Two hours after Dan Uggla learned he was no longer a member of the Atlanta Braves on Friday, his No. 26 uniform still hung in his locker nestled at the back of the team’s clubhouse. By the time the struggling second baseman’s meeting with his long-time manager Fredi Gonzalez, general manager Frank Wren and assistant GM Bruce Manno was over, there was little time to clean out his shoes or his two hats or the shirts and jackets and bats and sunscreen and necklaces.
Everything was in its usual place, but Uggla was elsewhere preparing for departure.
Uggla was granted his unconditional release at from the Braves, ending a long-running slump in the fourth year of the lucrative five-year contract he signed with the franchise in 2011.
Uggla is expected to pass through waivers on Sunday and become an unrestricted free agent.
"This was a difficult decision for everyone," general manager Frank Wren said. "It was difficult not only because of the quality of the person involved in Dan and the way he goes about his business and how hard he works, but at the same time we feel like we need to give (manager) Fredi (Gonzalez) additional pieces to manage on that bench.
"This was, we felt, the appropriate time. … We wanted to optimize our roster. I don’t think it has been a big problem up to this point, but I think as we go into the second half and wanted to get off to a good start in the second half, I guess in some regards a fresh start, we wanted to give (Gonzalez) more options."
Uggla played 499 games in a Braves uniform, hitting .209/.317/.391 with 79 home runs, 225 RBI and 535 strikeouts after signing a $62 million deal. Since the start of the 2013 campaign, he has played below replacement-level baseball in nearly 700 plate appearances. This season, Uggla has appeared in just 20 games since May 6, all but five coming in pinch-hit situations — he’s hit .074/.242/.074 during that stretch.
Long considered a popular teammate in Atlanta’s clubhouse, Gonzalez and his players talked about the difficulty of the decision at hand, of releasing a well-liked teammate that was offering very little, if any, value in a reserve role. In fact, by opening up a roster spot with Uggla’s release, Gonzalez will once again be given the flexibility of a 25-man roster. As Gonzalez and Wren both alluded to on Friday, this was a baseball decision for the franchise itself — both in terms of production and front-office finances — but it will also give Uggla some freedom to look for more playing time elsewhere.
"Now he goes out and he can explore other opportunities. And he will," said Gonzalez, who coached Uggla during his eight managerial seasons in Miami and Atlanta. "Somebody will give him a chance. We wish him the best of luck.
"It’s one of those situations, for me personally, I’ve been with him a long time, a very long time. I don’t think he’s not been in a uniform in my managerial career — someplace, whether he’s in the lineup, on the bench, in the clubhouse, whatever. He’s always been there."
The move was expected after Uggla was benched in early May in favor of the combination of infielders Ramiro Pena, Tyler Pastornicky, who was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett in a corresponding move on Friday, and rookie starter Tommy La Stella. But it does come with a heavy price for the Braves.
The club still owes the former All-Star more than $5 million in 2014 and $13 million in 2015. If Uggla signs with another team, presumably at the league minimum ($500,000), his prorated deal will be subtracted from Atlanta’s payroll this season, which still amounts to a hefty cost for cutting ties with, essentially, a rarely used bench player.
Wren explained that the Braves were "very active making calls" over the past month, but that in the end it became more and more clear that granting Uggla his unconditional release was their only option moving forward.
When the Braves inked Uggla to his contract extension after acquiring him from the Marlins in November 2010, Atlanta made him the highest-paid second baseman in league history, in terms of average annual value ($12.4 million).
Even this season, nearly four years later, he remains the fifth-highest paid second baseman in the game, behind Seattle’s Robinson Cano, Detroit’s Ian Kinsler, Boston’s Dustin Pedroia and Philadelphia’s Chase Utley.
"It’s one of those where I think we all wished it had turned out a little differently," Wren said. "He was coming off hitting 30-plus home runs for four years in a row and did it in his first year here, I think. He’s always been a guy that would give you right-handed power.
"When we made the deal, right-handed power was one of the most difficult things to acquire and we had a bunch of young left-handed hitters coming. We had (Brian) McCann on the club. We had (Jason) Heyward just getting here. We had pieces that really seemed to fit well. We knew Freddie Freeman was coming. It was the perfect fit at that time. … It just didn’t continue to fit as well."