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Tuesday, November 19, 2002
Explaining the Hampton trade

By By Tim Kurkjian

It was a most complicated trade. It involved the Braves, Rockies and Marlins, a pile of money, no-trade clauses, a player to be named later, approval from the commissioner and a tremendous amount of paperwork. "I feel like the club lawyer,'' Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said breathlessly as he tried to finish the deal. Well, it's finally done.

Here's who got what.

The Braves
They got Mike Hampton. They will pay him $2 million in 2003, $2 million in 2004, $1.5 million in '05, $13.5 million in '06, $14.5 million in '07 and $15 million in '08. Now, they have to revive his career at age 30. In two years at Coors Field, he was horrible, he lost his release point, he lost the sink on his fastball, he lost his confidence and he was afraid to throw the ball over the plate. He made so many adjustments, he'd be 1.1 to the plate (that's fast) on one pitch, 1.7 (that's slow) the next.

Mike Hampton
Mike Hampton is relieved to be out of Colorado.

The Rockies learned another valuable lesson: it probably doesn't work to sign a veteran pitcher who's used to seeing his name among the league leaders every year. It really frustrated Hampton when he didn't see his name once he got to Denver. It also happened to Darryl Kile. It will happen again.

There is no reason why Hampton can't find in Atlanta what he lost at Coors. The Braves have restored the careers of several pitchers, most recently, John Burkett. If Hampton can get the ball to sink coming out of his hand, and can throw strikes, he can win 20 games again.

"I'd take a chance on him in a minute,'' said one American League manager. "I'm big on track records, and his is very good. Just get him out of Denver, and he'll be very good.''

The Rockies
Mostly, they rid themselves of Hampton's contract, which, not long ago, seemed un-tradable. That, in itself, is a victory. From the Marlins, the Rockies acquired a young infielder, Pablo Ozuna, left-handed reliever Vic Darensbourg, center fielder Preston Wilson and catcher Charles Johnson. The Wilson and Johnson contracts aren't good -- together they are owed $52 million -- and neither player is particularly good. But Johnson can handle a pitching staff and has good character, and Wilson should hit some home runs at Coors, and has developing character.

Even with the short-term salary the Rockies are taking on, they are saving around $40 million long-term with the unloading of Hampton's contract. Now, if they can trade pitcher Denny Neagle (that won't be easy; they'll have to take on salary for 2003), and can deal right fielder Larry Walker for young talent, they can build around Todd Helton, and they can build long-term without being held down by too many cumbersome contracts.

The Marlins
From Colorado, they got a young center fielder, Juan Pierre, who can hit and can run. From Atlanta, they got a young pitcher, Tim Spooneybarger, who has an above-average fastball and slider, a loose arm and a live body. He has a chance someday to be a top closer. They also got a player to be named later. And they unloaded Wilson and Johnson, who they thought could no longer help, cutting $52 million in salary liability.

In order to get all this, they had to take on $30 million of Hampton's salary. They will pay him $9 million in 2003, $10 million in 2004 and $11 million in 2005. It seems odd to pay someone that much to not pitch for you, but it was the only way to get what they wanted, and get rid of what they didn't want. And it was the only way to get this confusing deal done.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.