20. Are the Braves happy with Yunel Escobar?

The Braves have one of the best shortstops in baseball. But there's a lot of baggage with Yunel Escobar.

Last November the Atlanta Braves were trying to trade for San Diego pitching ace Jake Peavy. He was an Alabama guy, and for years the Braves heard Peavy wanted to pitch in Atlanta.

But trade talks with the Padres broke down. Peavy wasn't sure, all of a sudden, that he wanted to be a Brave. And the Braves moved in another direction.

The saving grace of the aborted deal was the Braves were able to keep who was involved in the trade discussions. San Diego demanded shortstop Yunel Escobar in any Peavy trade, and the Braves were prepared to part with their young infielder.

So Escobar remained a Brave, and the team worried a bit if the rumors would have an effect on his play. Escobar is prone to occasional brain lapses, so they didn't want the trade talks to be an even bigger factor in 2009.

But there were incidents that were causes for concern. Escobar hurt himself when he was jumping before an at bat. That frustrated the team. Then Bobby Cox benched Escobar after a botched rundown play against the Orioles.

Escobar also reacted negatively to an official scorer giving him an error in a game against the Yankees, screaming from shortstop to the press box. He then played with his hands on his hips instead of being in position for the next few pitches.

Then there was a play when he didn't throw the ball home when a runner was trying to score from second base.

Too many incidents. Too many distractions.

Rumors started to circulate the Braves were ready to trade Escobar. But teams who scouted the Braves saw everything that happened. And teams were reluctant to offer anything substantial in return for a moody, immature player like Escobar.

Cox had seen enough. He summoned the young star to his office. The two talked, with a translator, and ironed out some differences. Escobar is a player who cares tremendously about the game of baseball. He was frustrated with some things going on, and at times believed the team didn't support him enough.

Cox said the right things to Escobar, and in turn the veteran manager had a better understanding of why Escobar had done the things he had done. The two finally got on the same page.

And then Escobar went to work. He hit .356 in July, .309 in August, and tailed off a bit with a .270 average from September 1 until the end of the season. Escobar finished with a .299 batting average, 14 home runs, 76 RBI, and a .377 on base percentage.

There is no denying the tremendous talent Escobar has as a baseball player. But he can be frustrating. There are times when he knows exactly what to do, and then there are times when he has no clue. You take the good with the bad with Escobar. The good can be tremendous, while the bad can leave you shaking your head.

Offensively, Escobar is one of the most productive shortstops in the game. He's arguably behind Hanley Ramirez as an offensive shortstop. And his defense can be outstanding.

But do the Braves want to continue down this rocky and inconsistent road? Well, right now the answer is yes. Escobar is still an inexpensive player. He won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2010 season. So he'll probably only cost around $500,000 for next season.

And the Braves know that Escobar is a valuable player in the lineup. You don't often find a shortstop with the potential to drive in 80 runs, and once the Braves moved him down in the lineup Escobar became a dangerous run producer.

It will be interesting to see where the Braves do place him in the lineup next season. Martin Prado is probably going to be the number-two hitter, which is where Escobar started the year. He would probably be best served as the three hitter, but until the Braves move Chipper Jones down in the order that is not an option.

Escobar is a tremendous talent. He sometimes causes headaches, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. The Braves will count heavily on Escobar to keep his head on straight, follow the rules, and be a productive force on the field if they are to compete for playing time in October.



Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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