Wren takes a neccessary gamble on Uggla
Over the past few years I’ve heard some Braves players and coaches complain about the fact that the front office has not been able to make the likes of Gary Sheffield, J.D. Drew and Mark Teixeira anything more than short-term rentals.
Sheffield, Drew and Teixeira each made an impact during their short stays in Atlanta. But they weren’t given the opportunity that awaits Dan Uggla, courtesy of the five-year $62 million contract extension he and the Braves agreed to Tuesday night.
Uggla gained the fifth guaranteed year that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria wondered would be granted by another club.
When talking to the Marlins about a five-year deal, Uggla was believed to be asking for $71 million. So for now, it could be said that the Braves gained somewhat of a bargain.
But as we all know, deals of this magnitude will only prove to be a bargain if the expected production is maintained over the life of the five-year deal.
Braves general manager Frank Wren has made an aggressive commitment by giving Uggla this five-year deal, which includes the highest annual average salary ($12.4 million) ever given to a second baseman.
Consequently, Wren has opened himself up to the criticism that he and each of his peers are forced to take any time they do something out of the ordinary.
But I’m guessing that Wren will be sleeping much more
comfortably than Nationals GM Mike Rizzo might any time he attempts to
break down the seven-year, $126 million contract he provided Jayson
Werth, who just happens to be 10 months older than Uggla.
Here’s a look at the numbers produced by Werth and Uggla over the past three years:
Uggla: .264 BA, 96 HR, 95 doubles, 11 SB, 287 RBI, .855 OPS
Werth: .279 BA, 87 HR, 88 doubles, 53 SB, 251 RBI, .889 OPS
Werth would certainly be considered more valuable from a defensive perspective and he has already proven to be valuable for championship-caliber teams in the heat of the postseason.
But can you justify him getting nearly two times the amount as Uggla spread over two additional years?
Not within the realm of the business model utilized within this baseball world that simply forces fans to routinely debate things like the value Uggla might bring over the course of five seasons.
Some have already questioned how productive Uggla will be when he’s 35 years-old and entering the final year of this contract. Others have already grown concerned about the possibility that his defensive liabilities could trump his offensive contributions over the life of a five-year deal.
These are both legitimate concerns, especially now as improved drug policies have seemingly made players north of 35 to once again be classified as “aging”. But in reality, none of us, Wren included, knows exactly what Uggla will end up doing over the length of this contract.
As Andruw Jones was preparing to enter the free-agent market following the 2007 season, I wrote a story that was essentially based around the “buyer beware” theory. After watching him on a daily basis, I had gained a sense that playing on a daily basis for so long had taken a toll on his legs, which were supporting a frame that had added a few pounds over the previous few years.
The story infuriated his agent Scott Boras, who basically told me I was ignoring what many of the other great players had recently done in their 30s. But it certainly didn’t influence Dodgers GM Ned Colletti, who gave the veteran outfielder an ill-fated two-year, $36 million contract.
Colletti certainly didn’t know Jones would hit .158 and total three homers while lasting just one year in Los Angeles. Nor did I envision that Andruw would hit just .204 with a .724 OPS over the course of these past three seasons.
After watching Jones on a daily basis over the previous six months, it was simply obvious that he was in decline. It certainly didn’t take a genius to figure out that he simply didn’t look like himself while hitting .222 with a .724 OPS in 2007.
Considering that Jones’ demise with the Dodgers happened while he was 31 years-old might not be encouraging within the framework of a story about Uggla, who will hit this age in March. But there really isn’t any comparison here.
Jones played a much more grueling position on an everyday basis for 10 consecutive years before he began his rapid decline. Entering just his sixth Major League season, Uggla enters 2011 with plenty of momentum.
While .287 with 33 homers and an .877 OPS this past summer, Uggla solidified his place as one of the game’s best offensive second basemen.
Over the past three seasons, Uggla has hit .264 with 96 homers and 287 RBIs. He’s totaled 16 more homers and 21 more RBIs than any other Major League second baseman during this period.
Uggla has hit at least 30 homers in each of his past four seasons and the 154 homers he has compiled over the past five seasons are 20 more than the total amassed by any other Major League second baseman.
Philadelphia’s Chase Utley and New York’s Robinson Cano are the only second baseman to produce an OPS greater than the .837 mark that Uggla has posted during his first five Major League seasons.
Uggla’s .488 career slugging percentage ranks as the fifth-best mark among second basemen in Major League history and his .837 mark ranks 10th.
Looking simply at these numbers, Uggla has a chance to be considered one of the best second basemen the game has seen. But those who have watched him play on a daily basis have questioned whether he is best utilized as a second baseman.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez has said all the right things when asked about the defensive skills he’s watched Uggla display essentially on a daily basis over the past four years. Others who have routinely watched the Marlins have said they are among those who view him as a defensive liability.
In a perfect world void of emotions, the Braves could have kept Martin Prado at second base and moved Uggla to left field for this upcoming season.
But in this world that is filled with both oxygen and pride,they had no choice but to grant Uggla his wish to remain at second base. If they had approached him about the possibility of making the move to the outfield, he would have likely spent his one year in Atlanta and entered next year’s free-agent market looking for a club to provide both riches and a chance to play second base.
If Uggla’s glove proves to be too much of a liability over the next few seasons, the Braves could always approach him about the possibility of changing positions. But for now the plan is for him to spend the next five seasons as Atlanta’s second baseman.
Check back some time during the 2015 season to see how a 25-year-old Jason Heyward is faring and to further debate whether Wren was wise to give Uggla the five-year deal way back in the early days of 2011.