Commish approves Hampton deal, millions change hands

Posted: Tuesday, November 19, 2002

ATLANTA -- Mike Hampton got his wish to leave Coors Field -- but only after tens of millions of dollars changed hands in a baseball trade that resembled a complex corporate merger.

The money trail goes like this: The Atlanta Braves got Hampton, $30 million to help pay his massive contract and the flexibility to re-sign Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux.

The Colorado Rockies rid themselves of Hampton's contract and will wind up paying $49 million for two dismal seasons. Florida saved about $23 million in salary commitments in a trade that sent catcher Charles Johnson and outfielder Preston Wilson to the Rockies, but the Marlins were weakened on the field.

Commissioner Bud Selig signed off on the three-way deal Monday, approving a record transfer of cash -- $36.5 million -- as Hampton went from Colorado to Atlanta after a brief stopover in Florida.

''We weren't sure if the deal would pass muster,'' Braves general manager John Schuerholz said during a news conference at Turner Field. ''We were plying new ground with this amount of dollars being traded and transferred.''

The Braves were interested in signing Hampton two years ago, but the left-hander took a $121 million, eight-year deal from the Rockies -- a record for a pitcher.

But the 30-year-old Hampton was a bust in Denver's thin air. After a 9-2 start in 2001, he went 12-26 with a 6.62 ERA for the Rockies. This season, he was 7-15 with a 6.15 ERA, the highest in the major leagues among qualifying pitchers.

Now, he's got a fresh start with a team that has 11 straight division championships.

''Being as competitive as he is, he was attracted to the fact that the Braves enjoy being competitive on an annual basis,'' said Hampton's agent, Mark Rodgers.

The Braves obviously feel the last two season were a Coors aberration. Although, his ERA was 6.44 on the road compared to 5.68 at home.

Hampton's best season was 1999, when he went 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA in the pitcher-friendly Astrodome for the Houston Astros.

''Our scouts all say that he's as good as he was before he went to Coors Field,'' Schuerholz said. ''We believe he'll regain some of the pitching excellence he enjoyed before these last two years.''

But the Braves, looking to cut payroll after five straight years of declining attendance, never would have made the trade without significant financial help.

First, the Marlins acquired Hampton, outfielder Juan Pierre and $6.5 million from the Rockies in exchange for Johnson, Wilson, left-handed reliever Vic Darensbourg and second base prospect Pablo Ozuna.

Florida was anxious to dump the contracts of Johnson ($26 million over the next three years) and Wilson (owed $28 million through 2005). But in order to move Hampton, the Marlins agreed to pay Atlanta $30 million over the next three years.

The Braves sent the Marlins reliever Tim Spooneybarger, who was 1-0 with a 2.53 ERA and one save in 51 games, and minor league pitcher Ryan Baker. Spooneybarger could become Florida's closer.

Atlanta is on the hook for only $5.5 million of Hampton's contract over the next three years, then picks up the remainder of what he is owed: $13.5 million in 2006, $14.5 in '07 and $15 million in '08.

But the first three years were crucial, increasing the possibility of the Braves re-signing Glavine and/or Maddux.

The Braves have had substantial discussions with Glavine, a two-time Cy Young Award winner who has spent his entire 16-year career in Atlanta. Late Friday, the team offered a two-year, $18 million contract with a $9 million option for 2005 if he pitches 225 innings or makes 33 starts in '04.

The New York Mets made Glavine a three-year offer worth about $31 million, slightly more than Philadelphia's three-year proposal. The Boston Red Sox also are showing interest in Glavine, a native of Massachusetts, calling his agent on Monday.

Maddux, a four-time Cy Young Award winner, has been with the Braves for a decade but seems less likely to return than Glavine. His agent, Scott Boras, isn't expected to begin serious talks with teams until next month.

''We've always regarded starting pitching as the cornerstone of our team,'' Schuerholz said. ''You can never have too much starting pitching.''

Schuerholz tipped off Glavine to the Hampton trade when both attended a retirement dinner for outgoing trainer Dave Pursley on Saturday. The GM doesn't expect the trade to affect negotiations with Glavine.

''We have to move ahead with our business,'' Schuerholz said. ''I don't think Tommy takes this as a personal affront.''

Glavine's agent, Gregg Clifton, was more optimistic after learning of the trade.

''Based upon the distribution of the payments, Atlanta will certainly have the financial flexibility to secure Tom's services, if that's what they're inclined to do,'' Clifton said.

Boras met with Schuerholz at an Arizona Fall League game during the GM meetings last week.

''Certainly, the Braves are one of the teams interested in him,'' Boras said.

The Rockies will pay Hampton's $21 million signing bonus and a $6 million buyout of his 2009 option, which was declined just before the trade.

Colorado also was responsible for a $6 million salary in 2001, $8.5 million in 2002, a $1 million payment to the Hampton Foundation, plus payments to Florida of $2 million in 2003, $2 million in 2004 and $2.5 million in 2005.

From Florida to Atlanta: $9 million in 2003, $10 million in 2004 and $11 million in 2005. The Braves will be responsible for $2 million of Hampton's contract in 2003, $2 million in '04 and $1.5 million in '05.

Florida will take on the $6.6 million owed Pierre and becomes responsible for the salary of Spooneybarger, who is likely to make just over $300,000 next year.

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