When the Marlins asked two weeks ago if Braves general manager Frank Wren would trade Martin Prado for Florida slugger Dan Uggla, Wren said he told them no and dangled Omar Infante instead.
Since Marlins GM Larry Beinfest had not replied about Infante, Wren must’ve been a bit surprised when Beinfest passed him a note in a group session Tuesday at the general managers meetings in Orlando.
On the slip of paper, Beinfest asked if Wren would still do the Uggla trade for Infante and a pitcher.
A few hours later, the two GMs announced the first big trade of baseball’s offseason: Second baseman Uggla to the Braves for All-Star infielder Infante and Mike Dunn, the third lefty in Atlanta’s bullpen.
On Friday, the Braves unveiled their new slugger at Turner Field, where Uggla posed for pictures in his No. 26 jersey and talked of how enthused he was to be coming home – or at least close to it.
“This is the closest big-league team to my home, and it creates an incredible opportunity for my family and friends to be able to come down and watch on a more consistent basis,” said Uggla, 30, who is from Columbia, Tennessee, about one hour south of Nashville.
“To play on a team like this, to play for an organization like this, is a great honor. It’s just going to drive me more this offseason, to help this team and to work as hard as I can to do everything I can to make sure that everything is going to be left out on the field.”
He said he was honored to switch from the No. 6 he wore in Florida, since the Braves will retire that number when retired manager Bobby Cox is inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
Uggla was flanked by Wren and new Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who had Uggla on his Florida teams for 3-1/2 seasons before Gonzalez was fired in June. Uggla said if he had to be traded, then being shipped to Atlanta and reunited with Gonzalez was a nice outcome.
“Great acquisition,” Gonzalez said. “We were looking for a guy who’s going to hit in the middle of the lineup, and we got this guy. Lucky for us.”
Asked what sets Uggla apart, Gonzalez said, “Consistency. Every day he was the same guy, no matter if he’d gone 0-for-4 the night before, or 4-for-4. As a manager, you like to see that in your players. He wants to play, and the only thing he wants to do is win….
“You [reporters] are going to like him, because it doesn’t matter what happens on the field, he’s going to be there [after the game]. He’s accountable, not only to his teammates but to everybody.”
Uggla grew up watching the Braves on TBS, like so many others of a certain age from the South and elsewhere. Unlike them, Uggla grew up to hit more homers than most of those Braves he watched.
He averaged nearly 31 home runs and 93 RBIs with the Marlins, totaling more homers (154) than any other middle infielder in major league history during his first five seasons, and making two All-Star teams.
Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols is the only NL right-handed hitter to hit more homers in the past five seasons than Uggla, who never hit fewer than 28 for the Marlins and won a Silver Slugger award as the NL’s best-hitting second baseman in 2010.
Now the question on the minds of Braves fans: Can Wren and the Braves get him to stay in Atlanta long-term, or will Uggla play just one season before leaving as a free agent?
Both sides indicated Friday that a multi-year contract extension is something they would seriously pursue, and Uggla and Wren both seemed sincere about wanting it to happen.
“It’s something we have to sit down and talk about and discuss,” said Uggla, who turned down a four-year, $48 million offer from the Marlins, reportedly submitting a counterproposal of five years, $71 million.
Uggla is expected to command close to $11 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility, after making $7.8 million in 2010 and posting career-highs in batting average (.287), homers (33), RBIs (105), on-base percentage (.369) and slugging percentage (.508).
What it might take to keep him in Atlanta long-term remains to be seen, but some believe Uggla won’t demand quite as much as he might’ve to stay in Florida.
“Whatever the years and amount of money, that’s up to us to come to an agreement on,” he said. “With that said, I’m very interested in staying here for longer than just a year.”
Wren said he talked to Uggla’s agent on Thursday and discussed how they would prefer to wait at least a while before beginning negotiations. Whether that meant a few weeks or months wasn’t clear.
“I said, we’re not putting a timetable on it, we have plenty of time,” Wren said. “Literally we have a year to put this together, and we’ll just see how the natural flow is. Right now there’s a lot of stuff going on with putting the team together and everything else, and him getting accustomed to what’s going on here and to us.
“I don’t see any reason not to do [an extension]. I mean, we knew what we were getting when we made the deal, and he was the top guy on our list. But I just don’t think we need to jump into things right now.”
Uggla said he understood Wren taking that approach.
“I’m very interested to get to know everybody in the Braves organization a lot better, and I’m sure they’re interested to get to know me,” Uggla said. “I’m sure they don’t just do things on a whim. They want to know who they’re investing in. They want to know what kind of player they’re going to get, and probably on top of that, what kind of person.
“And the same goes for me. I want to be around people that I’m going to like. And from what I’ve met so far, everybody seems like they’re just an amazing organization. Frank’s been great, the few times I’ve talked to him so far. I’ve heard nothing but great things about everybody in this organization. So I’m sure that we’re both looking forward to getting something [done].”
The Braves are expecting an infusion of much-needed power in their offense from Uggla, but no one should expect Gold Glove defense: Uggla’s 34 errors over the past two seasons were the most among major league second basemen.
The Braves have already said he will stay at second base and All-Star Martin Prado will either move to left field, or play third base if Chipper Jones isn’t fully recovered from knee surgery, or when Jones needs some time off.
Gonzalez said many of Uggla’s errors resulted from aggressiveness, ranging wide or diving to stop balls and then trying to make difficult throws instead of conceding a hit. Gonzalez said those were errors that a team could live with, and added that Uggla was as good as anyone at completing double plays with a runner bearing down on him.
Wren said he doesn’t view Uggla’s defense as a problem.
“I think he got a real bad rap because of the All-Star game a couple of years ago,” Wren said, referring to Uggla’s three-error debacle in the late innings of the 2008 All-Star game. “But I know watching him play this year, I didn’t see a below-average defensive second baseman.
“I mean, I saw a solid, average guy. Fredi and Carlos [Tosca, new Braves bench coach who previously served in that capacity in Florida] both talk about how they don’t know anybody who turns a double play better than he does.
“Those are all key factors for that position. He’s a solid defender who can really turn the double play, which is what you’re looking for.”
Wren said he didn’t think there would be much difference, if any, in the level of second-base defense with Uggla at the position instead of Prado, and the GM thought the Braves would be improved in left field with Prado in the outfield.
“I think Martin will improve our defense and improve our speed in left field,” he said.
Prado also gives the Braves flexibility, since he can move to third base when Jones needs rest. Uggla can stay at second base, the position he prefers. He’s only about 5 feet 10, which is short for third base.
Uggla said it meant a lot to him that Wren came out immediately after the trade and said Uggla would continue to play second base, the position he’s played throughout his major league career.
“That’s the position I love to play, and the position I’m going to continue to work at,” Uggla said. “And that’s where I want to play for the rest of my career.
“But for him to say that is obviously important. It puts a lot of things at ease. There were even rumors about me in Florida being changed to another position. I think it was more speculation, people blowing things out of proportion.
“But for him to put that to rest, put that at ease, it was great to hear.”
As for the lineup, Gonzalez said Uggla would hit fourth or fifth.
He said Jones, if healthy, will be back in his customary No. 3 spot. Uggla and Brian McCann would bat fourth and fifth, in either order, and Prado would likely bat leadoff.
If center fielder Nate McLouth is back hitting well, Gonzalez said he might bat him second and slugger Jason Heyward sixth. But he also said Heyward could bat second again.
In his preferred tentative lineup, he has shortstop Alex Gonzalez batting seventh and rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman hitting eighth.