ATLANTA - Mike Hampton became the latest high-profile starting pitcher for the Atlanta Braves on Monday after commissioner Bud Selig approved his trade from the Florida Marlins.
In exchange, the Braves sent reliever Tim Spooneybarger and minor league pitcher Ryan Baker to the Marlins. The trade is contingent on the players passing physicals.
The deal for Hampton, who will likely replace Greg Maddux in the rotation, needed Selig's approval because of the large amounts of money changing hands among the Marlins, Braves and Colorado Rockies, Hampton's former team.
"We all feel very strongly that (Hampton) adds considerably to our starting staff," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "We don't think you can ever have too strong a starting pitching."
By paying Hampton just $5.5 million over the next three years, the Braves have the flexibility in their payroll to re-sign free agent pitcher Tom Glavine. The team has upped its offer to the left-hander to a two-year, $18 million deal with a $9 million option for a third year, an offer still below the three-year, $30 million deals offered by the Mets and Phillies.
Maddux, a free agent, is virtually out of the team's plans because of his insistence on a five-year deal, but the Braves moved forcefully to fill the void. If Hampton, whose statistics slumped in Colorado's thin air, can recapture the form that made him a 22-game winner with the Astros in 1999, the Braves' rotation will remain one of the game's strongest.
Until the veteran lefty proves the last two years were an aberration, he'll remain a question mark. After a 9-2 start in 2001, Hampton went 12-26 with a 6.62 ERA for the Rockies. He was 7-15 this year with a 6.15 ERA, the highest in the major leagues among qualifying pitchers.
More ominously, it wasn't Coors Field that was Hampton's undoing. He made 19 of his 30 starts on the road in 2002. He went 4-3 with a 5.68 ERA at Coors, but was 3-12 with a major league-worst 6.44 ERA on the road.
Still, Hampton has won 14 games or more four times and has a 106-81 career record with a 3.98 ERA. Last season he reached 1,000 strikeouts in his career and recorded a sixth straight year of at least 30 starts.
"There have been many pitchers that when extracted from (Coors Field) got back on a winning track," Schuerholz said.
One of the fringe benefits of Hampton joining the rotation is his ability to swing a bat. He hit .344 last season with three home runs and five RBI, and has three Silver Slugger awards in the last four years.
For the next three years, the Braves, Marlins and Rockies will transfer millions of dollars as part of a deal that will go into the books as the biggest financial transaction in baseball history.
Two years ago, Colorado gave Hampton a $121 million, eight-year contract - a record for a pitcher - and the Rockies will pay $49 million of it: $21 million in signing bonus, $6 million in salary for 2001, $8.5 million in 2002, a $6 million buyout of his 2009 option, 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.
Florida will pay $30 million to Atlanta over the next three years: $9 million in 2003, $10 million in 2004 and $11 million in 2005.
The Braves will pay Hampton $48.5 million over the next six years: $2 million in 2003, $2 million in 2004, $1.5 million in 2005, $13.5 million in 2006, $14.5 million in 2007 and $15 million in 2008.
"Were it not for other clubs picking up a significant portion of this contract, we would not have made this deal," Schuerholz said.
Reach Bill Zack at email@example.com.