Braves land feared bat in deal for Uggla
Infante, Dunn to Fish; Prado to left to open second for slugger
ATLANTA -- Braves general manager Frank Wren went to this year's General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., with the hope of moving closer toward landing a right-handed power bat. Less than one day into the proceedings, he managed to land All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla with the hope of keeping him in Atlanta for more than one season.
The Braves announced early Tuesday evening that they acquired Uggla from the Marlins in exchange for utility man Omar Infante and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn. The deal allows Wren to approach the remainder of the offseason with the comfort of knowing he has already accounted for his primary offseason need.
"This is the big offensive piece we were looking for," Wren said. "We were looking for a right-handed-hitting big bat. There are not many of those guys out there. This guy gives us exactly what we were looking for in the middle of the lineup."
Wren said Uggla will serve as Atlanta's starting second baseman, meaning Martin Prado, who served as the National League's starting second baseman during this year's All-Star Game, will move to left field, a position that he has previously played in the Venezuelan Winter League.
If Chipper Jones' surgically repaired left knee prevents him from being ready at the beginning of the 2011 season, Prado could be utilized as the third baseman. But initial indications have revealed that Jones will be ready to play during Spring Training.
"One way or another, we end up with three significant bats in the lineup that are right-handed, with Prado, Uggla and Alex Gonzalez," Wren said. "So it changes the dynamics of our lineup."
Uggla could find himself positioned between the switch-hitting Jones and left-handed All-Star catcher Brian McCann, who won his fourth NL Silver Slugger Award last week and spent a portion of Tuesday celebrating his club's latest key acquisition.
"I think Brian McCann said it best: You can never have enough guys who play the game like Dan Uggla wants to play the game," Wren said. "He wants to play every day. He plays hard. He plays with intensity and gives it everything he has. For all those reasons, we're real excited about this trade."
Uggla is coming off a standout season, during which he produced career highs in batting average (.287), homers (33) and RBIs (105). Recently crowned with his first NL Silver Slugger Award, the 30-year-old second baseman has averaged 31 homers during his first five Major League seasons.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the only second baseman to hit at least 20 homers in each of his first five Major League seasons.
Currently in Mexico on a tour with Nike, Uggla was unavailable for comment. This trade will allow him to be closer to the many family members who have traveled from their Tennessee homes to be at Turner Field when the Marlins have been in town.
Uggla has often delighted these family members with his production in Atlanta. In 45 games at Turner Field, he has hit .354 with 12 homers and a 1.051 OPS.
"While I'm saddened to leave the Marlins family and thankful for all they did for me in my career, I'm certainly excited to join the Braves' organization," Uggla told FOXSports.com.
While providing consistency at the plate and dependable versatility in the field, Infante undoubtedly served as one of the most valuable players in Atlanta this past season. In addition, Dunn seems to have a high ceiling with the powerful left arm that he utilized most of this year for Triple-A Gwinnett.
But when given a chance to land a talent like Uggla without having to part ways with any of their talented pitching prospects, the Braves jumped at the opportunity with the endorsement of manager Fredi Gonzalez, who served as Uggla's skipper in Florida over the course of the past four seasons.
"Fredi was at our meetings in October down in Florida, and when [Uggla's] name came up, he said, 'This guy plays so hard.' He and [Braves bench coach] Carlos Tosca both said, 'He plays so hard. He's out there every day, he wants to win. He has the kind of makeup you want on your ballclub.'"
The Marlins began actively shopping Uggla once they were unable to sign him to a four-year contract reportedly worth $48 million. Entering his final arbitration-eligible season, the veteran infielder could be one of the most attractive pieces available on next year's free-agent market.
But Wren indicated that he soon plans to discuss a long-term deal with Uggla and his agent, Terry Bross.
"I think it's best for both of us to have a chance to see what each other is all about, and then we'll have a chance to talk about the future," Wren said. "I think it's suffice to say we'd like to keep him long term."
Because there's a chance Uggla could be in Atlanta for just one season, a small minority of fans expressed some initial displeasure toward this trade. But if Infante produces like he did this past summer, there's certainly a chance the Braves would have deemed him too expensive once he completes the final year of his contract this upcoming season.
With Infante's departure, Atlanta will begin pursuing another utility player to compensate for the versatility lost in this deal. Infante's value soared in 2010, as he earned his first NL All-Star selection and ranked third in the NL with a .321 batting average.
The Braves recently acquired Joe Mather to serve as one of their utility players. But the right-handed Mather, who is best suited to play the corner infield or outfield positions, doesn't provide the same kind of versatility as Infante, who proved dependable at each of the infield positions and was targeted to serve as shortstop Alex Gonzalez's primary backup.
"Omar, in our view, is a real valuable guy," Wren said. "We said this last spring, 'He's the best super-utility [player] in the National League.' He showed us. He made the All-Star team, and when he played every day, he came in third in the batting title. This is a good player and a guy we're going to miss, because he has so much versatility. You always counted on him for big hits. He can hit."
With Uggla likely set to earn about $10 million this year and Infante's $2.5 million salary off their books, the Braves seemingly have between $2 million and $7 million left to spend this offseason. That figure is affected by the uncertain status of Kenshin Kawakami, who seems reluctant to return to Japan to play for some of the clubs that have expressed interest in assuming a portion of his $6.67 million salary.
Along with looking for potential bench help, Wren will continue his search for a veteran reliever to aid the development of Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters. But with Uggla, the Braves' GM has once again taken care of his primary offseason need in a timely manner.
"Any time you can make things happen early, [you benefit]," Wren said. "Last year, we were able to get our bullpen fixed early so that we could focus on other things. Now, we can focus on smaller pieces of the team.
"This is the one we were so focused on, and you don't know when it's going to happen. You're hoping you can find the right piece."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.