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Braves pick up options on McCann, Hudson, Maholm

Rather than buy out his contract for $1M, the Braves opted to give struggling catcher Brian McCann one more year to prove he's still got it by picking up his $12M contract Tuesday.

Rather than buy out his contract for $1M, the Braves opted to give struggling catcher Brian McCann one more year to prove he's still got it by picking up his $12M contract Tuesday.

ATLANTA — Brian McCann, Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm can begin preparing for next season with the confidence that they will indeed be back with the Braves.

The Braves announced Tuesday that they have exercised the contract options on the three for the 2013 season.

Though it has long been assumed that Hudson and Maholm would return, there was at least some reason to wonder about McCann, who could miss the first month of next season while recovering from a surgical procedure performed on his right shoulder two weeks ago.

Even with the possibility that McCann could be sidelined for all of April, the Braves opted to exercise the six-time All-Star catcher’s $12 million option. Hudson’s option was worth $9 million, and Maholm’s was worth $6.5 million.

McCann, a six-time All-Star, will earn $12 million next season instead of receiving a $500,000 buyout. McCann had surgery after the season to repair the labrum in his right shoulder that could force him to miss the start of the season. He is expected to return to light baseball activities in about four months and could receive full clearance in April.

McCann hit a career-low .230 with 20 homers.

The 37-year-old Hudson will earn $9 million instead of getting a $1 million buyout. He was 16-7 with a 3.62 ERA.

Maholm, 30, will earn $6.5 million rather than receiving a $500,000 buyout. Atlanta acquired Maholm from the Chicago Cubs on July 30, and the left-hander finished the season with a 13-11 record with a 3.67 ERA.

McCann certainly did not look like himself as he hit .230 with 20 home runs and a .698 OPS this past season. Still, the Braves certainly took notice of the fact that he was able to produce that much power while being limited by constant discomfort in his shoulder.

With a thin free-agent market for catchers, there is at least a remote possibility that the Braves could attempt to trade McCann over the course of the next few months, but it is much more likely that the 28-year-old will be back in Atlanta.

Even before McCann struggled, there was a belief that highly regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt would be Atlanta’s starting catcher by the start of the 2014 season.

If McCann enjoys a bounceback season next year, he could enter next year’s free-agent market as one of the top available catchers. Given that he will be 30 by the start of the 2014 season, his greatest value could be with an American League club that could use him both as a catcher and designated hitter.

Whatever the case, McCann certainly has plenty of reason to be motivated next year as he winds up what would likely be the last significant contract of his career. Before returning from an oblique strain too soon in 2011, his career statistics included a .291 batting average with a .361 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage.

Hudson would like to end his career in Atlanta, and the Braves would not be opposed to granting him this wish. But his long-term future with the club will be influenced by how he pitches next year. Given that he will turn 38 in July, there is some hesitancy to give him a multiyear deal.

There were times this year when Hudson appeared quite capable of serving as a top-of-the-rotation starter. But on the way to compiling a 3.62 ERA — his highest since producing a 4.86 ERA during his career-worst 2006 season — he was routinely victimized by big innings.

Hudson allowed four runs or more in an inning in eight of his 28 starts. He allowed that many in an inning in just two of the 33 starts he made in 2011.

Within those eight rough innings, he allowed a total of 34 runs, or 44 percent of the 77 he allowed over the course of the 179 innings he pitched this year.

Hudson will be joined in the rotation by Maholm, who went 4-5 with a 3.54 ERA in the 11 starts he made after the Braves acquired him from the Cubs on July 30. The 30-year-old left-hander posted a 1.19 ERA in the nine starts he made from June 29 to Aug. 15.