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All-Star McCann signs six-year deal with Braves

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Atlanta Braves made a long-term
commitment to Brian McCann, agreeing Thursday to a $26.8 million,
six-year contract with the All-Star catcher.

The deal with McCann, who has less than two years of major
league service, includes a club option for 2013. McCann, just 23,
hit a team-high .333 with 24 homers and 93 RBIs last season.

"This is really a historical and unprecedented kind of
commitment for the Atlanta Braves," general manager John
Schuerholz said.

McCann was born in Athens, Ga., and lives in Duluth, near
Atlanta.

"Atlanta is where I want to play. It's where I grew up,"
McCann said. "Not many people can say that.

"I don't want to be just an average big leaguer," McCann said.
"I want to be a great big leaguer. This contract is just a
steppingstone to where I want to be in the future."

Schuerholz said the contract doesn't set a trend for the team
but is a reflection of McCann's unusual accomplishments so early in
his career.

"He made the All-Star team at a very early age and he's one of
the top catchers in the game today," Schuerholz said. "He made
the All-Star team. He won the Silver Slugger award and the pitchers
love throwing to him. That's as important as anything. He's a
special type guy, so we wanted to do something special."

Braves manager Bobby Cox said McCann's performance justified the
financial commitment.

"You watch him play down here the last year and a half, and why
not?" Cox said. "He's one of the best players in the game right
now."

McCann gets a $1 million signing bonus, $500,000 this year,
$800,000 in 2008, $3.5 million in 2009, $5.5 million in 2010 and
$6.5 million in 2011. He earns $8.5 million in 2012 and can make $3
million more in escalator provisions, but if he fails to win
certain awards, his salary that season becomes a club option.

Atlanta also has a $12 million option for 2013 with a $500,000
buyout. Including the option year, the Braves potentially bought
out two years of possible free agency.

Because of complicated provisions in the contract, McCann likely
would make at least $27.8 million under the deal, with the
possibility of earning up to $29.8 million.

Atlanta, in the process of being sold from Time Warner Inc. to
Liberty Media Corp., faces some big decisions later this year.
Center fielder Andruw Jones and pitcher John Smoltz both are
eligible for free agency after the season.

Schuerholz said the sale of the team, awaiting approval from
baseball owners, was "not at all" a factor in the negotiations
with McCann. Schuerholz said the team first approached McCann about
a longterm contract early in spring training.

The team has other emerging stars, including right fielder Jeff Francoeur. The contract is evidence McCann is viewed as the team's top young player.

"He separated himself by his actions and by his productivity
and by his consistency. It is an exception," Schuerholz said.
"We've never done a contract like this. This kind of thing happens
very rarely. I don't know that it necessarily sets a new tone for
how we're going to operate. If we find somebody we feel as strongly
about as we do Brian McCann, we may consider that."