Viera, Florida. Space Coast Stadium. February 22nd. Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams fields questions from reporters early in his second Spring Training as the Nats' skipper...
Reporter: "Dan [Uggla] has been pretty much a starter his whole career, so you may not have any sense of how he would be coming off a bench and he doesn't play any other positions, I don't think..."
Matt Williams: "No, he's been a second baseman primarily... early on he played around the diamond a little bit."
Reporter: "But is it the sort of thing that if he made it, he would need to be playing consistently. You probably wouldn't look at him as a bench bat?"
Matt Williams: "Don't know. We don't know. It depends on how he does and how things shake out. You have grand plans, but those plans never go to plan. What he knows and what we've told him is he's got an opportunity. And he's in camp and excited to be here. Has great desire to be here. He knows a lot of guys and it's comfortable for him and now he's ready to go to work."
Uggla, 35, signed a minor league deal with the Nationals with an invitation to Spring Training this winter as he tried to rebound from several down years in which he dealt with concussions symptoms, and what was eventually, this year, diagnosed as an oculomotor dysfunction which resulted from two pitches that hit him in the head in 2012-13.
As Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo reported in December, Uggla, "[d]ejected about how fast his career declined," and unable to explain the decline, received a call from former major leaguer Marquis Grissom, who, "hooked up Uggla with Las Vegas orthopedist Robert Donatelli," who, "... put Uggla through a series of tests and determined he had suffered oculomotor dysfunction."
Finally given a diagnosis and exercises designed to improve his condition, Uggla was determined to return and the Nationals gave him an opportunity.
Uggla signed the five-year deal after a 2010 campaign with the Florida/Miami Marlins in which he posted a .287/.369/.508 line with 31 doubles and 33 HRs in 159 games and 674 PAs and finished at +4.5 fWAR.
In the four seasons that followed before the Braves finally released him, Uggla put up a .208/.316/.388 line with 64 doubles and 79 HRs in 503 games and 1,996 PAs, finishing at +2.2 fWAR in 2011, +3.3 in 2012, +0.4 in '13.
Through 17 games this Spring, before Sunday's matchup with the Marlins, Uggla has connected for 10 hits in 36 at bats, (.278/.422/.500) with two doubles, two home runs, eight walks and seven Ks.
Though he's hitting, where exactly Uggla might fit in with the Nationals is a question, as NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman noted in an article this morning.
In spite of the veteran's success at the plate and the fact that he told Zuckerman, '''... the last 20 at-bats or so, I’ve felt just as good, maybe even better than I’ve ever felt,'" his position is a tough one because of a lack of versatility.
"Uggla has never come off the bench in his career," Zuckerman writes, "He plays only one position (and has a well-established reputation as a weak defender).
"And the 35-year-old admitted he wouldn’t be real comfortable in a reserve role."
"'I’d have to say no,'" Uggla said when asked about possibly filling a bench role. "I’ve never done it before. It’s not where I feel like I’m at in my career. That’s not what I’m looking to do.'"
The decision for Uggla and the Nationals will be made soon, with Opening Day just a week away.
Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo noted this morning that, "Uggla has an April 1 opt-out of his minor league deal, but his .323 average, two home runs, six RBIs, and 1.042 OPS in 31 at-bats... [are] giving Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo something to think about."