22. Is Yunel Escobar trade bait?

Is a trade with Yunel Escobar inevitable? Here's a look at what might happen at shortstop.

It's very easy, with all the trade rumors since the end of the season, to assume the Braves just want to trade Yunel Escobar. But that's truly the farthest from the truth.

Back in August, when the Braves were unofficially out of the race, it was easy to see what the needs of the team would be this winter. The Braves would need a couple of starting pitchers and a power hitting outfielder. To make those types of moves, you have to have significant value to offer up in return.

And that's why Escobar's name keeps coming up.

The Braves just don't have a ton to trade in a significant move. They've already placed their top prospects off limits, which already makes it difficult to deal. Then you look at the major league roster. Chipper Jones, the batting champ, isn't going anywhere. Brian McCann is untouchable. So that once again leads you to Yunel Escobar.

He's an inexpensive young player who is controllable for the next four seasons. Escobar has All Star and Gold Glove potential as a great defensive player and an exciting offensive performer.

So then, why would the Braves want to trade him?

Well again, he's the most marketable of their position players to get something done. With the discussions about Jake Peavy, the Padres wanted to make a change at shortstop and Escobar was the perfect fit. And even now that those discussions have been put on hold, Escobar is still probably the player the Braves will have to use to get something done.

Escobar has move value than second baseman Kelly Johnson, who is going to be more expensive heading into his first year of arbitration. And shortstop is just more of a premium position than second base. Johnson may still get traded, but Escobar is probably going to be the price in the bigger trade of the offseason.

Those that argue against trading Escobar say the biggest problem is the Braves lack of quality internal replacements. Brent Lillibridge could probably hold his own defensively as the starter at shortstop, but there are questions about his offense. And Brandon Hicks, the top shortstop prospect in the organization, is probably a year or more away from being ready to be an option.

But there are a number of players available this winter at that shortstop position through free agency and trades. Two of the biggest names are former Braves - Rafael Furcal and Edgar Renteria. Both would probably be welcomed back and would probably love to come back. But the Braves would have to trade Escobar first before signing one of those veteran players.

If the Braves do trade Escobar, they won't only have to find a replacement for him at shortstop, but at the top of the order as well. That's why Furcal is very tempting. He could give the team the speed it has lacked since he left three years ago.

Escobar had a very solid first full season in the big leagues. He's going to have a great career and be a star for many years. But the Braves just need to use his value to get what they need. It's a pivotal offseason for this organization, and Escobar just looks like the price they'll have to pay to get some major things done.

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show, The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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