasonable time to asses it all. They’ll probably have an idea at that point whether Uggla’s approach and the way he’s hitting the ball look any better. They’ll obviously know more of what La Stella has done against Triple-A pitching. Unfortunately for Uggla, unless he really impresses over the next month, I think his time with the Braves is coming to a close.