Brian McCann and Tim Hudson will be back with the Braves next after having their contract options picked up Tuesday.
The Braves exercised 2013 options on McCann ($12 million), Hudson ($9 million) and pitcher Paul Maholm ($6.5 million) one day before a deadline to do so or make them free agents.
None of the moves was surprising, although there had been some speculation McCann’s option might be declined after the former six-time All-Star had shoulder surgery Oct. 16. He’s expected to require six months of rehab and could miss much of the opening month of the season.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said when team officials went over it, the decisions weren’t difficult.
“There was very little discussion,” he said. “All three guys are important parts of our club.”
McCann, 28, was the only Brave to make the All-Star team in each of his first six full seasons, and was a five-time Silver Slugger winner as the National League’s best-hitting catcher before 2012, when he struggled to a .230 average, .300 on-base percentage and .399 slugging percentage, far below his previous career slash line of .286/.358/.486.
His 20 homers were his fewest since a career-low 18 in 2007, and his 14 doubles, 67 RBIs, 121 games and 487 at-bats were personal lows. McCann is expected to make a full recovery from surgery for a torn labrum that hindered his swing, and Wren said the hope is he might miss only the first couple of weeks of the season.
“We’ll know more in spring training,” he said. “We’re still probably looking at early april before doctors will turn him loose.”
He said until McCann returns, the Braves could fill the void from within. The Braves are expected to re-sign veteran backup David Ross, and Wren mentioned veteran minor leaguer J.C. Boscan and prospects Christian Bethancourt and Evan Gattis as other possibilities until McCann returns.
None of the moves was surprising, although there had been some speculation that McCann’s option could be declined after the former six-time All-Star had shoulder surgery Oct. 16. He’s expected to require six months of rehab and miss at least the first 2-3 weeks of the season.
McCann, 28, was the only Brave to make the All-Star team in each of his first six full seasons, and was a five-time Silver Slugger winner as the National League’s best-hitting catcher before 2012, when he struggled to a .230 average, .300 on-base percentage and .399 slugging percentage. Those were far below his previous career slash line of .286/.358/.486.
His 20 homers also were his fewest in a season since a career-low 18 in 2007, and his 14 doubles, 67 RBIs, 121 games and 487 at-bats were personal lows. McCann is expected to make a full recovery from surgery to repair a torn labrum that hindered his swing for much of the season.
Hudson, 37, has spent eight seasons with the Braves since the former 20-game winner was traded from Oakland. Despite missing most of the first month of the 2012 season recovering from lumbar-fusion (back) surgery, the right-hander led the Braves in wins while going 16-7 with a 3.62 ERA.
It was Hudson’s seventh season in his career with at least 16 wins, and his 179-1/3 innings pitched were one-third of an inning behind team leader Mike Minor.
Maholm, 30, was 13-11 with a 3.67 ERA with the Cubs and Braves. The left-hander was traded along with outfielder Reed Johnson to Atlanta in exchange for minor league pitcher Jaye Chapman and hard-throwing prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who missed the season recovering from ligament-transplant elbow surgery.
After going 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA and .210 opponents’ average in his last seven games (six starts) for the Cubs, Maholm went 4-5 with a 3.54 ERA and .241 opponents’ average in 11 starts for the Braves. He received 2.75 support runs per nine innings pitched with the Braves, who scored one or no runs while he was in the game in six of his final eight starts.
Maholm had ERAs of 1.23 in July, 2.45 in August, 5.40 in September, and 2.57 in October (one start).
Hudson and Maholm will likely be joined in the starting rotation by Kris Medlen and Minor. That could leave Tommy Hanson to compete with prospects Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado for the final spot, or the Braves could include a pitcher in a trade package to fill one of their two big needs this winter.
Brandon Beachy, the major league ERA leader early in 2012 before blowing out his elbow, is expected to return sometime around the All-Star break.
The Braves need a center fielder/leadoff man to replace free agent Michael Bourn if Bourn is too expensive to re-sign. They also need either a left fielder or third baseman after Chipper Jones retired. Martin Prado could move from left field to third in 2013 if the Braves find it easier to acquire a left fielder than a third baseman.
Wren said the Braves prefer to add right-handed hitters to their left-leaning lineup, but added that “a lot of smart people have said, ‘I’d rather have a really good left-handed hitter rather than just an average right-handed hitter.’”
With the $27.5 million committed to McCann, Hudson and Maholm added to the salaries of returners including Dan Uggla ($13 million), plus arbitration-eligibles, a couple of lesser-priced free agents for the bench or bullpen, and near-minimum salaries for non-arb players, it could leave the Braves with approximately $25 million to fill their two priority needs.
That’s if the payroll increases slightly to about $95 million.
Hudson’s ERA climbed from 2.83 in 2010 to 3.22 in 2011 and to 3.62 this past season, but the sinkerballer again ranked among major league leaders in percentage of groundballs, and his .361 opponents’ slugging percentage tied for third in the NL with San Francisco’s Matt Cain and Pittsburgh’s A.J. Burnett, trailing only the Nationals’ Gio Gonzalez and the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
He missed a start in June for a bone spur in his left ankle, and at the time Hudson believed the condition would require surgery in the offseason. But after having a cortisone injection and reducing his in-season running program for a few weeks, he had only mild discomfort the rest of the way and didn’t plan any surgery for this winter.
McCann, after hitting a career-high nine homers in July, slumped again when his right shoulder began to ache more severely. He had an MRI exam in early August that showed what was diagnosed as a frayed labrum and cyst. It hindered McCann not when throwing but hitting, when he got his arms extended on certain swings or when he got out ahead of an off-speed pitch.
When Dr. Xavier Duralde operated he found the labrum tear larger than anticipated, but surgery went well and there is optimism that McCann will recover fully.
The Braves are also expected to re-sign veteran backup catcher David Ross, 35, who has spent four seasons with the Braves and played well in a more extensive role late in the season when McCann struggled with his worsening shoulder. Ross is a free agent and has expressed his desire to return to Atlanta.
McCann made $11.5 million in 2012 in the final guaranteed year of a six-year, $29.8 million contract he signed during 2007 spring training, after his first full season and well before he became eligible for arbitration. He met or exceeded expectations over the length of the contract until struggling late in the 2011 season, after coming back too quickly from an oblique strain and falling into bad swing habits to protect his side.
The Georgia native, who has spent his entire career with the Braves, struggled with his swing again in the first three months of 2012, which he said was a carry-over effect from his late-season 2011 slump.
After seeing a subtle flaw in his swing during a video session during his struggles, McCann got it ironed out and went on a roll in July despite nagging shoulder pain that had first cropped up early in the season.
He hit .308 with nine homers in an 18-game stretch in July, but the shoulder injury worsened and the joint began more frequently to “bite” him when he swung. McCann hit .201 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 29 strikeouts in 134 at-bats over his final 39 games, and Ross got the start over McCann in the Wild Card Game loss to St. Louis.
McCann could have shut it down when the shoulder pain persisted instead of taking two cortisone injections late in the season and possibly risking further injury, but said that wasn’t something he considered because he wanted to try to help his teammates secure a playoff berth and try to advance.