The Atlanta Braves’ Dan Uggla is under contract through 2015 and is owed $13 million in each of the last two years of his deal. That’s a lot of money to pay a player who has batted .233, .220 and currently .202 in his first three seasons with the team.
But as well documented as Uggla’s offensive struggles have been, they have been largely offset by the fact that he plays second base – a position where offensive output is a luxury, not the norm. Players like Jeff Kent, Roberto Alomar and Craig Biggio were statistical anomalies. The second base position is not one that is expected to produce a high amount of home runs, runs scored or even an above-average batting average. That being said, the Braves cannot afford to go another entire season with a full-time player hitting right around the Mendoza line.
Pending Uggla doesn’t turn it around and get back to the hitting form he displayed while with the Miami Marlins — which thus far with the Braves appears to be the exact opposite trend — the Braves may look to deal and/or replace him in the offseason. Their options will be somewhat limited, but in all honesty, just about anything will be an upgrade.
It will hurt to lose Uggla, certainly; he is a great clubhouse presence and the type of player you can’t help but root for. He plays the game right. He plays the game hard. He doesn’t complain, and despite the fact that he is underperforming (a fact that he likely knows and is bothered by much more than the rest of us), he puts on a smile before, during and after each game. He’s out there playing the game he loves, and it shows. And for this reason, Uggla may well be worth hanging on to.
But if the Braves do choose to replace him, they should look to do so by acquiring a true leadoff bat. Their options will be limited as most of the best players are either locked up long term, under arbitration or not yet available for arbitration (i.e. Jason Kipnis and Everth Cabrera). No quality free agents will be available at seasons’ end, but the Braves may look to trade for a player like San Francisco Giants’ Marco Scutaro, Chicago White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez or Oakland Athletics‘ Jed Lowrie.
Lowrie is having by far the best season with a .289 BA, eight HRs and 43 RBIs. But the A’s traded for him in the offseason and he still has one year of arbitration left, so it is unlikely the Braves would be able to entice the A’s into dealing him.
Scutaro, on the other hand, could be a legitimate trade option. He is under contract with the Giants until 2015, and is owed $6 million in each of the last two years under his current deal. However, at 37 years old, the Giants could likely be talked into dealing the aging second baseman, and the Braves may not have to give up much to get him. The Giants need pitching help and could be tempted by some combination of minor league prospects David Hale, Kameron Loe and Omar Poveda. Scutaro’s age will likely make the Braves wary, however, the only way they will deal for him is if they think he is the final piece they need to win a championship, and it isn’t often a player of such an age provides just that.
Ramirez will be paid $9.5 and $10 million over the last two years of his current deal, making him more expensive than Lowrie and Scutaro. But with Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm’s salaries potentially coming off the books at the end of the season, the Braves may be able to afford Ramirez. It would make it easier if they were able to deal Uggla, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Braves have what it takes to tempt the White Sox into giving up Ramirez. Like the Giants, the White Sox could use pitching, and they do have Jeff Keppinger, a capable and experienced replacement.
Whatever the Braves choose to do, it is clear that they need a true leadoff hitter. With all three outfield positions and shortstop set, second base is the only position available to look for such a bat. But will the Braves be able to deal Uggla? Will anyone take him? That remains to be seen.