Hampton Goes to Rockies With Record Contract

Mike Hampton is getting baseball’s biggest

contract. Now he has to avoid what has been routine for his

Colorado Rockies’ predecessors: one of its highest ERAs.

The most coveted left-hander on the free-agent market, reached a preliminary agreement Friday on a $121 million, eight-year deal with the Rockies.

The deal is contingent on Hampton passing a physical and other minor details, according to two baseball officials who spoke on condition they not be identified. It could be announced as early as today.

Hampton, 28, went 15-10 for the New York Mets last season and MVP of the NL championship series. He is the second prominent left-hander to sign with Colorado this week. Denny Neagle agreed to a $51.5 million, five-year deal on Monday.

Baseball’s Richest … For Now

In total dollars, the deal surpasses the previous high of $116.5 million, a nine-year contract Ken Griffey Jr. agreed to with the Cincinnati last February. The previous high for a pitcher had been Kevin Brown’s $105 million, seven-year contract with Los Angeles.

“It’s not a done deal,” Rockies spokesman Jay Alves said. “Serious negotiations are taking place, but it looks good.”

The highest total contract in sports is Kevin Garnett’s $126 million, six-year deal with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, which averages $21 million. The highest average salary agreed to is $29.5 million, which will be earned by Shaquille O’Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers in an $88.5 million, three-year extension that starts with the 2003-04 season.

Hampton’s contract, which includes a club option for 2009, is the longest for a pitcher since Wayne Garland signed a 10-year deal with Cleveland in 1977.

It calls for a $20 million signing bonus, $1 million payable to charity and $19 million deferred without interest until after the contract expires. The remaining money will be paid in 10 yearly installments of $1.9 million, the money accruing 3 percent interest.

Because of the deferred money, baseball officials calculate its annual average value at just under $14 million in present-day dollars.

Hampton’s average salary of $15,125,000 becomes the first- or second-highest among pitchers, depending on how Roger Clemens’ contract $30.9 million extension with the New York Yankees is evaluated.

Clemens considers it a two-year deal averaging $15.45 million, while the Yankees consider it a three-year contract averaging $10.3 million.

Hampton has a lifetime 6.88 ERA at Coors Field.

St. Louis had been the other finalist to sign Hampton, and Atlanta, Texas and the Chicago Cubs were interested.

New York general manager Steve Phillips said all interested teams offered $100 million or more.

“It didn’t come down to the last dollar,” Phillips said. “All the clubs were close enough. It came down to other issues, like the chance to win and quality of life for his family.”