01/06/11 6:40 PM EST
In Atlanta, Uggla right where he wants to be
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"It's an amazing thing," Uggla said. "It's something for me to look back at and kind of think just, 'Wow, I'm really here.'"
When the Marlins selected Uggla in the 2005 Rule 5 Draft, they certainly didn't envision that he would spend the next five seasons totaling 154 homers -- 20 more than any other Major League second baseman during this span.
There was seemingly a much greater chance that they were going to have to offer him back to the D-backs for $50,000 once they realized that this 26-year-old infielder wasn't talented enough to be kept on their 25-man roster for the entirety of the regular season -- a stipulation that goes with selecting unprotected Minor Leaguers in the Rule 5 Draft.
|"You can test the market and get a lot of money. There might have been more money out there on the free-agent market next year. Who knows? The bottom line is this is where I wanted to be. It was a great offer they put in front of me. It was a no-brainer. I wanted to be close to home. I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. I'm a very happy man."|
|-- Dan Uggla|
This probability began to evaporate once a determined Uggla arrived in camp and began showing the heart and determination that have allowed him to evolve from being a Minor League castoff to one of the game's highest-paid second basemen.
"I think the people here in Atlanta are going to really appreciate the way this guy plays baseball," said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who spent most of the past four seasons serving as Uggla's manager with the Marlins.
If initial impressions don't necessarily do the trick, Braves fans are going to have plenty of other opportunities to watch Uggla, who has been given this opportunity to remain in Atlanta through the end of the 2015 season, when he will be 35 years old.
"Obviously it's life-changing for me and my family," Uggla said. "Everybody is going to be taken care of now. That's the most important thing for me. It's a very exciting day for the Uggla family."
Atlanta general manager Frank Wren also exuded excitement as he discussed this contract, which stands as the most lucrative the club has given since giving the Jones boys -- Andruw ($75 million before 2002) and Chipper ($90 million before 2001) -- six-year deals during the early portion of this century.
"This is a very good day for the Atlanta Braves organization," Wren said. "Almost two months ago, we made the deal to acquire Dan, and at that time, we had a good feeling about the potential to make this a long-term relationship."
When Wren acquired Uggla from the Marlins in exchange for utility man Omar Infante and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn in November, he began doing whatever he could to ensure the powerful second baseman would be in Atlanta for more than one season.
"From a negotiation standpoint, this has been as smooth as almost any you'll ever see," Wren said. "That was really because of the way they handled the negotiations on their end and the strong desire they had to be here long term. We're just thrilled to get this done."
By finally taking advantage of the opportunity to keep a key acquisition in Atlanta longer than the likes of short-term rentals J.D. Drew and Mark Teixeira, Wren solidified the right-handed power potential in his lineup for many years to come and also subjected himself to those who have criticized the decision to guarantee Uggla $62 millon over five seasons.
Defensive concerns have surrounded Uggla, and they were amplified when he committed three errors in the 15-inning 2008 All-Star Game.
"I think he's gotten a bum rap, really," Gonzalez said. "I've seen him play for four years. He's going to be all right."
If Uggla struggles with the glove, the Braves could opt to find him a different position. But they certainly can't afford the possibility that he could enter the final years of this contract without the power that has made him so valuable over the course of his first five Major League seasons.
Understanding all of the risks that his role presents, Wren simply knew that he couldn't afford the possibility that Uggla might be around for just one season. With Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann, the Braves were moving toward the future with a number of impressive left-handed sluggers and the need to gain a right-handed power threat.
With Uggla, Wren has seemingly satisfied this need. Albert Pujols is the only other National League right-handed batter to hit more homers over the past five seasons than the Braves' new second baseman.
Had he entered the free-agent market at the end of this season, Uggla certainly could have been in position to gain at least a four-year contract. Wren says he essentially provided this one year in advance.
"We had Dan under control for one year," Wren said. "If we had waited until the end of this year, he's going to get at least a four-year deal [as a free agent]. So it behooved us to go ahead and do a five-year deal now and make sure he was going to be an Atlanta Brave. ... At the end of the day, it was somewhat of a simple decision for us."
Coming off an impressive 2010 campaign that included career highs in batting average (.287), homers (33) and RBIs (105), Uggla could have been persuaded to wait another season and at least evaluate the riches the free-agent market might provide.
Uggla has hit at least 30 homers in each of the past four seasons, and the .837 OPS he has produced over the past five seasons stands as the third-best mark among all Major League second basemen, trailing only the Phillies' Chase Utley and the Yankees' Robinson Cano.
Thus, there might have been greater riches had Uggla opted to play one more season and then evaluate all of his options.
But as he stood at Turner Field on Thursday, just three hours away from his hometown of Columbia, Tenn., and five years removed from standing as a Rule 5 Draft selection, Uggla seemed quite content and comfortable with his decision.
"You can test the market and get a lot of money," Uggla said. "There might have been more money out there on the free-agent market next year. Who knows? The bottom line is this is where I wanted to be. It was a great offer they put in front of me. It was a no-brainer. I wanted to be close to home. I wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves. I'm a very happy man."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.