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Hudson's deal could reach $58 million

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Tim Hudson probably would have gotten
more money by becoming a free agent. He had other things on his
mind, like playing close to home for the team he rooted for as a kid.

Hudson completed a $47 million, four-year contract extension
with the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday, giving up the chance to go
through free agency at the end of the season.

"I knew all along this was the place I wanted to be," said
Hudson, a former 20-game winner. "It was just a matter of getting
together with a fair-enough contract."

Hudson will make $6.75 million this year. His new deal calls for
a $10 million signing bonus, payable when the contract is approved
by the commissioner's office, and salaries of $4 million in 2006,
$6 million in 2007 and $13 million each in 2008 and 2009.

Hudson's extension contains a $12 million mutual option for 2010
with a $1 million buyout. If the option is exercised, the deal
would be worth $58 million over five years.

"We look forward to Tim being the cornerstone for us going into
a new era of excellent Braves pitching," general manager John Schuerholz said.

Hudson was traded from Oakland to Atlanta in December. Hudson
went 12-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 27 starts, but spent a month on the
disabled list with an injury to his left side.

He figures he would have commanded at least $15 million a year
as a free agent, but was willing to settle for less to play for the
Braves.

The 29-year-old right-hander was a Braves fan growing up near
Columbus, Ga. He attended Auburn University and is planning to
build a home in that Alabama town, about a two-hour drive from
Atlanta and already home to his parents.

With two young daughters and another child on the way -- Hudson's
wife is due in April -- the pitcher was willing to sacrifice a few
million dollars to get a deal done with the Braves.

"It's not like $11.5 million [a year] is peanuts," he said.
"Obviously, it's below market value for me. That's fine."

Once the two sides began serious negotiations, things went
smoothly. The main points were agreed on several days ago, leaving
plenty of time to finalize the deal before Hudson's self-imposed
Tuesday deadline to reach an extension.

While still in Oakland, Hudson said he wouldn't discuss a new
contract after March 1 because he didn't want to be distracted
during the season.

"To pitch in front of his family and friends, he's really at a
level of ecstasy I've never seen in a player," said Paul Cohen,
Hudson's Los Angeles-based agent. "When he was in his living room
as a kid, he used to do the tomahawk chop."

Hudson's main demand was four guaranteed years. Generally, the
Braves prefer to give pitchers no more than three years, but
Schuerholz felt comfortable adding on another season for someone of
Hudson's stature -- especially when he agreed to backload $26
million into the final two years, giving them team more flexibility
in the short term.

By signing Hudson, the Braves signaled that the painful process
of cutting payroll has bottomed out. Ordered by corporate owner
Time Warner to slice about $20 million, the team lost Tom Glavine,
Kevin Millwood, Greg Maddux, Gary Sheffield, Vinny Castilla, J.D. Drew, Jaret Wright and Russ Ortiz over the past three offseasons.

"We're sending a message to our organization, our team and our
fans, that's for sure," Schuerholz said.

Atlanta should have one of the best rotations in baseball. John
Smoltz, a former Cy Young winner, is starting again three years as
the closer. The Braves also have John Thomson (14-8), Mike Hampton
(13-9) and promising left-hander Horacio Ramirez.

"The Braves always have their head above water," Thomson said.
"That's pretty impressive with all the players they've had come
through here."

Atlanta has secured the top two spots in its rotation for at
least two more seasons. Smoltz worked out a new $20 million deal
that will keep him with the Braves through at least 2006.

Smoltz, the only player who has been with the team for its
entire run of 13 straight division titles, was ecstatic to hear
about Hudson's contract extension.

"You're talking to a guy who has seen so many guys have to go
for the same reason that Tim Hudson would have had to go -- because
they never got it done before the year was up," Smoltz said.
"This is good."

Hudson, who has a career record of 92-39, became available to
the Braves when the budget-conscious A's decided he wouldn't fit
their budget.

Schuerholz said the Braves aren't concerned that his former
injury -- caused by Hudson's twisting windup -- will become a
recurring problem.

"He has gone through a workout regimen during the offseason to
strengthen that area," the GM said. "He feels great. The trainer
says he hasn't been in the training room all spring."

Now, he's on his way to the bank.