ORLANDO – While Braves officials talk to teams and reps for free agents at baseball’s winter meetings about deals to strengthen the bench and bullpen, negotiations on a potential Big Deal have been on hold.
That changes soon, when general manager Frank Wren and Dan Uggla’s agent ramp up negotiations on a possible contract extension to retain the power-hitting second baseman well beyond the 2011 season.
The Braves got Uggla in a Nov. 16 trade for infielder Omar Infante and reliever Mike Dunn.
“We had a nice discussion when he was in for the [introductory] press conference,” Wren said. “We’re going to get to further discussions probably in the near future. I’ve talked to his representative [recently] but nothing substantative, negotiation-wise.”
A two-time All-Star and 2010 Silver Slugger winner, Uggla has averaged nearly 31 home runs and 93 RBIs in five seasons. He could command at least $10 million in arbitration for 2011 and become a free agent after the season.
The Braves hope he signs a multi-year extension before then. Preferably long before.
Uggla turned down Florida’s four-year, $48 million offer, asked for five years and $71 million, then was traded.
Raised a Braves fan in Columbia, Tenn., he seems motivated to stay long-term with the Braves and play for his former Marlins manager, Fredi Gonzalez.
“The early discussions we’ve had — really just introductory discussions — have been very pleasant,” Wren said. “I think there’s a mutual desire for us to keep him long-term and for him to stay long-term. I think that’s come through loud and clear, both from Terry [Bross, Uggla's agent] and from Dan.
“And I think we’ve made it very clear that’s what we want to have happen. But we haven’t gone beyond that. There will be an appropriate time for that.” Wren smiled. “And hopefully you guys won’t know a thing about it till it’s over.”
Uggla is the right-handed power hitter the Braves searched years to find. He has more homers (154) in his first five seasons than any middle infielder in major league history.
“He likes playing for Fredi,” Wren said. “His family loves the fact that it’s Atlanta. It’s easier for him, for friends and family to come watch him play.
“He likes hitting in our park. There’s places where you feel very comfortable playing, you feel very comfortable hitting. And then there’s other places you don’t. Those places you don’t, you probably don’t want to go long-term.
“And so we have a lot of those things that are advantages for us.”
Cox leaves meetings for family matter
Retired Braves manager Bobby Cox left the winter meetings late Monday because of an undisclosed illness in his family, and missed a special press conference Tuesday with fellow just-retired managers Joe Torre, Lou Piniella and Cito Gaston.
Braves president John Schuerholz sat in for Cox at the event, hosted by commissioner Bud Selig.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been a pinch-hitter before, but you are now,” Selig said to Schuerholz.
“It’s like you came to see Babe Ruth come to bat and here comes Eddie Gaedel coming out of the dugout,” Schuerholz joked to a ballroom filled with reporters and TV crews. “That’s probably not what you came for, but here I am.”
Cox has been at the meetings in his new advisor’s role, sitting in with top scouts and other Braves officials during sessions with Wren and his staff in their eighth-floor suite.
Wren said several teams are interested in starting pitcher Kenshin Kawakami, whom the Braves are peddling. They know they will have to cover a significant portion of his $6.67 million salary in order to trade him.
The Braves also want to add more utility-infield and outfield depth, but Wren said there’s no urgency and that they won’t overpay. He mentioned recent free-agent signee Ed Lucas, a former Royals minor leaguer, as a solid utility infield candidate along with returning Braves Diory Hernandez, Brandon Hicks and Brooks Conrad.
“If we find the right guy, the right match, we would probably do something,” Wren said. “But at the same time, if we don’t, we feel like we’re covered right now. With Diory, Hicks, Brooks … there’s enough guys that can catch the ball and can play up the middle, we’ll be OK.
“We’ve signed a guy, Lucas, a veteran minor league shortstop that has good ability. He can swing the bat and really play short well, so he’s another guy that’s already in the mix that has us covered. Our guys feel like we’re in good shape. If we can improve upon some of these positions, we will. But we don’t feel compelled to.”
He said the Braves would like to add a versatile backup outfielder who can play center field.
“We’ve open-minded,” he said. “We’ve identified a guy or two that would be a nice fit for our club if it would work, but we’re not going to go overboard. A guy that could have some versatility, that would be the ideal world, having some versatility out there. But [Jose] Constanza can do that; he can play all over.”
Constanza, 27, is a recent six-year free agent signee. He hit .319 with eight triples, a .373 on-base percentage and 34 stolen bases in 2010 for the Indians’ Triple-A Columbus affiliate, and has a .365 OBP and 210 stolen bases in 657 minor league games over six seasons.