Should the Braves explore a trade for Estrada?

BravesCenter's Bill Shanks wonders if the Braves should explore trading catcher Johnny Estrada.

Watching Brian McCann go 3-for-4 Sunday afternoon got my brain spinning a bit, wondering what might happen in the future. Before this season started there were some in the Atlanta organization who believed Brian was going to be ready for Atlanta at the start of the 2006 season. Now, with his premature promotion to the big leagues, he's pretty much proving that he can hold his own and, in fact, might be ready to stay.

So if McCann does continue to prove that he's ready to stay in the big leagues, should the Braves see what Johnny Estrada could bring in a trade?

While I like Johnny a great deal, I say yes.

Estrada is arbitration eligible this winter, which means his salary will increase from this year's $460,000 to near $2 million. So having McCann as the Braves' main catcher next year would save $1.7 million at the least, which could be used on other areas of need. And it's always fairly easy to go out and find a veteran backup catcher for half a million bucks. Eddie Perez's deal will be off the books then, and he'll most certainly retire. So the Braves could bring in a veteran catcher to work with McCann and catch every fifth game.

Could Brian McCann be ready to take over as the everyday catcher next April? Absolutely. As I've said time after time, he's another Jason Varitek waiting to happen. He's going to be a power-hitting left-handed hitting catcher who will be in charge of the game behind the plate. I love his potential and I know he's going to do great for us for years to come.

But if he's close, then trading Estrada, and taking advantage of his current value, must be a serious option - whether it's now or this winter.

General Manager John Schuerholz has already said that the Braves are not going to add a significant player this summer through a trade. Time Warner, in its infinite wisdom, is not going to allow the team to add to its $80 million dollar payroll. But if the Braves had a player with high value available on the market, it might make it easier for Schuerholz to acquire a player that he believed would help the team get back to the postseason.

Therefore, with the team needing a closer to round out the bullpen, it might be wise to see if Estrada could help acquire a reliever. Certainly Estrada has got to be an upgrade over many of the catchers that teams around the game currently have behind the plate. A switch-hitting catcher with Estrada's ability should have significant value and might get the Braves the reliever needed to make the team a favorite again in the National League.

Would the Astros, for example, accept Estrada as part of a package for closer Brad Lidge? Houston is all but out of the race, and with Lidge only making $500,000 this season he would definitely fit the Braves price range. Lidge is also eligible for arbitration this winter, but with Rafael Furcal off the books after this season and also probably replaced by a young, inexpensive player (Wilson Betemit), the Braves could have money available to pay Lidge – especially since it's almost a certainty that Dan Kolb's $3.4 million will be off the books this winter as well.

There have been rumors that Lidge could be available. With Brad Ausmus probably nearing the end of his career as a starter, the Astros could use a young catcher and Estrada fits the bill. Could a deal of Estrada and one of our young pitching prospects, which Houston also needs, get the trade done?

That's the kind of deal that would definitely be beneficial to the Braves and might be the only type they can make. They're going to have to get someone that's relatively inexpensive, and unless they trade a player with a big contract, notably Rafael Furcal, it's just going to be difficult to get someone that makes more than the players the Braves trade away.

Would the Royals be interested in Estrada for their closer, right-hander Mike MacDougal? He's got a great arm and is finally fulfilling his potential on a horrible team. Colorado's Brian Fuentes has become a solid closer. Would Fuentes and another Rockies' pitcher be enough for Estrada?

So if we did put him on the block right now, what do you think we could get for him? Could Estrada be the best way to improve the Atlanta roster? Or should the team wait to ensure McCann is ready before Estrada is traded away?

Bill Shanks has a new book out on baseball scouting and player development called "Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team." Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.


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