Communication with Uggla, B.J. priority for Gonzalez
Manager to meet with highest-paid Braves in effort to avoid repeat of down seasons
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- While there is still a chance Dan Uggla could be traded, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez currently has to maintain the assumption that one of his highest priorities will be to do whatever it takes to help Uggla and B.J. Upton avoid repeating the disastrous seasons they endured this year.
Gonzalez plans to meet separately with Uggla and Upton sometime after the New Year. Along with expressing confidence in his ability to rebound, the Braves' skipper will attempt to get these two veterans to spend a portion of January developing a plan that could better help them stay on the same page as hitting coach Greg Walker.
Given that their situations are not identical, Gonzalez will deliver a different message when speaking to Uggla and Upton, who both batted below .200 while standing as the two highest-paid Braves this past season.
Gonzalez has not had any contact with Uggla since the Braves decided to leave the veteran second baseman off their National League Division Series roster. While there might still be some hard feelings, Gonzalez and Uggla have the benefit of a sharing manager-player relationship that dates back to when they were first united with the 2007 Marlins.
"We're going to have to get him straightened out," Gonzalez said. "The first contact has to be by me, work that relationship and get that straightened out."
After batting .185 with nine home runs and a .644 OPS during his last 99 games in 2012, Uggla hit .179 with 22 home runs and a .671 OPS in the 136 games he played this year. His struggles could have been a product of the blurred vision that led to a series of unsuccessful trials with contact lenses and LASIK surgery in August.
The Braves would like to trade Uggla and a portion of the $26 million he is owed over the next two seasons. But if a trade is not completed, there is a chance Uggla could still find himself with an everyday role in Atlanta.
When asked if Uggla would be his starting second baseman if the season began tomorrow, Gonzalez provided a somewhat noncommittal reply by saying, "Yeah, he's still on our team."
One year after giving him a franchise-record five-year, $75.25 million contract, the Braves have to remain more patient with Upton, hoping that he proves to be the valuable everyday center fielder that they had envisioned.
Many questions surrounded Upton after he batted .184 with nine home runs and a .557 OPS this year. Was he undone by the pressure created by the contract? Did he simply find it difficult adjusting to a new town and organization for the first time in his career? Or were these factors compounded by the fact that he got off to a slow start while his younger brother (Justin Upton ) found immediate success during the torrid April he produced for the Braves?
Whatever the case, Gonzalez wants Upton to understand he is entering the 2014 season with a clean slate and the opportunity to show why the club was so high on his ability just one year ago.
"I think every good Major League Baseball player, there is a season in the back of their baseball card that you may want to forget, you know," Gonzalez said. "Maybe 2013 is one of those seasons for B.J., but he is a good center fielder. He can run. He's still a young guy, but we'll get him going again."
Upton is currently working out in the Tampa, Fla., area with some other Major Leaguers. When he begins taking batting practice in a few weeks, Gonzalez and Walker will arrange to meet with him either in Tampa or Atlanta.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.