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10/31/11 1:00 PM ET

Braves pick up option on Hinske, not McLouth

Veteran pinch-hitter returning; outfielder's Atlanta tenure ends

ATLANTA -- The Braves have officially bid adieu to Nate McLouth and announced Eric Hinske will return to Atlanta for at least one more season.

Making the first of many decisions that will shape what could be an interesting offseason, the Braves announced Monday that they have exercised Hinske's $1.5 million option for the 2012 season. The club also ended McLouth's disappointing tenure in Atlanta by declining his $10.65 million option. He had a $1.5 million buyout clause.

There really was not a lot of suspense regarding Hinske, who has provided a strong veteran presence to the Braves' bench and clubhouse the past two seasons. The 34-year-old veteran utility man batted .233 with 10 homers and a .403 slugging percentage in 236 at-bats this past season. His 10 homers ranked third among all National League players with fewer than 240 at-bats.

Hinske was a valuable weapon off the bench in 2010, when he batted .298 (14-for-47) as a pinch-hitter. But he batted just .191 in 56 pinch-hit at-bats this past season.

With the return of Hinske, the Braves have provided a clearer picture of how their bench might look entering the 2012 season. The veteran will once again be able to occasionally spell first baseman Freddie Freeman and also play either corner outfield position when necessary.

Atlanta's bench will almost definitely include Hinske, Matt Diaz and backup catcher David Ross. As general manager Frank Wren approaches this offseason, he'll be looking to find a backup outfielder and a utility infielder who might also be able to play center field. This search will provide a better understanding about whether Brooks Conrad will begin the season with the Major League club.

When the Braves acquired McLouth from the Pirates on June 5, 2009, they thought they were gaining an All-Star talent who might stick around for more than just a few seasons. Instead, they gained an oft-injured, underperforming outfielder. McLouth batted .229 with a .699 OPS in 250 games with Atlanta.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.