Two days after agreeing to terms with the Braves on a five-year, $62 million contract extension, slugger Dan Uggla passed a physical Thursday and the deal was announced by general manager Frank Wren, who seemed as happy as his now-wealthy second baseman.
“We’re thrilled to get this done,” said Wren, seated next to Uggla and manager Fredi Gonzalez at a news conference at Turner Field. “Like I’ve said, this gives us that big right-handed bat that we’ve been looking for for a long time to anchor the middle of our lineup.”
The $12.4 million average annual value of Uggla’s contract is the highest in major league history for a second baseman, surpassing the $12.14 million average hauled in by Philadelphia’s Chase Utley in a seven-year, $85 million contract.
“It’s life-changing for my family — everybody is going to be taken care of now,” said Uggla, who was raised a Braves fan in Columbia, Tenn., outside Nashville. “That’s the most important thing for me, and being close to home. So it’s a very exciting day for the Uggla family.”
Uggla, who’ll be 31 in March, averaged nearly 31 home runs and 93 RBIs in five seasons with the Florida Marlins, including career-highs of 33 homers and 105 RBIs in 2010. The Braves acquired him two months ago in a trade for infielder Omar Infante and left-handed pitcher Mike Dunn.
The Marlins traded the two-time All-Star shortly after he turned down a four-year, $48 million offer. Florida balked at giving him a guaranteed fifth year, which Uggla said was important because this might be the only time he’s ever in such a strong negotiating position.
His new contract runs through 2015 and buys out what would have been his final year of arbitration and first four years of free agency. Uggla will get a $1 million signing bonus, a $9 million salary in 2011, and $13 million in each of the next four seasons.
“We knew which way we wanted this to go,” Uggla said of negotiations, which took just over a month, including a break for Christmas. “We got through it quick and painless. This is where I want to be. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way they handled everything and went about everything.”
Uggla said the Braves were a perfect landing spot, because of location and the fact that they have the talent to compete for a playoff spot now and for years to come. He’ll play in front of family members and friends, many of whom drove to Atlanta whenever the Marlins played the Braves at Turner Field.
Uggla has two children who live in Lexington, Ky., with their mother. Uggla’s parents live in Columbia, Tenn., as do Uggla and his older brother, Mike, who accompanied him on the 3-1/2-hour drive to Atlanta for news conferences on Thursday and right after the November trade.
The contract includes four seats for every home game, in the SunTrust section behind behind home plate. “Got to take care of the parents,” Uggla said, smiling.
Another point in the Braves’ favor was Gonzalez, who was Uggla’s manager for 3-1/2 seasons in Florida before Gonzalez was fired in June.
Hired in October to replace retired icon Bobby Cox as Braves manager, Gonzalez gave Wren nothing but glowing reports about Uggla, for his hard-nosed play and durability as well as his reputation as a leader in the clubhouse. The GM said that helped make the decision easier to give Uggla a five-year contract.
“Fredi Gonzalez knows Dan probably better than anybody in baseball,” Wren said, “and Fredi made it clear that this is a guy we’re all going to love – we’re going to love the way he plays, we’re going to love the fact that he plays every day, and his performance speaks for itself.
“That being said, the other part of it is — and this is the reality of the game — we had Dan under control for one year. If we had waited till the end of this year, he’s going to get a four-year deal; in the marketplace he’s going to get at least a four-year deal at the end of this year. So it behooved us to go ahead and do a five-year deal now and make sure he’s an Atlanta Brave….
“At the end of the day, it was a somewhat simple decision for us.”
There was a funny moment Thursday after Wren answered a question about adding Uggla and where the team stands entering spring training.
“This is a big piece for us,” Wren said. “We felt like last year our pitching could compete with anyone. I think we still feel that way, and I’ll let the manager speak to it further, but I think we feel good about everything.”
Wren then turned to Gonzalez, who smiled and said: “Can we get more pieces?”
