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Braves have Gattis to fill void left by McCann

Club encouraged by slugger's rookie season, has depth with prospect Bethancourt

ATLANTA -- Over the course of the past week, the Braves have officially bid adieu to Tim Hudson and Brian McCann -- the only two players who helped the club win both this year's National League East title and the last of 14 consecutive division titles back in 2005.

So one year after seeing Chipper Jones enter retirement with the pride of spending all of his 19 big league seasons with one organization, the Braves now find Kris Medlen having a longer tenure in Atlanta than any of their other players.

Medlen's tenure dates all the way back to May 21, 2009. For those of you keeping score, the Braves have played a grand total of 771 games since he made his big league debut.

This is not an exactly earth-shattering development in an era where players change zip codes with great regularity. But there is certainly reason for a sense of oddity to be felt amongst Braves fans, who had the pleasure of seeing both Jones and John Smoltz stick around for nearly two full decades.

Still, Braves general manager Frank Wren entered this offseason with the understanding that there was a strong chance that both Hudson and McCann could bolt via free agency.

Before he signed with the Giants, Hudson stood as a logical option to satisfy the Braves' wish to put a veteran starting pitcher in their young rotation. But the idea of bringing the 38-year-old veteran pitcher back became much more illogical once it was learned he was lured to San Francisco with a two-year, $23 million offer.

McCann's decision to agree to terms with the Yankees on a five-year, $85 million contract really did not affect Wren's offseason shopping list. Sure, there was some thought that the seven-time All-Star catcher might end up with the Rangers or the Red Sox.

But for more than a year, thoughts of McCann returning to the Braves were generated only by the most loyal of his fans, who chose to ignore the demand he would receive, especially from American League clubs that can keep him fresher for a longer period by utilizing him as a designated hitter and catcher.

McCann's contract, which includes a vesting option that could increase the value to $100 million, could become official after he takes his physical on Tuesday. The Yankees will likely wait until next week to formally introduce him during a news conference.

It will not be easy for the Braves to compensate for all that they received from McCann, who earned seven All-Star selections and won five Silver Slugger Awards since becoming Atlanta's starting catcher in 2006. Javy Lopez was the only catcher in franchise history to hit more home runs and compile a higher slugging percentage than McCann.

While McCann has always been best recognized for his offensive contributions, the Braves are also losing a catcher who has developed a strong understanding of how to guide the club's young pitchers through games.

But as McCann missed this past season's first six weeks recovering from shoulder surgery, Evan Gattis provided indication that he is prepared for his likely assignment to begin next year as Atlanta's starting catcher.

Gattis batted .243 with 21 home runs and a .771 OPS in the 382 plate appearances he compiled while playing the first 105 games of his career this season. At the same time, he at least lessened concerns about his defensive ability behind the plate.

The Braves were also encouraged with Gattis' willingness to put in the extra time needed to study scouting reports and game plans. As the season progressed, many of the pitchers complimented his game-calling skills.

While it appears the Braves will enter next year with Gattis as their starting catcher and Gerald Laird as his backup, there is certainly reason to keep an eye on the development of Christian Bethancourt, who showed some offensive promise while playing for Double-A Mississippi this year.

Blessed with a rocket arm and athleticism, Bethancourt, the Braves' No. 3 overall prospect, appears to be ready to play at the Major League level from a defensive standpoint. The 22-year-old catcher was given a chance to at least get a taste of the big leagues while spending the final two weeks of this past season on Atlanta's expanded roster.

Questions surrounding Bethancourt's future have always focused on the discipline he has shown at the plate. He has drawn just 80 walks and compiled a .299 on-base percentage in the 1,828 plate appearances he has collected during his Minor League career.

Bethancourt continued this trend in 2013, as he hit .251 and produced a .286 on-base percentage in the first 51 games he played. But the 22-year-old catcher showed some improvement, as he batted .307 and compiled a .329 on-base percentage over his final 39 contests.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for

Atlanta Braves, Christian Bethancourt, Evan Gattis, Brian McCann