The Daily Prospectus: Strange Days

by Dave Pease


Let's say you're a pitcher of some repute, and you're making mad cash at the front end of a long-term contract. You signed with a mediocre team that plays in a hostile environment as part of Revision 12 of that team's ongoing quest to solve the riddle of their home field. You started off your first year strong, but opposing batters have been teeing off on you for the last 15 months or so, to the tune of:


   IP    H    R   ER  HR   BB   SO   AVG   ERA
260.2  330  208  190  45  129  129  .312  6.57

Out of the blue, a team swoops in with a trade offer. They won't ask you to renegotiate your deal. They play in a more favorable environment for pitchers. Is a "not going to happen" statement even a remote possibility for you here?

If I'm Mike Hampton, I'm pinching myself. I've got pen in hand, ready to tear my no-trade contract to shreds. I'm on the phone with Charles Johnson, telling him how great it is to be a hitter at altitude ("CJ, I'm hitting .315 over the last two years, and I'm a pitcher. I see a .250 average in your future here, bro, and you gotta like that after last year... Little joke there, man.") I'm looking to be the next Darryl Kile story (minus the tragic ending), and I'll play in Akron, Medicine Hat, or even Pro Player Stadium if it makes this deal happen.

Hampton is a famously intense competitor who can't be looking forward to pitching for the Fish in what is shaping up to be a meaningless 2003 season. That's a negative to the deal, but the Rockies aren't going to be much better; unless he's got some reason to believe the Hampton-to-the-Red-Sox or Yankees rumors were anything more than that, there's not much chance of him seeing postseason action in 2003 whether he sticks with the Rockies or not.

If Hampton starts off strong in 2003, there's a chance a contender desperate for pitching help will take him on at the deadline. It wasn't that long ago that Mike Hampton was regarded as one of the best pitchers in the majors--the difficulty his huge contract causes is partially mitigated by the fact that he was good enough to pull down that much money to sign in the first place. Even in 2002, when he was basically awful all season, his name surfaced in rumors with several teams.

But it's hard to believe Hampton's chances of pulling off a strong start to 2003 wouldn't be better in Florida than they will be in Denver. A change of scenery could hardly hurt, pitching home games at sea level probably wouldn't either, and Barry Bonds doesn't play in the NL East. Florida isn't looking to build around Hampton any more than Colorado is at this point, since they're just taking him because they can't get rid of their commitments to Johnson and Preston Wilson without doing so; they'd certainly be happy to move him on to greener pastures if they can.

Hampton has talked to the press about how he wants to make good on his Rockies contract and how he feels like he has unfinished business in Colorado, but if he looks realistically at his performance so far, the best thing he can do for this team is take himself off the payroll. Johnson and Wilson will do the Rockies a lot more good than Hampton, if for no other reason than they aren't signed for as long or as much. The best thing he can do for the team is to pitch like he did in 1999, but since he's presumably been trying to do that and failing for the last two years, the next best thing would be to move on as early in his contract as possible.

After the 2003 World Series is when the situation gets really interesting for Hampton. He's only 30 years old, he's notoriously healthy, and he takes care of himself; if he can make it even part way back to what he was three years ago, he'll be pitching for quite a while. As a veteran player traded in the middle of a multi-year deal, Hampton will be able to demand a trade next offseason. If he pitches well, there'll be some interest; if he doesn't, he can bite the bullet and rescind the trade demand a la Rick Reed, or he can void his contract and get whatever he can from a team he really wants to play for.

Either way, waiving the no-trade clause and booking the first flight to Florida puts Mike Hampton squarely in control--control he hasn't had over anything baseball-related for a long time now.

Dave Pease is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.


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