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Braves give C Gattis everyday gig

The Sports Xchange

MLB Team Report - Atlanta Braves - INSIDE PITCH

Brian McCann was a seven-time National League All-Star, but the Atlanta Braves insist they are in good shape behind the plate despite the catcher’s departure to the New York Yankees.

General manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez reiterated at the winter meetings that Evan Gattis will be the everyday catcher next season, with veteran Gerald Laird as his primary backup.

Gonzalez made a call to Gattis in early December to inform him of the pecking order.

“Evan is one of those guys that likes to be goal-oriented and wants to be told what his role is going to be,” the manager said. “We had a nice conversation, and he’s getting ready to be our catcher.”

Gattis, who had once given up baseball, slugged 21 homers and drove in 65 runs in 105 games last season as a 27-year-old rookie while regularly playing out of position in left field.

The Braves hope that he can maintain that kind of offensive production while continuing to get better defensively at his natural spot.

“Our pitchers liked throwing to Gattis, so we felt good about that,” Gonzalez said.

With Gattis in need of a spot and top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt in the pipeline, the Braves made little effort to retain McCann, who received a five-year $85 million deal from the Yankees.

The Braves will miss McCann’s hard-nosed attitude and clubhouse presence, as well as his left-handed bat in a lineup that is now righty dominant.

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MLB Team Report - Atlanta Braves - NOTES, QUOTES

—RHP Gavin Floyd and the Atlanta Braves agreed on a one-year contract worth $4 million, multiple media outlets reported Dec. 16. ESPN.com reported that Floyd could also receive up to an additional $4.5 million in incentives.

Floyd will be returning from Tommy John surgery and is not expected to be ready until May at the earliest.

The 30-year-old veteran made just five starts for the Chicago White Sox before undergoing surgery on May 6. Because both the tendon and ligament were repaired, there is a chance Floyd could need more than the 12-month rehab that starting pitchers often do after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Floyd has a career 70-70 record and 4.48 ERA over 10 seasons with the White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.

—RF Jason Heyward will go into next season as the Braves’ leadoff hitter, manager Fredi Gonzalez said during the Winter Meetings. Heyward hit .345 with a 1.005 OPS in the 23 games he played between the time he moved into the role on July 27 and fractured his jaw on Aug. 21.

—RHP Jordan Walden and the Braves avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $1.49 million salary for 2014. Walden, who made $541,000 in 2013, had shoulder and groin issues last season, but was dominant when healthy. He appeared in 50 games out of the bullpen, going 4-3 with a 3.45 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 47 innings.

—LHP Jonny Venters accepted a $1.62 million contract for 2014, avoiding arbitration by taking the same salary he had for 2013. He missed all of last season because of elbow problems, undergoing the second Tommy John surgery of his career in May. The Braves hope that Venters, who appeared in 230 games from 2010-12 will be ready to pitch early next season.

—INF Ramiro Pena, who missed the final three months of last season after shoulder surgery, is expected to be 100 percent by spring training. The switch-hitter batted .278 in 50 games before being injured and gives the Braves valuable protection at three infield spots. He avoided arbitration by signing a 2014 contract with a raise from the $550,000 he made in 2013.

—2B Tommy La Stella will get a long look in spring training after a breakout 2013 in Double-A and the Arizona Fall League. La Stella, who will be 25 going into next season, was selected to the AFL all-prospect team after posting a .290/.436/.468 slash line in 18 games. The left-handed hitter had 16 walks to one strikeout.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We like our team. We’re going to be young again, and we like the mix of our team. There’s a couple or three areas that we would like to fortify and improve and add depth, but if spring training were starting tomorrow, we would like our team and feel like we would do well. But there’s always room to improve.” — Braves GM Frank Wren.

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MLB Team Report - Atlanta Braves - ROSTER REPORT

The Braves went on a 10-game winning streak early in April and led the National League East for all except one day in 2013. It won’t likely be as easy next season, with the Washington Nationals expected to bounce back from a disappointing season. The Braves, though, should go into next season as the favorite to repeat thanks to their young nucleus.

BIGGEST NEEDS: With four seasons left on his $75.25 million contract, CF B.J. Upton must bounce back or the Braves will be in a bind next year and in the future. He hit just .184 and was a mess at the plate the entire season. He didn’t seem to deal well with added attention, got into bad habits trying to match brother Justin Upton’s hot start and then completely lost his confidence. The lineup should be strong if he bounces back and the pitching staff needs just a few tweaks with a return to health of Brandon Beachy and some others.

ARRIVAL: RHP Gavin Floyd (free agent from White Sox)

DEPARTURES: RHP Tim Hudson (free agent, signed with Giants), C Brian McCann (free agent, signed with Yankees)

FREE AGENTS: LHP Eric O’Flaherty, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Freddy Garcia, LHP Scott Downs, RHP Luis Ayala, RHP Kameron Loe, OF Reed Johnson, INF Elliot Johnson, INF Paul Janish, RHP Cristhian Martinez

Maholm and Downs are not expected to return, but the Braves could retain O’Flaherty, who is coming off an injury. The Braves declined Reed Johnson’s $1.6 million option.

ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: 1B Freddie Freeman, RHP Craig Kimbrel, OF Jason Heyward, RHP Kris Medlen, 3B Chris Johnson, RHP Brandon Beachy, OF Jordan Schafer, LHP Mike Minor

The Braves’ payroll likely won’t go down next season as Freeman and Kimbrel get the money they deserve in their first year of arbitration. Johnson will also get a big raise and the Braves may try to lock up Heyward and Medlen to long-term deals.

IN LIMBO: The Braves would love to get out from under the more than $26 million owed the next two seasons to 2B Dan Uggla, who didn’t even make the postseason roster after a dismal season in which he batted .179 — the lowest of all major league regulars. Uggla did hit 22 homers and some team might be willing to take him, but the Braves would likely have to continue paying the vast majority of his contract. The Braves were able to dump RHP Derek Lowe a couple of years ago, but he had just one season left on his deal.

MEDICAL WATCH:

—RHP Brandon Beachy (arthroscopic right elbow surgery in September 2013) should to ready to pitch by spring training after having floating bodies and spurs removed.

—INF Tyler Pastornicky (left knee surgery in August 2013) had a torn anterior cruciate ligament repaired. He might not be 100 percent at spring training.

—INF Ramiro Pena (right shoulder surgery in June 2013) had a torn labrum repaired. He should be ready by spring training.

—LHP Jonny Venters (Tommy John surgery in May 2013) began light tossing in September. He is expected to pitch at some point in spring training, and he could begin a minor league rehab assignment in April.

—RHP Gavin Floyd (Tommy John surgery in May 2013) hopes to make his Braves debut in May.

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