27. What veteran infielders might be a Brave?

Could Julio Lugo be a Brave?

With the potential departure of Rafael Furcal, the Braves may be on the lookout for a veteran middle infielder. Bill Shanks takes a look at a few candidates as BravesCenter continues its look at the top 35 issues the Braves face this winter.

If the Braves do decide to replace Rafael Furcal with Wilson Betemit, there's a solid chance that the team will bring in a veteran infielder to backup up the second-year player. Much like having Julio Franco be with Adam LaRoche, the team might decide to simply have a little insurance should Betemit have trouble adjusting to everyday life in the big leagues.

Since Betemit is a switch-hitter, it might be a little more difficult to place Betemit in a strict platoon, which will be great news for those of us who hope to see him get consistent playing time. But the Braves' history has shown that young players are often supported with a veteran behind them for protection.

Here are some of the infielders on the free agent market that might be considered: Desi Relaford, Jose Valentin, Alex Gonzalez (from the Devil Rays), and Royce Clayton. Valentin and Gonzalez have both spent more time at third base the last few years, but have extensive experience at shortstop. Clayton has been flirting with becoming a reserve for several years now, and he may be hard-pressed to find a full-time job as he approaches his 36th birthday.

Rich Aurilla is an interesting free agent. He spent many years as the Giants' starting shortstop, and for the last few years has bounced around from San Diego, Seattle, and then last season Cincinnati. He can play second, short, and third base, and Aurilla could be acquired for a $1 million dollar salary, or just a bit more. His versatility and experience could be the perfect combination to add to Atlanta's roster.

The Braves could look to bring in a player with a chance to start at shortstop, keeping Betemit in his backup role. Tampa Bay's Julio Lugo has already been mentioned, since the Devil Rays may be interested in Johnny Estrada. Detroit has also been rumored to have interest in the Braves' catcher, and they have several middle infielders that could be available. Carlos Guillen would be a fantastic addition, while Omar Infante is not as productive, but could serve more as a utility player.

Some believe the Astros might make Adam Everett available in a deal, with the emergence of Eric Bruntlett. Houston could use a starting catcher, so you wonder if an Everett-for-Estrada deal could be possible. Everett would be a starter, however, sending Betemit back to the bench.

The first question the Braves must answer is whether or not they want to hand the starting shortstop job to Wilson Betemit. If they are comfortable with that, then they can possibly target a veteran for a backup role. But if they have reservations about Betemit's ability to be an everyday player, then a more able starter may be Furcal's replacement.


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves' front office. You can reach Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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