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Friday, December 8
Updated: December 10, 7:45 PM ET
Hampton opts for Rockies' huge deal news services

DALLAS -- Mike Hampton is getting baseball's biggest contract. Now he has to avoid what has been routine for his Colorado Rockies' predecessors: one of its highest ERAs.

Fri., Dec. 8
Mike Hampton is an excellent pickup for the Rockies. They were certainly in need of a No. 1-type starter, and that's exactly what they got. You could make a case that Hampton was the best pitcher available, even better than Mike Mussina.

Hampton is only 28, he has a great sinker -- which is essential if you're playing at Coors Field -- but mostly, he's a tough guy mentally. The fact that he'll be playing in a park that is a pitcher's nightmare will bother him a lot less than it has bothered other guys. This is not Darryl Kile. Another plus that should make Hampton better is that he'll be happy with the Denver lifestyle, which is more his speed than New York was.

With Hampton, Denny Neagle and Pedro Astacio, the Rockies are a much better team now than they were at all points last year. And they're not done dealing yet; I don't think they'll get Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez, but they're going to continue to do things to upgrade their outfield. And at least now they know who their No. 1 starter is. Mike Hampton is a pretty nice addition.

The most coveted left-hander on the free-agent market agreed to a $121 million, eight-year deal with the Rockies.

"They were the best by far," Hampton said. "Colorado is our kind of place."

"This was a place I could move my family to without having to take my kid out of school every three months. Colorado was the place for my family."

Sandy Alderson, one of baseball's executive vice presidents, didn't appreciate Hampton's claim.

"Announce the deal," Alderson said. "He's an outstanding pitcher. It's a lot of money. Case closed. I don't want to hear about the Wheat Ridge (Colo.) school system."

Alderson, who ripped the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago for giving Kevin Brown a $105 million, seven-year deal, said it was another instance of a team giving in to a player.

"There is a benefit to saying no from time to time," Alderson said. "It would be nice for baseball to experience that benefit occasionally."'s Jayson Stark reports, citing major-league sources, that the Rockies could soon trade pitcher Pedro Astacio, especially if they sign free-agent pitcher Darren Dreifort. Speculation has Astacio heading to the Indians or the Mets (for hot outfield prospect Alex Escobar).

"We added a horse," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said Saturday at a press conference at the winter meetings in Dallas. "His leadership in the clubhouse will be very important for us in the next eight years."

Hampton, 28, went 15-10 for the New York Mets last season and was MVP of the National League Championship Series. He is the second prominent left-hander to sign with Colorado this week, following Denny Neagle, who agreed Monday to a $51.5 million, five-year deal.

Hampton has a 6.88 career ERA at Coors Field.

"It's a tough place to pitch," O'Dowd admitted. "We didn't come in there and sell Mike Hampton how it was pitcher's heaven."

Hampton agreed.

"There's no doubt it's the toughest place to pitch," he said. "It's a test I look forward to and something that I think will make me a better pitcher in the long run."

All of this has left many baseball people in shock. Following Darryl Kile's disastrous stay in Coors Field -- he went 21-30 with a 5.84 ERA in two seasons with the Rockies -- few thought top pitchers would sign with Colorado again. Kile rebounded to go 20-9 with a 3.91 ERA this year in St. Louis.

"We're different pitchers," said Hampton, Kile's teammate in Houston for four years. "He relies on his good curveball. I think my style might suit it a little better."

Cubs manager Don Baylor, who managed six years in Colorado and whose team was a finalist for Hampton, said adjusting to the environs of Coors Field will be difficult for Hampton.

Baylor was in charge when Kile signed with the Rockies.

"It's a tough place to make pitches," Baylor said. "Hampton is a battler. He wanted to take that challenge. Darryl Kile got away from throwing the breaking ball. Hampton is going to have to put aside his ERA and just concentrate on wins."

Over the last three seasons, the Rockies and their opponents have hit .320 with 700 homers and 3,126 runs in games at Colorado, compared to .257 with 394 homers and 1,920 runs when the Rockies are on the road.

That does not bode well for either Hampton or Neagle. Neagle gave up the most flyballs in baseball last season and Hampton has walked 200 batters over the past two years, meaning their ERAs may inflate as much as their salaries.

In total dollars, the deal surpasses the previous high of $116.5 million, a nine-year contract Ken Griffey Jr. agreed to with the Cincinnati Reds last February. The previous high for a pitcher had been Kevin Brown's $105 million, seven-year contract with Los Angeles.

Highest Contract Packages
Baseball contracts worth $75 million or more. Figures were obtained by the Associated Press from player and management sources and include all guaranteed income but not income from potential incentive bonuses. There is no distinction for money deferred without interest:
Player Club Years Money
Hampton Rockies '01-08 $121M
Griffey Reds '00-08 $116.5M
Brown Dodgers '99-05 $105M
Piazza Mets '99-05 $91M
C. Jones Braves '01-06 $90M
Mussina Yankees '01-06 $88.5M
Williams Yankees '99-05 $87.5M
Green Dodgers '00-05 $84M
Vaughn Angels '99-04 $80M
Martinez Red Sox '98-03 $75M
Walker Rockies '00-05 $75M

The highest total contract in sports is Kevin Garnett's $126 million, six-year deal with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, which averages $21 million. The highest average salary agreed to is $29.5 million, which will be earned by Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers in an $88.5 million, three-year extension that starts with the 2003-04 season. Michael Jordan had two one-year deals with the Bulls that paid him in excess of $30 million.

Hampton's contract, which includes a $20 million team option for 2009 with a $6 million buyout, is the longest for a pitcher since Wayne Garland signed a 10-year deal with Cleveland in 1977.

Hampton's average salary of $15,125,000 becomes the first- or second-highest among pitchers, depending on how Roger Clemens' $30.9 contract million extension with the New York Yankees is evaluated.

Clemens considers it a two-year deal averaging $15.45 million, while the Yankees consider it a three-year contract averaging $10.3 million.

Hampton's deal calls for a $20 million signing bonus, $1 million payable to charity and $19 million deferred without interest until after the contract expires. The remaining money will be paid in 10 yearly installments of $1.9 million, the money accruing 3 percent interest.

Because of the deferred money, Hampton's agent, Mark Rodgers, said its present-day value was about $85 million.

St. Louis had been the other finalist to sign Hampton while Atlanta, Texas, the Chicago Cubs and the New York Mets were also interested.

Mets general manager Steve Phillips said all interested teams offered $100 million or more.

"It didn't come down to the last dollar," Phillips said. "All the clubs were close enough. It came down to other issues, like the chance to win and quality of life for his family."

While Hampton's agent, Mark Rodgers, announced the total at $123.8 million, that figure included $2.8 million in interest that will accrue a decade from now. Neither the commissioner's office nor the players' association includes the interest as part of a contract's value.

Sunday, the Rockies addressed their offense, agreeing to a one-year contract with outfielder Ron Gant that is worth about $1.5 million.

Gant, 35, hit a combined .249 last season for Philadelphia and Anaheim with 26 homers and 54 RBI in 123 games. He is a .384 career hitter at Coors Field, going 33-for-86 with five homers and 14 RBI in 23 games.

Gant joins an outfield that already includes 1997 National League MVP Larry Walker and Todd Hollandsworth.

"He'll be a good fit for our club," manager Buddy Bell said. "We've been looking for a right-handed power bat that can provide more balance to our lineup, and he plays a solid left field." Gant will likely platoon in left field with Hollandsworth.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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