COMMENTARY | It is never an easy decision to send a star player home for the playoffs, but sometimes one of the limited postseason roster spots are just better utilized by someone else.
For the Atlanta Braves, Dan Uggla and B.J Upton have both hit below .200 for the season despite earning $26.2 million in combined salary. Forget simply starting a different player over them, could the Braves actually leave Uggla and Upton off of the postseason roster entirely?
The Barry Zito Precedent
The San Francisco Giants signed Zito to a seven-year $126 million contract in 2007 with the hopes that the southpaw would be an integral part of bringing a World Series title to the Bay Area. In 2010, the Giants' prayers were answered as they beat the Texas Rangers in five games to claim their first World Series title since 1954. Just one problem: Zito was nowhere to be found.
The Giants elected to leave their high-priced lefty off of their playoff roster after he posted his fourth straight losing season since signing the mega-deal. Despite making $18.5 million for the 2010 season -- $4.9 million more than any other player on the team - Zito's roster spot went to someone else and the Giants went on to win the World Series without him.
Space is Limited for the Braves
Assuming the Braves choose to carry a standard number of pitchers into the playoffs, that will leave around a baker's dozen available spots for position players. After the usual suspects like Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann take their seats on the postseason bus, there will really only be three empty chairs with Paul Janish, Joey Terdoslavich, Reed Johnson, Uggla and Upton all hoping to take a load off.
Janish would seem to be a lock as a late-inning defender given the fact that no other utility player plays third base or shortstop.
The tendinitis in Johnson's heel could still leave him off the roster, but with an MLB-leading .344 average as a pinch hitter this season, he has earned his spot and the Braves desperately want him to have it.
Terdoslavich would likely be the last man in or out. He has only managed a .224 average this season, but that is still 36 points higher than either Uggla or Upton. His value comes via his .294 average against lefties and his ability to play either corner outfield spot. However, Terdoslavich is currently 0-for-September, so he might have played his way off the roster.
Dan Uggla's Value
Sure, Uggla has hit .183 this season, but it has weirdly been a somewhat productive .183.
He is still a threat to go deep on every single swing. His 22 home runs ranks him No. 2 on the team behind only the 26 homers that Justin Upton has hit, and Uggla has done so in 91 fewer at-bats.
Uggla has turned all of those long balls into 55 RBIs for a team that has been known to go through periods of offensive famine. And somehow, despite carrying an anemic batting average, his 71 walks have helped earn him an on-base percentage of .309 -- higher than Andrelton Simmons or Evan Gattis.
I know fans like to make light to the struggling second baseman by using colorful nicknames like 'Dan Struggla," but there is no question that Uggla is the kind of player who can get hot and carry a team.
This is the same man who, in 2011, was batting .173 through July 4, but then proceeded to go on a franchise record 33-game hitting streak. The Braves can't leave that potential production at home in October.
Not only should Uggla make the postseason roster, he really should be allowed to start over Elliot Johnson at second base and see if he can't earn his spot back once the slate is wiped clean and everyone starts with a batting average of .000 in the playoffs.
B.J. Upton's Value
As a hitter, Upton's value is nearly nonexistent.
His .188 average he been of the mundane, unproductive variety. The .188 marks he wears like a scarlet letter comes with 147 strikeouts and only nine home runs, 26 RBIs and 30 runs scored.
His highest value would be as a potential base-stealer. His 12 pillow pilfers are No. 2 on the team behind Jordan Schafer's 21. However, Elliot Johnson has proven to be a very capable base-stealer as he has swiped seven bags in only 23 games with the Braves. It seems the one area in which Upton thought to hold a competitive advantage is not such a bonus after all.
But, like Uggla, Upton has some odd statistical anomalies that might give the Braves pause when writing out the playoff roster. In 2008, Upton had a power-deficient season in which he belted only nine home runs -- coincidentally the same number of times he has gone yard this season -- yet, in the playoffs Upton exploded and hit seven more round-trippers in just 16 games.
The feather in Upton's cap is the fact that he is one of only two Atlanta players who have already participated in a World Series (Gerald Laird). Upton hit .250 and stole four bases in the 2008 World Series for the Tampa Bay Rays, so Atlanta already knows the postseason stage will not be too big for him.
Ultimately, if Brandon Beachy is healthy enough to make the Braves' playoff roster, there may not be room for Upton in October. However, if Atlanta chooses to go one light in the pitching department, Upton's potential is formidable enough to bury him on the bench.
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter who has been following the Atlanta Braves for over 20 years. He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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