When the Atlanta Braves signed Dan Uggla to a five-year, $62 million contract they locked up one of baseball’s best right-handed power hitters.
While I would have liked a slightly shorter deal (three or four years) I understand the Braves probably didn’t have that option. As a consistent 30-plus-homer second baseman, Uggla could easily demand a four-year contract once he became a free agent.
Although Jason Heyward is coming off a stellar rookie season and Freddie Freeman will be starting at first base in 2011, they are both left-handed (as is Brian McCann and the more powerful side of Chipper Jones) so the Braves sorely needed some power from the other side.
Uggla could have been a one-year stopgap but the Braves don’t have any right-handed impact bats that are close to the majors at this point.
Whether Uggla drops off or not, the Braves did a nice job to sign him long term, and even if he isn’t as prolific of a slugger at the end of the deal, he should be able to perform up to his contract overall.
To me, the biggest drawback of the Uggla extension is that the Braves must wait a little longer to lock up some of their young talent long term.
The first two names that come to mind are Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson. Jurrjens will be the first one to hit free agency and is a key part of the Braves rotation even coming off a rough year.
Hanson is arguably the best starter on the Braves and probably is the most important piece that the Braves need to think of securing soon. While they have a ton of pitching depth in the minors, Hanson could eventually serve as a veteran presence to younger guys like Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.
Not long after, extensions for Heyward and Freeman will come up. They are both future offensive juggernauts that could carry the Braves lineup for years (similar to Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez on the Colorado Rockies) if given the chance.
Chipper Jones is technically secured through 2012 (with a vesting option for 2013) although many speculate that 2011 will be his last big league season. Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson also have contracts that run through 2012, so it looks like it will be a couple years before the Braves have a lot of money to lock players up long term.
If the Braves don’t extend any young players soon, it isn’t because they don’t have them in their long term plans, but likely because they won’t have much money available until the 2012 season comes to an end.