Our countdown of the biggest trades in Colorado Rockies franchise history continues today, as we take a look at seven through four. Kicking off today’s list is a move that, even now, over 14 years after it went down, is still hard to judge definitively.
#7: Mike Hampton, Juan Pierre and cash to the Florida Marlins for Preston Wilson, Charles Johnson, Pablo Ozuna and Vic Darensbourg
A lot of the fun in analyzing old trades is that, with the benefit of hindsight, it becomes much clearer which team “won” the deal. Take the previous entry in this series, for instance. The Rockies fleeced the Mariners in the Jeff Cirillo trade, but that wasn’t clear until years later when Brian Fuentes emerged.
But there are some trades, where even with the benefit of time and perspective, picking winners and losers is virtually impossible. For a variety of reasons, #7 on our list is one of those deals.
Hampton, for better or worse, has had a lasting effect on the franchise and its fans. The Rockies gave Hampton the largest contract in professional baseball history (at the time) in December of 2000. The investment started out great: Hampton raced out to a 9-2 start, and was named to the 2001 NL All-Star team. But Hampton faded badly down the stretch, and in 2002, he was brutal from start to finish, going 7-15 with an ERA of 6.15.
Colorado was desperate to get out of their deal with Hampton, but with multiple years and tons of money left on the contract, there wasn’t going to be an easy solution for the Rockies. They eventually found a taker in the Florida Marlins, but even then, the cost of freeing themselves from the albatross of Hampton’s contract was immense.
Colorado, in addition to sending cash to help pay for Hampton’s deal, also surrendered Juan Pierre. Pierre was no mere throw-in. At the time, he was a 25-year old speedster who had already accumulated over 400 hits and 100 stolen bases in two and a half seasons with the Rockies.
At the time the trade went down, most Rockies fans were lamenting the failure of Hampton’s monster contract. But in the years afterwards, it became clear that Pierre was the bigger loss, at least on the field. He would go on to play 11 more big league seasons, including five straight years where he played in all 162 games, and in three years with Florida, he finished in the top 20 of MVP voting twice.
So, the Rockies were forced to cut bait on an expensive free agent bust, and in doing so they lost a player that potentially could have played center field and hit lead-off for the next decade. Obviously, that’s less than ideal. But there’s more to consider before chalking this up as a failure by the Rockies.
First of all, the Rockies didn’t just dodge a season or two of Hampton’s contract. They got out after year two of an eight-year deal. Colorado saved a massive amount of money, and was able to get out of the huge shadow being cast by the contract. It’s hard to quantify how much that’s worth, but it certainly made Pierre’s departure more palatable.
Also, it’s easy to forget now, but Colorado was able to squeeze some value out of the players they received in return. The 2003 Rockies were largely forgettable, but Preston Wilson had a wildly successful campaign, blasting 36 home runs while picking up 141 RBI. Injuries would catch up to Wilson in 2004, and he would be traded again halfway through 2005. But for a season at least, he was the team’s second-best hitter (behind Todd Helton, then in his prime).
The Rockies also got Charles Johnson, albeit an older, slightly broken down version of him. Johnson was best known for his defensive prowess (he once won four consecutive Gold Gloves, and he’s one of only three catchers in MLB history to finish a season with zero errors in at least 100 games behind the plate), but he also popped 33 homers in two seasons with Colorado.
As for Ozuna and Darensbough, neither had much of an impact for Colorado. Ozuna was in the organization for one season (most of which was spent in the minors) before being released, and Darensbough appeared in just three games before getting hurt and being released as well.
And the guy who set all of this in to motion in the first place? Hampton was a Marlin for all of two days before they flipped him to Atlanta for prospects. Hampton had a few fairly productive seasons for the Braves, but also battled injures before he hung up his cleats for good in 2010. He’s now the bullpen coach for the Seattle Mariners.
So, add it all up, and the Rockies missed out on the bulk of Pierre’s career and the possibility that Hampton could have turned it around in Denver (unlikely) in exchange for one great year from Wilson, two decent years from Johnson and freedom from the financial burden of Hampton’s contract.
Is that a win or a loss for Colorado? That’s obviously a matter of interpretation, but almost a decade and a half later, this trade still looks like a stalemate.