After late skid, Uggla off Braves' NLDS roster
Gonzalez's decision tough for second baseman, Atlanta teammates
ATLANTA -- Even though he primarily served as a backup during the regular season's final three weeks, Braves second baseman Dan Uggla was not prepared to hear manager Fredi Gonzalez tell him he would not be included on the National League Division Series roster.
Uggla walked away from Gonzalez and general manager Frank Wren as they informed him of this decision Tuesday afternoon. After the Braves officially released their NLDS roster early Wednesday afternoon, Uggla chose not to speak to reporters before leaving Turner Field.
"I couldn't take the emotion out of it," Gonzalez said. "Yesterday might have been one of the hardest days I've ever had to experience as a Major League manager."
Like Uggla, veteran left-handed reliever Scott Downs was shocked to learn he would not be part of the roster the Braves would use against the Dodgers in the NLDS, beginning with Thursday night's Game 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET on TBS. Two months ago, Downs was acquired from the Angels to play a key role down the stretch and during the postseason.
But it is safe to say the decision regarding Downs did not prove to be as gut-wrenching for Gonzalez as the one involving Uggla, a player Gonzalez has managed every season dating back to 2007, when they were both with the Marlins.
"It was difficult yesterday, but I think if you look at the scope of the entire team and think you put the best 25 [players] out there, it makes [the decision] a little easier," Gonzalez said. "But yeah, it was a difficult decision."
As Elliot Johnson primarily served as Atlanta's starting second baseman during the regular season's final three weeks, it became apparent he would fill this role when the postseason began. There was still some thought the Braves would keep Uggla on the roster as a bench player.
Instead, Atlanta opted to enter the NLDS with just five infielders. The versatile Paul Janish, whose value is essentially limited to his excellent glove, will serve as the only backup infielder.
"It's tough," catcher Brian McCann said. "Dan, he's one of my closest friends on the team, and I feel for him. He's put so much hard work into the season since he's been here, and I know we all have his back. He's a great teammate."
From a financial standpoint, the Braves certainly would have liked to avoid excluding someone they signed to a five-year, $60 million contract before the 2011 season. But from a competitive standpoint, they had reason to make this decision regarding a player who recorded the Majors' lowest batting average and highest strikeout rate (once every 3.14 plate appearances).
While hitting .179 with 22 home runs and a .362 slugging percentage this year, Uggla joined some rare, undistinguished company. Accounting for all 20-homer seasons in Major League history, Uggla's slugging percentage ranks last, and his batting average matches Rob Deer's (25 homers for 1991 Tigers) for the worst.
"It's a tough subject for me," first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "Me and Dan are very, very close, and that hit hard hearing that he wasn't on the roster. But we talked, and he's rooting for us, and that's all we can ask for."
Gonzalez said there was a chance Uggla would be added to the roster if the Braves made it to the NL Championship Series or the World Series. But the decision regarding the NLDS roster certainly clouds Uggla's future in Atlanta.
If the Braves find a team interested in trading for Uggla this offseason, they would most likely have to eat a significant portion of the $26 million he is owed over the next two years.
Uggla struggled through the first three months of the 2011 season before producing an improbable 33-game hitting streak, finishing with at least 30 home runs (36) for a fifth consecutive season. He extended this success when he batted .276 with an .876 OPS in the first 55 games he played in 2012. But Uggla has batted just .181 with 31 home runs and a .659 OPS in the 235 games that have followed.
Uggla's struggles this season began in Spring Training, when he learned he had an astigmatism that was affecting his vision. He initially opted not to wear contacts because they were uncomfortable. But Uggla began wearing them after hitting .194 through his first 67 games.
After continuing to experience blurred vision and discomfort with the contacts for the next two months, Uggla opted to have LASIK surgery. His hope that this would prove to be an effective solution evaporated as he batted .133 with a .508 OPS in the 77 plate appearances he compiled after returning to Atlanta's lineup.
"To not have someone that's fought the whole year with us and been as much a part of this first-place run for us in the NL East, it's tough," outfielder Jason Heyward said. "It's tough to swallow, but at the same time, we play baseball, and we know it's a business."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.