Rockies manage to unload Hampton

By Jim Callis
November 16, 2002

Accomplishing something thought to be nearly impossible, the Rockies shed the remaining six years and $84.5 million on Mike Hampton’s contract on Saturday. Even more shocking, the belt-tightening Marlins are Hampton’s destination—though certainly not for long. The deal makes little sense unless Florida plans to turn around and send Hampton to a third club. For now, it stands as a two-team transaction, with the Marlins also receiving Juan Pierre in exchange for Preston Wilson, Charles Johnson, Vic Darensbourg and Pablo Ozuna.

This trade was all about money, so let’s break the contracts down first. Pierre is due $6.6 million over the next three seasons, plus undisclosed incentives. The Rockies will pick up Hampton’s $11 million salary for 2003 and his $19 million deferred signing bonus. So by trading Hampton and Pierre, they rid themselves of $80.1 million in salary obligations.

Wilson ($27.5 million over three years), Johnson ($25 million over three) and Darensbourg ($1.1 million for 2003, and at least a $200,000 buyout for 2004) were committed a guaranteed total of $53.8 million. Wilson ($500,000) and Johnson ($1 million) also will get trade bonuses, though it’s unclear who will pay those. For now, the Rockies have shifted $26.3 million in salaries to the Marlins. As mentioned earlier, it makes absolutely no sense for Florida to add that much to its payroll, so Hampton shouldn’t start house-hunting in his home state. The Associated Press was reporting Saturday night that the Marlins were trying to complete a deal to send Hampton to the Braves.

November 17 update: Baseball America columnist Mike Berardino reports in Sunday’s editions of the Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) that Florida indeed will trade Hampton to Atlanta for Tim Spooneybarger and a mid-level prospect. That trade could be officially announced later on Sunday. Berardino also reports that Hampton personally paid for Johnson’s $1 million relocation bonus, and that the Marlins will assume $38 million of Hampton’s remaining $84.5 million salary. That means Colorado has saved $26.3 million, Florida has trimmed $9.2 million and Atlanta gets six years of Hampton for $35.5 million. Later on Sunday, it was revealed that the minor leaguer is Double-A righthander Ryan Baker. For a more detailed analysis of the Braves-Marlins trade, please click here.

November 19 update: Berardino reports that commissioner Bud Selig forced a financial restructuring of the deal because he didn’t like the fact that Florida’s $38 million obligation to Atlanta for Hampton’s contract was backloaded to 2006-08. The Braves now are on the hook for $48.5 for six years of Hampton, with the Marlins paying $23.5 million of his 2003-05 salaries and the Rockies contributing $6.5 million over the same period. Colorado also paid $6 million to buy out Hampton’s $20 million option for 2009. Thus the overall savings is $24.8 million for the Rockies and $23.7 million for the Marlins. However, when interest is figured, the amounts aren’t much different from the calculations above, and Florida also has lost payroll flexibility over the next three seasons.

Hampton, a 30-year-old lefthander who has made two National League all-star teams, completely collapsed after signing an eight-year, $121 million contract with the Rockies in December 2000—and he can’t completely blame Coors Field. Hampton went 21-28, 5.75 in two years with Colorado, but his ERA on the road (5.77) was higher than it was in Denver (5.73). He completely lost his confidence, and his combination of sinker, cut fastball and changeup no longer fooled hitters. Hampton, who went 7-15, 6.15 in 2002, has a career 106-81, 3.98 record in the major leagues.

The value of the 25-year-old Pierre can be summed up in one word: speed. He can steal bases and cover a lot of ground in center field. But he also has no pop and doesn’t draw walks, which severely limits him offensively, and he also has a below-average arm. Pierre hit .287-1-35 with 47 steals in 152 games this year, raising his big league totals to .308-3-110 with 100 swipes in 359 contests. Away from Coors Field, he has batted .283-3-56 with a .330 on-base percentage in 178 games.

Wilson, 28, has the most present value of any of the players involved in the deal, though he’s probably a tad overrated. He complete his third straight 20-20 season in 2002, hitting .243-20-65 with 20 steals, yet his .758 on-base plus slugging percentage was only slightly higher than the NL’s cumulative .754 OPS for center fielders. His best tools are his raw power and speed, though his approach at the plate and his defense in center field can be erratic. He has hit .262-104-331 with 88 steals in 596 big league games. He’s the stepson of former big league outfielder Mookie Wilson.

Like Hampton, the 31-year-old Johnson is a two-time all-star who’s now a shell of his former self. The first draft pick in Marlins history, he hit .217-6-36 in 83 games this year, and his bat speed and foot speed both rank among the worst in the majors. He still has the strong arm that helped him win four straight Gold Gloves, as he threw out 36 percent of basestealers in 2002. He has batted .248-134-457 in 952 games.

Darensbourg, 32, has been a generally effective lefty reliever but struggled horribly in 2002. He went 1-2, 6.14 in 42 appearances, and has a career 7-15, 5.00 record to show for 271 outings. He’ll show a low-90s fastball and a sharp slider when he’s at his best, but that happened infrequently this season.

Ozuna was one of the game’s top shortstop prospects when the Marlins picked him up when they traded Edgar Renteria to St. Louis in December 1998, but that now seems like a long time ago. He missed all of 2001 with a wrist problem and his age turned out to be four years older than reported. Now 28, he has become a second baseman/outfielder and hit .326-7-33 with 16 steals in 77 games at Triple-A Calgary this year. He can do a little damage with the bat and can run, but he needs better plate discipline. In 48 major league games in 2000 and 2002, he has hit .296-0-3 in 71 at-bats. He’ll join a crowded second-base mix in Colorado that also includes Brent Butler and Jason Romano.