Willis a wildcard the Braves should explore

Did you ever collect baseball cards as a kid? Well, Ryan Chambers did, and he wonders out loud how close trading real players resembles trading his old Kevin Maas card. He examines the prospect of the Braves acquiring Dontrelle Willis.

My father taught me a very valuable lesson at the ripe ole' age of 10. He looked down at me and said, "Son, I don't care what that magazine says, those baseball cards are only worth what that guy at the mall will pay you for them."

I used to collect cards. No, I used to hustle baseball card dealers and small timers, I thought then. I would brag of my swindles to my father and the value I had just scored like it was my job.

Apparently, "the guy in the mall" quit buying anything around 1995. And here I am stuck with a nest egg comprised of couple of Van Poppels and a Kevin Maas.

I bet Larry Beinfest and Jeffrey Loria know what I am talking about.

Beinfest, Florida Marlins general manager, and Loria, the owner, have quite a valuable card in Dontrelle Willis. He's one of those rare cards that gets the thick, glass and screws case.

The Braves have been one of many, for good reason, that have apparently voiced some interest, unofficially, in what is likely to become a flea market for the bright-eyed, personable lefty.

Great arm. Big, room swelling personality and a cheaper-then-you-would-think-for-that-kind-of-talent smile. Whats not to like?

The question here is, what IS his worth? No magazine for this.

Is he worth a Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Is he worth a Yunel Escobar? Maybe both. Maybe more. Maybe not even close.

I don't know, but I can better evaluate the cards we already have. Salty's value would obviously be higher to a Florida with Josh Willingham (more importantly, Josh's bat) in the outfield rather than behind the plate. And you can couple that with the ever-increasing stock in Brian McCann here in Atlanta. Then with a Hanley Ramirez at short, an Escobar (with Elvis Andrus right on his heals) might not hold much value in Teal.

Willis will earn $4.3 million this season and will have two more years of arbitration before the big pay day. And some would say his "mint condition" was questioned with a rough 2006 start, after a 22-10 '05. So whats his value in Atlanta?

Say Hudson, Smoltz and Willis out loud. Now say it again. Sounds good, doesn't it?

Throw in two more years of healthy Mike Hampton (fingers still crossed?) and Kyle Davies. Sounds even better, right?

Who knows whether Willis will stay or go or whether the Braves would even want to pony up in 2007 to keep him if they should acquire him this summer. Heck, we don't even know, 100 percent, whether the Braves will pick up John Smoltz's $8 million option this winter. And we don't need a magazine to total that value.

If you are in the belief that you can never have enough pitching, this maybe a no-brainer. If you think the logjam it would create for youngsters like Chuck James would be too costly, maybe you say 'No Deal.'

All I know is that the Marlins organization is in limbo right now. They might just want to sell high before they are stuck with that "cool Bo Jackson in pads with the bat across his shoulders" card.

I've still got a couple of those, too.

Ryan Chambers currently produces and co-hosts The Hometown Sports Show on 105.5 The Fan, an ESPN Radio affiliate in Macon, Ga. Ryan, a former spring training bat boy and lifelong Braves fan, also handles play-by-play duties for The Fan and covers high school sports for Today's MGT, Macon's NBC affiliate. He also covers Georgia Southern University football from the sidelines for the GSU Radio Network. Email Ryan at ryan@1055thefan.com

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