Braves give Thomson two-year deal

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves needed less than two days to
find a replacement for longtime ace Greg Maddux, deciding on
journeyman John Thomson.

Thomson, who agreed Tuesday to a $7 million, two-year contract,
was 13-14 with a 4.85 ERA last season with the Texas Rangers,
establishing career highs in wins, starts (35), innings (217),
strikeouts (136) and complete games (three). In his final 18
starts, he was 9-5 with a 3.89 ERA.

Now, the right-hander gets a chance to work with manager Bobby
Cox and pitching coach Leo Mazzone.

"I look forward to contributing to a team that always seems to
contend," Thomson said. "I've heard nothing but good things about
Bobby and Leo."

Thomson gets a $1 million signing bonus and salaries of $1.75
million next year and $3.75 million in 2005. The team holds a $4.75
million option for 2006 with a $500,000 buyout.

He's expected to join a rotation with Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton
and Horacio Ramirez, with Trey Hodges and Jason Marquis competing
for the final spot until Paul Byrd recovers from elbow surgery.

Last season, Hampton rejuvenated his career with the Braves,
finishing 14-8 with a 3.84 ERA and helping them to their 12th
straight division title. He went a combined 21-28 with a 5.75 ERA
the previous two years in Colorado, and Atlanta general manager
John Schuerholz thinks Thomson can have similar success.

"Our scouts believe that he is really ready to sort of blossom,
to really go forward and have some real good years," Schuerholz
said. "I spoke with a couple of GMs after the signing and they
were very complimentary about what they saw in him last year."

The Rangers offered Thomson arbitration, so they'll receive an
amateur draft pick as compensation.

"John's signing with another team was not unexpected and we
were prepared for this," Texas general manager John Hart said.
"We made what we considered a strong proposal and as free agency
implies, John had a choice to make and he decided to play for the

Maddux went 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA during his 11-year stint in
Atlanta, but the Braves cut off negotiations with the free agent
early in the process. He wasn't offered arbitration.

"I can't get upset with the Braves," Maddux was quoted as saying in
Tuesday's editions of the Las Vegas Sun. "They gave me 11 great
years of baseball, paying me as well as anyone will pay me. I had a
chance to play for the best manager in baseball for 11 years, too.

"I don't think there are many players or people who could enjoy
playing or working for their boss like I did. I was privileged to
play for Bobby Cox as long as I did."

Atlanta is expected to cut its payroll by at least $20 million
next season, putting its record run of division titles in jeopardy.

"We lost some important, key players in that last couple of
days," Schuerholz said. "To be able to recover in an area as
important as starting pitching, with a guy of this caliber, is a
real good first step in this major restructuring that we're looking
at this winter.

"To get this in place with a guy we really like is very