17. What veteran catchers might be available?

If the Braves do decide to trade Johnny Estrada this winter, they may have to look for a veteran backup to Brian McCann. As Bill Shanks continues his 35-part series on the top questions facing the Braves this winter, he looks at some possibilities.

If the Braves do try to take advantage of Johnny Estrada's trade value and move him over the winter, they will have to go out and acquire a veteran catcher to backup second-year receiver Brian McCann.

The team has had to do this before, when Javy Lopez was the starter. They've brought in Charlie O'Brien, Paul Bako (who is a free agent this winter), Henry Blanco, and have brought back Eddie Perez. General Manager John Schuerholz has usually gone after a defensive-minded backup, which leads you to believe it would be unlikely Brayan Pena would get serious consideration.

The free agent market does have a number of backup catcher-types available this winter that might interest the Braves. One local kid that is interesting is Todd Greene, who was released by the Rockies after hitting 7 homers and driving in 23 in 126 at bats. Greene is from Georgia, and the Braves may want him to come home and join his fellow local kids on the roster.

Todd Pratt has been a fantastic backup catcher for many years with the Mets and then for the last few years with the Phillies. He hit .251 with 7 homers and 23 RBI in 175 at bats last season. Pratt might be a very good addition to the Braves' roster.

You wonder if Brad Ausmus will now settle into a backup role. He could leave the Astros, and it's doubtful they'll want to bring him back as a starter after he hit only .258 with 3 home runs and 47 RBI. Ausmus might find a team that will pay him to start, and if not he still might be a rather expensive backup.

John Flaherty was Randy Johnson's personal catcher in New York last season, but his .165 batting average might scare a few teams off. Einar Diaz (Cardinals), Ken Huckaby (Blue Jays), and Bako are three other backups that are free agents. Sandy Alomar, Benito Santiago, and Charles Johnson are three older veterans that might want one more season.

One backup that might be available through trade is Tom Glavine's favorite opponent, Mike Redmond of the Twins. The former Marlin, who always gave Glavine fits, hit .311 last season with 1 home run and 26 RBI in 147 at bats.

The Braves should be able to find a very decent veteran backup catcher this season for a decent price. They'd probably love to be able to spend less than a million dollars on a backup, much like they did when they signed Eddie Perez two years ago. Anything between the amount he signed for, $600,000, and a million bucks is probably the neighborhood they're looking at.

Remember, catchers handle the most important piece of the Atlanta Braves' puzzle: pitchers. So the catcher that is selected will no doubt have a solid track record at handling pitchers, especially since Bobby Cox uses his backup catcher as a delegated catcher for one member of the rotation. Therefore, this will be one of the most important decisions to be made this winter for the Atlanta Braves.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. Bill can be reached at thebravesshow@email.com.

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