After all the jokes, all the comments, Mike Hampton, in a way, had the last laugh. He did get back on the field. He did contribute. It was a little too late for the 2008 season, but Hampton did come back and pitch after almost 36 months battling injuries.
Hampton pitched in 13 games, going 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. He had nine quality starts, including eight in his last nine appearances. In Hampton's six September starts he had a 3.79 ERA, and he went six innings in four starts and seven innings in the other two.
It certainly didn't start out to well for the lefty. Hampton was scheduled to pitch in the fourth game of the season, against the Pirates. But he couldn't make it out of the bullpen, complaining of a sore pectoral muscle. That would keep him out until late July, when he would make his debut against the Phillies.
For almost $50 million dollars the Braves paid for Hampton, he made 85 starts and went 35-24 with a 4.10 ERA in 509.2 innings pitched. You do the math.
Hampton's monster eight-year, $121 million dollar contract he signed with the Colorado Rockies is final finished. He pitched in 147 games during those eight years and was 56-52. His injuries, mainly the elbow, ruined Hampton's chances of even being a respectable pitcher for his contract.
Even if he had not been injured, it might have been hard for Hampton to ever live up to that big of a deal. Yes, he had been an effective starter (73-41) for the five years leading up to getting the contract, but the Rockies truly overpaid for him to go to the Rocky Mountains.
Now that that big contract is over, and now that Hampton has proved he can still pitch, the Braves must decide if he's worth bringing back. Considering what they've been through with Hampton, it's a gamble. They don't want to go through what they suffered through last spring when Hampton was battling to come back.
However, the Braves are in desperate need of good starting pitchers, and the prospect of adding Hampton as the fourth starter is enticing. He did pitch well late in the season, and since Hampton has said he is interested in coming back it's worth pursuing.
But at what price? What should the Braves offer a pitcher who has struggled to stay on the field the last four seasons? He's said he wants to come back, but will some other team be tempted to offer Hampton more than the Braves?
Hampton has already made his money, so he shouldn't be too worried about getting a big contract. However, since he did prove he can still pitch, Hampton might want to let the market dictate what he's going to get. And since teams are always desperate for pitching, he could get a respectable deal.
It would be nice for Hampton to show the Braves a little loyalty, considering how much they paid him (or at least the insurance companies paid him) while he was on the shelf. But loyalty in baseball is fleeting and you just can't count on it.
The Braves have publicly said they want to bring Hampton back, and with the team already searching for two veteran top of the rotation starters, and with Jair Jurrjens penciled in as the number three, the Braves feel Hampton could fit in perfectly as the number four starter.
Would he accept a one-year deal with a low base (maybe $2 million dollars) and incentives built in depending on his games started? Well, that's about the only way the Braves can protect themselves. They don't want to be weighed down again with a pitcher being paid a lot of money, only to see that pitcher go on the disabled list again. They've got to be assured that if they're going to pay someone they'll be out on the mound.
And hey, if Hampton were to sign a contract like that and make his starts, and subsequently reach his incentives, the Braves probably wouldn't mind him earning that money, which is a novel concept in baseball.
A healthy Hampton in the fourth spot in the rotation could produce positive results. He showed late in the year he can, in fact, still pitch. So it's probably just a matter of coming to an agreement on the money before a new deal is signed.
And again, Hampton's made his money. He just needs to come back and have a full season to prove he can pitch over six months without having to go on the DL. If he does that, he could still get another big contract next season. By then the Braves not have as big a need for him, and the young kids could be ready to take over.
But now, with the team truly needing good starters, it would be foolish to not try and bring him back – as long as the price is right.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at email@example.com.
8. Will the Braves bring Mike Hampton back?
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