Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 12/20/12
Two years ago, when the Braves locked up Dan Uggla with a five-year, 62 million deal following a November trade, the general consensus was the team had solidified the middle of its lineup for years to come. At the time, it was the biggest payout the organization had given to a player in nearly a decade. In 2012, that contract is a headache. The power-hitting second baseman has not performed up to the level of an eight-digit salary in Atlanta hitting just .227 (including a 103 OPS, just barely above league average) with 55 home runs. Though his defense and base running were respectable in 2012, he just cannot find the same pop with his bat that he had when he was a standout for the Miami Marlins. At this point, it looks as if the Braves went into the trade market and bought high. Too high. And even so, Uggla was an All-Star last season on the strength of fan voting theres no denying his popularity in Atlanta, despite his numbers and the relative dearth of quality second basemen in baseball. Despite his offensive inefficiency, Uggla has been the 10th-most valuable second-bagger in baseball (5.9 Wins Above Replacement), just behind Neil Walker, Aaron Hill and Danny Espinosa. Its safe to say that the Braves organization will never see Uggla make the leap into the realm of AL East heavyweights Robinson Cano (Yankees), Dustin Pedroia (Red Sox) or Ben Zobrist (Rays), but if he could put together a complete season its not a stretch to assume he could get back within the upper echelon of the games second basemen. Of course, Walker, Hill and Espinosa are not due more than 13 million next season. The three of them wont even make that type of money combined. Can Uggla cut down on his strikeout numbers? Dan Uggla struck out in 26.7 percent of his at-bats in 2012, more than any other everyday players for the Braves. Of hitters receiving at least 100 plate appearances last season, only free-swinging Juan Francisco, David Ross and Eric Hinske whiffed at a higher rate. The difference is that Uggla not only makes more money than all of those players combined but that, for the most part, he was slotted near the middle of the lineup. Thats why he was brought to Atlanta: To knock in runs. As anyone, including Uggla, will tell you, its tough to do that with three strikes. Over the past two seasons, only Espinosa (27 percent) and former Brave Kelly Johnson have struck out more among the leagues second basemen. Uggla offsets his strikeout totals by being one of baseballs best middle infielders at drawing walks, but thats not what he was brought in to do. He was meant to be a cornerstone. His power numbers, at times, reiterate why. Of the top-five second basemen in home runs last season, only Milwaukees Rickie Weeks struck out at a similar rate. Dont be like Rickie Weeks. Will Ugglas fielding remain above average? OK, theres a second part to this question: What the heck happened last season? Its safe to assume that since his rookie season, Ugglas work in the field did not garner any Gold Glove recognition. But then, something changed, and suddenly his fielding was a more efficient part of his game than his hitting. Here are Ugglas UZR150 numbers a metric that measures defensive performance in terms of runs saved above average for every 150 games played throughout his career: 2006:5.7 2007: -11.1 2008: 0.8 2009: -9.6 2010: -7.4 2011: -11.4 2012: 1.9 Ugglas defense underwent a fairly steady regression from 2008 through 2011, even posting a league-worst UZR150 among qualified second basemen in his first season in Atlanta, before surprisingly bouncing back to just above average. Advanced defensive statistics do tend to fluctuate, but if Uggla can continue to play at a respectable level in the field while improving his hitting, perhaps 13 million wont hurt quite as much. Regression toward the mean would suggest Ugglas numbers will once again decline (career UZR150 of -4.5). Mathematics, however, does not account for telephone-pole forearms. So anything is possible here. Will he finally live up to his contract? In the end, this is the ultimate question facing Uggla. Being the highest-paid player on a middle-of-the-pack (financially speaking) MLB franchise comes with its own set of pressures and responsibility. And its not like the Braves will have much choice this season. In past years, the multi-purpose Martin Prado could be plugged in during a slump, but it looks as though his hands will be full at third base, pending an offseason move by general manager Frank Wren. Brooks Conrad is gone. Its Uggla out there, with fill-ins from Tyler Pastornicky possible. This is a pivotal season for Braves management, which faces upcoming arbitration dates with its young core of Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel in 2013. This is the final season Atlanta gets to keep that quartet for less than 1 million apiece. Decisions must be made, and the cutting could start at the top. Ugglas contract runs through 2015, but if he does not start producing at his Marlins level, Wren & Co., might start shopping. Thats not to say Uggla deserves to be traded as soon as possible, its just a business decision the Braves might be forced to make if things do not improve. Thirteen million dollars is a heavy burden. Uggla needs to carry it a little higher in 2013.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Dana White hints at Conor McGregor's next opponent

Report: Steelers make Brown NFL's highest-paid WR

Report: Chiefs sign Duvernay-Tardif to five-year extension

MLB considering introducing 'stickier' baseballs

Report: Browns have discussed trading No. 12 pick for Garoppolo

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Lowry expected to miss 4-5 weeks, return for playoffs

Report: Cowboys to release Romo in coming weeks

Report: Jennings expected to sign with Hornets

Did Hield reveal Kings tampered with him before trade?

Nicklaus says Tiger's current situation is a 'puzzle to me'

Schroder still insists Isaiah Thomas insulted his family

It's time for Satchel Paige Day in Major League Baseball

The best sports movies available to stream right now

Biggest surprises and disappointments of the NBA season

Top 10 shortstops in baseball for 2017

The most dangerous NBA teams flying under the radar

Eat, Drink, Watch: Your award-worthy weekend planning guide

Grading the NBA trade deadline on the Vince Carter scale

As NHL trade deadline nears, seven teams who could be dealing

Box Score 2/24: A night of NBA disrespect

The 'Pete Rose instead of Kareem? Surely, you can't be serious' quiz

Streaming sports docuseries you don't want to miss

Teams that can prevent a Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals three-peat

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

It's time for Satchel Paige Day in MLB

The best sports movies available to stream right now

Biggest surprises and disappointments of the NBA season

As NHL trade deadline nears, seven teams who could be dealing

QUIZ: Name every MLB pitcher to win 20 or more games in a season since 2000

Top 10 shortstops in baseball for 2017

The most dangerous NBA teams flying under the radar

Grading the NBA trade deadline on the Vince Carter scale

Eat, Drink, Watch: Your award-worthy weekend planning guide

Streaming sports docuseries you don't want to miss

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker