There’s a big, two-headed elephant in the room that is the Atlanta Braves’ clubhouse. It simply involves two of the players that took the field on Opening Day of the 2013 season and ended that same season with batting averages of .181 and .179. Also, together, the players are going to cost the Braves $26.45 million in the 2014 season. If you haven’t guessed by now, the two players I’m referring to are BJ Upton and Dan Uggla.
Uggla has done something that no second baseman had ever done before. He had hit 154 home runs in his first five seasons as a member of the Miami Marlins. Divide that out and it makes 30.8 home runs per season. When the Braves signed Uggla, they paid him based on that performance. However, he has yet to put up those same numbers since his first season as a Brave and, therefore, doesn’t really seem to be worth the $13 million that he will make in the 2014 season. It’s clear that the power is still there. In the three years he has spent in Atlanta, he has hit 77 home runs, giving him an average of just over 25 per season. That number puts him in front of the average of Robinson Cano, who just signed a contract worth $240 million. However, where manager Fredi Gonzalez is concerned is the fact that Uggla hasn’t hit for an average higher than .233 (in 2011) and hit .179 last season. In 2013, he had a total of 80 hits and 77 walks. He was intentionally walked twice and got hit by nine pitches. That would put him on base 88 times by ways other than getting a hit. That goes to show that Uggla has no trouble seeing pitches and getting on base, but his problem is putting the bat on the ball. His batting average on balls in play (BAbip) is .225 which is 50 points higher than his actual batting average. The one thing I love about Uggla is that he hustles on every single play and never takes one pitch off. The Braves will continue to shop him this offseason, but either way they will have to pick up a chunk of his contract.
Upton, on the other hand, hasn’t had the steady decline that Uggla has been on. Even before this season began, I didn’t see him being worth $13.45 million that he signed for. He did have a season, in 2011, where he hit .237, but nothing has compared to his .181 average of the 2013 season. That isn’t the only problem with Upton, though. All of his numbers suffered greatly in this past season. He hit only nine home runs — compared to the 28 and 23 that he hit in his last two seasons in Tampa — knocked in 52 less RBI and stole 19 less bases. His on-base percentage was .268, which is almost 40 points lower than Uggla’s. The one and only thing that Upton did better than Uggla this past season was play defense. At times Uggla could be a liability, but Upton is a bona fide center fielder. He has the speed to run down balls that may be tough for other guys to get to. He also has an above average arm, recording three double plays from his center field position. What I see in Upton that is different than Uggla is the attitude. I see someone who doesn’t play every pitch like he wants the ball. I don’t see him running out every single ground ball like Uggla does.
For over $26 million, it’s hard to imagine either player being kept out of the lineup for too many games. However, the Braves will need these guys to step up and be better than they were last season since they lost Brian McCann. Upton will have to get on base, steal more bases and keep playing his good defense while Uggla will have to put the ball in play a lot more than he has the past two seasons.