Dan Uggla was released by the Braves on Friday in the midst of his fourth straight season of diminishing returns. Once a potent offensive force, Uggla underwent LASIK surgery on his eyes late last year in an effort to reverse a multi-year decline, though it didn't prevent him from being left off Atlanta's postseason roster. The 34-year-old former All-Star regained his starting second base job this spring, but lost it in early May and has played sparingly since.
Uggla didn't debut in the majors until shortly after his 26th birthday, after being plucked away by the Marlins from the Diamondbacks in the 2005 Rule 5 draft. He averaged 31 home runs a year for Florida from 2006-10, hitting a combined .263/.349/.488 en route to a 117 OPS+, though shaky defense limited his value to 3.1 Wins Above Replacement per year. Still, he made two All-Star teams and ranked second only to Chase Utley in terms of offensive value among second basemen during that span.
The Marlins traded Uggla to the Braves for infielder Omar Infante and reliever Mike Dunn in November 2010, and he signed a five-year, $62 million deal shortly afterward. He set a career high with 36 homers in his first season with Atlanta, but he never came close to matching his overall production in Florida. His strikeout rate climbed and his rate stats diminished across the board — with one notable exception — each year:
Uggla interrupted his full-scale decline by walking an NL-high 94 times in 2012 en route to a 2.9 WAR season — his best with Atlanta — but he admitted to experiencing vision problems late that year. After trying contact lenses in the spring of 2013, he underwent LASIK surgery in mid-August, but hit just .133/.325/.183 in 77 plate appearances after returning and finished with −1.3 WAR. The Braves left him off their postseason roster in favor of Elliot Johnson, who went just 1-for-14 in their Division Series loss to the Dodgers.
Uggla, who is making $13 million this year and next, hit just .184/.241/.272 through Atlanta's first 32 games and began losing playing time to utilitymen Tyler Pastornicky and Ramiro Pena, never a good sign. In late May, the team turned the job over to 2011 eighth-round pick Tommy La Stella, and since then the 25-year-old rookie has hit a very respectable .292/.371/.357 through 176 PA while playing solid defense.
Amid rumors that the team might cut ties with him, Uggla made just five starts after May 6, going 2-for-27 without an extra-base hit or an RBI over a nearly two-month span. When the Braves suspended him for last Sunday's game for showing up late the day before, it was clear that his days in Atlanta were numbered, so his release hardly comes as a total shock.
The Braves will be on the hook for Uggla's remaining salary unless another team claims him on waivers. That's unlikely to happen, but once he clears, any one of several contenders with an unstable situation at second base — the Orioles, Reds, Giants and Yankees come to mind — could give him a look. Bad defense and the severity of Uggla’s decline make a full-scale resurgence unlikely, but stranger things have happened, and a change of scenery can’t hurt.