The Mike Hampton Rule – NL West

Part three of a series where I try to identify which players would be let go if MLB instituted it’s own version of the Allan Houston Rule. Parts one and two are here.

NL West

Arizona Diamondbacks

The Diamondbacks have to be considered one of the best-run franchises right now. Josh Byrnes has put together a very talented young team and pulled off one of the bigger trades this offseason – netting Dan Haren in the deal. There aren’t many contracts here that are too questionable. I see two possibilities for the Hampton Rule representative: Randy Johnson and Eric Byrnes. Johnson is in the last year of his deal (and likely in the last year of his career) – a year that will pay him $10 million. He still has $8.5 million coming in signing bonuses as well. If his body holds up, he’ll likely be worth the contract. But he missed a fair portion of the season last year and has struggled with injuries over the past few years (even if he hasn’t missed much time). I think there’s at best a 50% shot he lasts all year and a pretty good chance he misses a large portion of the season. Eric Byrnes had a tremendous first half of 2007 and is viewed as the sparkplug for a very young team. Those two facts got him rewarded with a three year, $30 million deal that starts this season. Byrnes is below average with the bat for a corner outfielder, but appears to be quite good defensively. He is a hard-nosed player whose style of play seems like it would lead to a lot of lingering injuries. His history of wearing down in the second halves of seasons might lend some credence to that idea. I could see his effectiveness dropping as he moves into his mid 30′s and his body begins to betray him more. All that said, Byrnes is definitely a fan favorite and losing him would have much greater impact than simply saving some cash. For that reason, if the Diamondbacks wanted to get rid of anybody, I think it would be Randy Johnson.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies, on the back of amazing run the last month of the season, not only snuck into postseason, but bulldozed the other NL playoff teams on the way to the World Series. That they ran smack into the Red Sox juggernaut does nothing to diminish a pretty amazing season for a team that many thought would hover around .500. For a successful team with a low payroll, it’s actually very easy to figure out who would be dropped under the Hampton Rule.* Todd Helton signed a 9 year, $141.5 million dollar deal in 2001. Unfortunately for the Rockies, he’s no longer the Todd Helton of 2000-2004. He’s still a very, very, very good hitter, but he’s under contract for $16.6 million a year through 2010. Then his salary jumps to $19.1 million for 2011. The Rockies hold a $23 million option for 2012 (when Helton will be 38), but I feel confident in saying they’ll probably buy out that year for $4.6 million. Even if Helton would get that much on the open market (although I’d estimate he’d get more like $13 million a year), his $16.6 million was 30% of Colorado’s total payroll last season. While the Rockies have locked up a lot of their young players this offseason, I’m guessing that Dan O’Dowd would like the additional payroll flexibility that Hamptoning Helton would allow.

* I’m sure the Rockies wished there was a Mike Hampton Rule back when they signed Hampton. Although they might have decided to use it on Denny Neagle instead.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers are another one of the easy teams to figure out. Despite the riskiness of Jason Schmidt ($12 million each of the next two seasons) or the likely suckiness of Esteban Loaiza ($7 million this season plus a $375 thousand buyout), Juan Pierre is really the only pick. Not only did LA decide to sign another CF (Andruw Jones) only a year after inking Pierre to a 5 year, $44 million deal, but the Dodgers have two stellar OF prospects in Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp – one of which is likely blocked by Pierre. Finally, Pierre doesn’t provide enough offense to hold down a corner spot. He has zero power and a fairly low OBP. His best weapon is his speed, but he’s pushing 30 and many players start to lose their speed at that age. All in all, the Dodgers would be much better off without Pierre – making his selection under the Hampton Rule an easy choice.

San Diego Padres

The Padres have been one of those tough teams to figure out.  I always think they’re going to have a better record than they end up with.  I guess it’s because Peavy, Young and Maddux are some of my favorite pitchers.  And I forget how much of a pitcher’s park Petco really is.  Still, they never quite to live up to my expectations.  Anyway, enough of a diversion.  Back to the contracts.  Kevin Towers has done a pretty good job of limiting the amount of large contracts for San Diego.  Their biggest outlay for 2008 is Maddux at $10 million.  I’m not sure he’ll be worth it from a performance perspective, but there might be some value from having a second pitching coach.  Jim Edmonds is owed $8 million, but $2 million of that is being paid by the Cardinals. I happen to think Edmonds is on his way to done, but it’s probably worth $6 million to see if he can rebound.  My guess is he has close to the same year as last year, but Petco makes it seem a lot worse.  That leaves Brian Giles.  I’ve always had a soft spot for Giles since his time with the Pirates, but he’s definitely no longer the same player he was.  He’s owed $9 million this year and has a $9 million option for 2009 (with a $3 million buyout).  He’s been pretty much the same player the last two seasons, although with more injuries last season.  Unfortunately a 108 OPS+ isn’t going to cut it from a corner OF position, especially when the Padres don’t really have all that much offense at the other positions.  I’d like to see if Giles can bounce back, but I’m not too optimistic and I don’t think San Diego should be either.

San Francisco Giants

As the Giants prepare for their first season since 1993 without Barry Bonds, they find themselves bowing under the weight of another Barry’s contract. Barry Zito really hasn’t been a great pitcher since his Cy Young season in 2002.  He clearly was a good pitcher in his last years with Oakland, but he hadn’t shown anything that indicated he should be the highest paid pitcher ever. That didn’t stop Brian Sabean from signing him to a 7 year (!) / $126 million contract before the 2007 season. Barry Zito came out and promptly put up a 98 ERA+.  That’s around average for a starting pitcher (actually a little bit above), but not what you expect from your ace.  And the Giants are the proud owners of Zito for the next 6 years at a total of at least $116 million.  I’m hoping that if Sabean were given a do-over, he’d rethink this deal.  Of course, the 5 year / $60 million dollar deal he gave to Aaron Rowand off of his career year doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.

Well, there’s the entire National League.  I’ll continue with the American League this week, although it may not be daily as actual work gets in the way.

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