Helton extends deal, defers money

TUCSON, Ariz. -- First baseman Todd Helton and the Colorado Rockies agreed Thursday to a $9.9 million, two-year contract extension through the 2013 season.

The first baseman is earning $16.6 million this year, and he agreed to defer $13 million of his $19.1 million salary in 2011 over a 10-year period beginning in 2014.

"It does take some pressure off me being labeled as the guy making that much money at 38 years old," Helton said. "You can try not to look at it that way, but it's the truth."

Colorado had a $23 million option for 2012 with a $4.6 million buyout as part of the $141.5 million, nine-year contract that began with the 2003 season.

Instead, he will make $10.7 million in salary and signing bonus next year, not including the deferred money, and then will receive $4.9 million in 2012 and $5 million in 2013.

"We reached out for Todd in the winter time and had quiet discussions," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "He understood what we were trying to do and wanted to retire as a Rockie."

Helton was slowed by back problems in 2008 and had back surgery that September. He returned last year to hit .325 in 151 games with 38 doubles, 15 home runs, 86 RBIs and a .416 on-base percentage.

"We think he can be a very productive player for the next years," O'Dowd said. "Maybe beyond that, who knows? We just didn't want this thing to get into the last year of his contract."

Colorado selected Helton in the first round of the 1995 amateur draft. He played left field in his major league debut with the Rockies on Aug. 2, 1997, and has spent his entire career with them.

"It's really hard in this day and age to have a player start his career and end his career in the same uniform," O'Dowd said. "We really wanted that to happen. We look at Todd the same way you look at a Cal Ripken or a Kirby Puckett or a Tony Gwynn or a George Brett. That's Todd Helton to us. He falls in that same category. We think he's a Hall of Fame player, certainly a Hall of Fame player for us."

Helton is one of five players in history with a .325 career batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .565 slugging percentage, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams and Albert Pujols.

Colorado reduced its cash burden significantly for next year.

Pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, who turns 29 on April 5, is making $5.6 million and can be a free after this season. In 2011, the Rockies hold a $7 million club on pitcher Jeff Francis and a $10 million option with a $500,000 buyout on right fielder Brad Hawpe.

"This certainly gives us some flexibility at the end of the year to make some decisions with some players that are entering their last years with us that we'd like to hold onto," O'Dowd said.

Helton, scheduled for his spring training debut Sunday, was first approached about the extension by co-owner Dick Monfort and president Keli McGregor in early December after working out at Coors Field.

"Once they threw it out there, I wasn't not going to sign it," Helton said. "I think the biggest thing is finishing my career as a Rockie, not having to go out and play two more years somewhere that I don't know anything about. I know what we have here, and it's a good thing, and I'm excited about it. It's going to give them the freedom to keep this team intact."