For the Braves, the 2013 production out of the position from Dan Uggla was shockingly bad. Uggla has always been known as an offensive player with poor baserunning abilities and even worse defense.
But in 2013, Uggla compounded these deficiencies by having a terrible year at the plate. The .183 batting average and 171 strikeouts stand out as particularly gruesome. Uggla is still able to draw walks at a good rate and still has obvious power potential, but his rapid decline in contact rate is worrisome for his chances of turning it around.
With Uggla signed for two more years and $26 million, the Braves can't afford to wait it out. They are actively trying to find a trade partner that will take on a portion of Uggla's contract. Early buzz about a swap for Cincinnati Reds spark plug Brandon Phillips have quieted down, but it did set the tenor for what the Braves were willing to pursue.
But since the Braves could basically pull a name out of a hat and match Uggla's 2013 performance, they are hoping to shed some salary in the process. If nothing else it'd be better to pay somebody a league minimum salary rather than Uggla's beefy paycheck to take up space between Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons.
For his part, Omar Infante has been a great player over the last several years, and Braves fans will remember his 2010 All-Star season for Atlanta playing the role of a super-utility guy. Infante made a total of 119 starts playing six different positions, all above average. He probably didn't deserve an All-Star appearance, but his contribution to the Braves was well recognized. As a fun coincidence, Infante was one of the pieces sent to the Florida Marlins in order to get Uggla, so it might be a bit awkward to bring him back now. I'm sure time and millions of dollars would heal any hard feelings.
Infante's 2013 season was the best of his career. He played a much less flashy but still essential part in the success of the Detroit Tigers. He was the everyday second baseman, contributing above-average numbers on both offense and defense.
Infante definitively outperformed his two-year, $8 million contract with Detroit and can expect a significant pay increase for his upcoming free-agent deal. And this, more than anything else, is the biggest reason for the Braves to stay clear. It's going to be a familiar refrain this offseason, but the Braves cannot afford to get caught up in a bidding war for anybody's services.
As a position of scarcity this offseason, free-agent second basemen are going to be expensive. Infante is probably the second-best available player at the position behind Robinson Cano. Now, there's a pretty enormous gap between the talent level and the expected contracts of Robinson Cano and Omar Infante, but with several teams looking for help at the position, Infante will become that much more precious of an asset.
And while Infante is coming off of a great season for the Detroit Tigers, his numbers were outside of his career expectations and prime for some regression. Infante is also going to be 32 years old for the 2014 campaign, right around the age that middle infielders start to fall apart.
Don't get me wrong. I would love to see Infante playing second base over Uggla next season, all else being equal. But the business side of it makes it untenable. Such is life for a financially constricted team that signed B.J. Upton for a gajillion dollars last year.
Patrick Richardson is a longtime follower of the Atlanta Braves who started playing t-ball right as Atlanta's record-setting run of division titles began. He is an amateur but enthusiastic sabermetrician.
- Sports & Recreation
- Omar Infante
- Atlanta Braves
- Dan Uggla