There’s no denying that.
Still, it was rather stunning when the Atlanta Braves left the three-time All-Star off the roster for the NL division series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Braves announced their 25-man squad during a workout at Turner Field, a day before Game 1 in the best-of-five series.
“It’s tough,” catcher Brian McCann said. “Dan is one my closest friends on the team. I feel for him. He’s put so much hard work into the season and since he’s been here. We all have his back in here.”
Uggla wasn’t the only surprise on the roster.
Freddy Garcia, picked up on the cheap from Baltimore in August, was kept as a likely Game 4 starter if needed. Rookie David Hale, an east Cobb native and former Walker School standout, made the roster as a long reliever, even though he made just two starts for the Braves after the rosters expanded in September. Speedy Jose Constanza, who also spent most of the season in the minors, is on the roster as an extra outfielder.
“I’m taken aback completely,” Hale said. “I was not expecting that.”
Then there was Uggla, who hit 22 homers this season but batted just .179 and broke his own franchise record with 171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats. His struggles became so pronounced that he went on the disabled list Aug. 13 to have laser eye surgery.
When Uggla returned, he was even worse. The second baseman batted just .122 in 49 at-bats in September and began losing playing time to journeyman Elliot Johnson, who was acquired from Kansas City off waivers in August.
Now Johnson is a starter in the postseason.
Uggla will only be able to watch against the Dodgers.
“Let’s win,” closer Craig Kimbrel said, “and hopefully he’ll be playing in the next round.”
The Braves also decided not to keep a couple of left-handed pitchers who got extensive work this season.
Paul Maholm was a regular member of the rotation, going 11-12 with a 4.41 ERA, but manager Fredi Gonzalez decided Garcia was a better option against the Dodgers. Reliever Scott Downs, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Angels to bolster the bullpen, struggled down the stretch and was left off the postseason roster.
Gonzalez conceded that setting the roster “might have been one of the hardest days I’ve ever had to experience as a major league manager.”
Especially when he broke the news to Uggla.
“If you look at the scope of the entire team and think that you put the best 25 out there, it makes it a little easier,” Gonzalez said. “But yeah, it was a difficult decision. I’m not going to lie to you.”
Gonzalez said Uggla might be on the roster if the Braves advance to the NL championship series.
“It’s a seven-game series,” the manager said. “Maybe you compose your roster a little bit different. You know, he may be able to get that roster spot.”
Uggla did not speak to the media after the 90-minute workout. He quickly gathered up his personal items and took them to an area of the clubhouse that is off-limits to reporters. Later, team officials said he had already left Turner Field.
Uggla was expected to be a cornerstone of the Braves offense when he was acquired from the Marlins before the 2011 season and quickly agreed to a five-year, $62 million contract.
He put up solid power numbers his first season with the Braves, hitting a career-best 36 homers with 82 RBIs. But his batting average plummeted to a career-worst .233 despite a 33-game hitting streak, a troubling sign of the struggles to come.
Last season, Uggla briefly lost his starting job and set career lows in homers (19), RBIs (78) and average (.220). This season was even worse, costing him a chance to play in the division series and raising questions about his future in the organization, even though he is still owed a total of $26 million over the next two seasons.
Another of the Braves’ big-money disappointments, outfielder B.J. Upton, did make the roster despite a season that was roughly on par with Uggla’s — a .184 average with nine homers and 26 RBIs.
Upton makes even more than Uggla, finishing up the first season of a five-year deal that will pay him more than $75 million.
Both players lost their starting jobs down the stretch, but Upton has more value than Uggla off the bench because of his speed and defensive skills. Uggla can only play second base, isn’t highly regarded for his defense, and doesn’t have nearly as much speed as Upton.
The Braves are expected to go with an outfield that includes rookie Evan Gattis in left field, Jason Heyward in center and Justin Upton, B.J.’s younger brother, in right. Heyward is shifting from right and Justin Upton from left to get Gattis’ powerful bat in the lineup. B.J. Upton will likely be used as an expensive late-inning defensive replacement if the Braves are ahead.
Atlanta’s roster also includes Paul Janish, who batted just .171 but was kept over Uggla because he can play second, shortstop and third.