Helton, Rox agree to two-year extension
Veteran first baseman hopes to end career with Colorado
TUCSON -- When describing what Todd Helton means to the Colorado Rockies and their fans, general manager Dan O'Dowd mentioned four similar players: Cal Ripken Jr., Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett and George Brett.
Not only are all four of those legends in the Hall of Fame, but all four began and ended their careers with the same club. And fittingly, O'Dowd took a major step toward making this happen with Helton, announcing Thursday that the team has come to an agreement on a two-year contract extension with Helton that will have him in a Rockies uniform through 2013.
"The biggest thing is finishing my career as a Rockie," Helton said. "I know what we have here. It's a good thing. I'm excited about it. And it's going to give the team freedom to keep the team intact. That's a great thing."
The extension will be worth $9.9 million in all, with salaries of $4.9 million in 2012 and $5 million in 2013. Also, Helton agreed to defer over $13 million of his existing contract over a 10-year period beginning in 2014. This could allow the Rockies to re-sign starter Jorge De La Rosa, who will become eligible for free agency after this season, and to pick up 2011 club options on outfielder Brad Hawpe ($10 million) or starter Jeff Francis ($7 million).
Next year, Helton, 36, will be in the last of a nine-year, $141.5 million contract extension that he signed before the 2003 season. That deal included a $23 million club option for 2012 with a $4.6 million buyout and would have paid him $19.1 million in 2011. Now, after deferring the money, he'll make $10.7 million next season.
"I've got to be honest," Helton said. "I think this will take some pressure off me, not being the guy making that much money at 38 years old. I try not to look at it that way, but it's the truth."
Helton said Thursday that the deal came together quickly, with club owner Dick Monfort and team president Keli McGregor approaching him after an early December workout at Coors Field. Helton said once all the details were hammered out last week, it took "under a minute" to agree.
"This is where I want to be," Helton said. "I know from talking to a lot of other players, the grass isn't always greener on the other side. I know what we have here, and I know that we are really good."
He's not the only one who feels that way.
O'Dowd said the winning culture the Rockies have cultivated, particularly in the World Series season of 2007 and the playoff run last year, has a lot to do with the production and leadership Helton has brought to the organization.
He's the all-time franchise leader in nearly every offensive category and has made five National League All-Star teams. He was Colorado's first-round selection in the 1997 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Tennessee, and since his Major League debut in August of 1997 has played in 1,812 games and hit for a .328 average with 325 homers and 1,202 RBIs.
Last year, coming off an injury-riddled 2008 campaign and back surgery, he hit .325 with 15 homers and 86 RBIs and became the 50th player in Major League history to tally 500 doubles and the 255th player in history to record 2,000 hits.
"I just know that we all felt collectively, from ownership on down, that this was the right thing to do for this player," O'Dowd said. "And we absolutely think he can be a very productive player for three more years, maybe even beyond that.
"We could have another extension in three years. Who knows?"
Rockies manager Jim Tracy agreed, saying Helton's work ethic is an inspiration to everyone in the Rockies' clubhouse and that he thinks his first baseman is a future Hall of Famer.
"It's the greatest thing in the world, as far as I'm concerned, for the organization and what it means to our fans," Tracy said of the extension. "Guys who spend their whole careers with one team happens rarely these days. ... That's special."
Helton seemed open to the idea and said he wouldn't have signed the extension if he didn't think he could still play at a high level.
"[At the end of this deal] I'll be an old man, in baseball terms," Helton said. "But if I'm out there and not playing well, it'll be time to hang it up."
Throughout the Rockies' clubhouse, the news of Helton's extension had his teammates and coaches smiling.
"He is our leader," outfielder Brad Hawpe said. "He just wants to win. And he's very talented. ... In order to get the opportunity [to play for only one team in a long career], it takes not only talent but a special person."
Vinny Castilla, Helton's former teammate and the special assistant to O'Dowd, said Helton "means everything" to the Rockies.
"He should be the first guy to have his number retired for the organization," Castilla said. "He's a great player, a great role model for all the young kids here, and a great guy."
Doug Miller is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.