After making it clear he was joking, Gonzalez said, “If the season started tomorrow, you feel good. You feel real good about the team that Frank and Bruce [Manno, assistant GM] have put together. Now signing Danny for a long time, you feel like you can compete for a long time.
“His numbers are his numbers, but I think the people in Atlanta and the community are really going to appreciate the way this guy plays a baseball game. And we’re lucky to have him. Three months ago he could have gone to 28 other teams, and we got him. Now we’ve got him for five years.”
Uggla’s contract is the biggest and longest that the Braves have given a player since Andruw Jones signed a six-year, $75 million contract in 2001, though the average annual value is lower than current contracts for two Braves: Derek Lowe (four years, $60 million) and Chipper Jones (three years, $42 million).
Uggla might have gotten significantly more on the open market if he’d waited to become a free agent after the 2011 season. His 154 home runs are most ever for a middle infielder in his first five seasons, and second-most by any NL right-handed hitter in that span, behind St. Louis superstar Albert Pujols.
“That’s one of the things about free agency – you can test the market and get a lot of money,” Uggla said. “There may have been more money out there in the free-agent market next year. Who knows? Bottom line is, this is where I wanted to be. It was a great offer that they made and put in front of me, and it was a no-brainer. I wanted to be close to home, wanted to play for the Atlanta Braves, and I’m a very happy man.”
In addition to his career-highs in homers and RBIs in 2010, he also set personal bests in average (.287), on-base percentage (.369) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.877), and won the Silver Slugger award as the NL’s best-hitting second baseman.
Uggla’s statistics would have led the 2010 Braves in homers, RBIs, slugging percentage (.508) and OPS.
He’s the only major leaguer whose primary position was second base to begin his career with five consecutive seasons of at least 20 homers, and he’s hit 30 or more in each of the past four seasons.
In 45 career games at Turner Field, he’s hit .354 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs and a 1.051 OPS. His .652 slugging percentage at Turner Field is the third-highest among players with at least 30 games played there, behind Barry Bonds (.800) and Pujols (.795),
Uggla began his career in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and went to the Marlins as a Rule 5 draft pick in December 2005. The following season (2006) he was third in NL Rookie of the Year balloting after hitting .282 with 27 homers and 90 RBIs.
He was asked Thursday about how far he’s come in barely five years.
“It’s an amazing thing,” Uggla said. “It’s something for me to look back on and be like, wow, I’m really here. I got the opportunity five years ago from the Marlins, and if I hadn’t gotten that opportunity, if they didn’t take a chance on me, who knows? I might still be in Triple-A or even out of the game. You never know.
“Given that opportunity, I was able to make the most of it, and create more opportunities. You’re like, wow, I can’t believe this has happened. Then you start to get established a little bit, and next thing you know you get traded to the Braves and I’ve got this contract in front of me. It’s pretty cool.”
Uggla’s 34 errors over the past two seasons are the most by an NL second baseman, but Wren said immediately after the trade that Uggla would stay at second and Braves All-Star Martin Prado would move to left field. That undoubtedly helped Uggla make the decision to sign long-term.
“It was very exciting for me when he said I was going to be playing second base,” he said. “It gets frustrating sometimes because of one game [Uggla made three errors in the 2008 All-Star game], people are going to look at you and say, ‘Oh, he’s not very good defensively.’ I believe in my heart that I’m a good defensive second baseman. I take a lot of pride in it, I work very hard at it, and it’s just one of those things that people are going to [talk about].
“I had one bad game, one bad night. It’s over with and done with, and I’ve continued to work, I’ve continued to do everything I can to be complete in every aspect of the game. I’m very excited to be the second baseman for the Atlanta Braves.”
Gonzalez interjected at that point: “By the way, that game he’s talking about was the All-Star game. There’s only about four second basemen that get to be there. He’s got a bum rap [defensively]. He’s going to be all right.”
The Braves have four remaining unsigned arbitration-eligible players: Prado and pitchers Jair Jurrjens, Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty.