Unfortunately, Hampton was still under contract for six years and, with the injury woes that have followed the veteran left-handed pitcher, now appears to have been anything but a bargain for the Braves.
While being evaluated by Dr. David Altchek in New York City on Monday, Hampton learned that he'll be forced to miss his second consecutive season. He has a torn flexor tendon in his left elbow that Altchek will attempt to repair during a surgical procedure on Tuesday morning.
Altchek has told the Braves that it will be another six to nine months before Hampton is able to resume pitching activities. The 34-year-old left-hander hasn't pitched since Altchek performed Tommy John surgery on him on Sept. 25, 2005.
"It's disappointing because Mike has worked so hard physically and mentally to come back to pitch for us," Braves general manager John Schuerholz said. "He wants to pitch again for us almost as bad we want him back pitching for us."
While this is the same elbow that Altchek attempted to repair via the elbow ligament transplant surgical procedure 18 months ago, this surgery will be different. Still, it will be one that won't allow Hampton to return to the Braves rotation until the start of the 2008 season.
Hampton experienced occasional elbow discomfort in Spring Training and then saw his rehab delayed when he strained a left oblique muscle on March 7. He rebounded from that ailment much quicker than expected and created a lot of optimism while completing a simulated inning on April 1.
But when he awoke the next morning with inflammation and discomfort in his elbow, he knew something was wrong. While they held out hope that the pain was a result of breaking scar tissue, the Braves prepared themselves for Monday's revelation.
"Once you have a Tommy John injury, you never know how you're going to bounce back," Schuerholz said.
When Hampton missed all of the 2006 season, insurance picked up a significant portion of his $13.5 million salary. There's a belief that under some circumstances insurance could cover some of this year's $14.5 million salary. But Schuerholz chose not to comment on this.
"I'm more worried about Mike, his arm and the team," Schuerholz said.
Schuerholz doesn't feel like he has to make a move to account for this development. When Hampton strained his oblique, the Braves immediately signed Mark Redman. In the weeks that have followed Redman has shown signs of encouragement and proven that he can be a valuable fourth or fifth starter.
If Redman were to struggle, the Braves feel confident in the progress that has been shown by Kyle Davies and Lance Cormier, who have both proven they can be key components at the bottom of the rotation.
"I feel pretty good about the pitching that we have," Schuerholz said.
When they acquired Hampton from the Rockies in a three-team trade that also involved the Marlins, the Braves made sure they wouldn't be responsible for all of the $84.5 million he was guaranteed over the next seven years of his contract, including the option for the 2009 season.
The Rockies were responsible for $12.5 million and the Marlins for $23.5 million. That left the Braves on the hook for just $48.5 million over the course of the final six guaranteed seasons in his contract. Thus they were essentially giving him a $8.08 million annually salary.
Since acquiring Hampton, the Braves have prorated his salary on annual basis. But contractually, they were responsible to pay him $5.5 million from 2003-05 and $43 million from 2006-2008.
As fate would have it, those first three years would encompass the only time that Hampton has ever pitched for the Braves. Elbow discomfort limited him to just 12 starts and 69 1/3 innings in 2005.
When Hampton began feeling discomfort in May of that year, he was in the midst of an impressive stretch. During the 22-start stretch that preceded the first of the four trips he made to the disabled list in 2005, he was 15-2 with a 2.62 ERA.
By the time this season is complete, Hampton will have been paid $42.5 million ($29.5 million from the Braves) for the 12 starts that he'll have made since the start 2005 season. Putting this in context, John Smoltz earned $228,571 per start last year.
Since the start of the 2003 season, Hampton has made 72 starts and notched 32 wins for the Braves, who by the time this season ends will have paid the veteran southpaw a total of $33.5 million. Breaking it down, they will have paid him $465,777 per start and $1.05 million per win.
When Hampton returns to complete the final guaranteed portion of his contract, the Braves will be responsible for his $15 million salary. The Rockies are responsible for the $6 million buyout that is associated with his 2009 option.
The Rockies were the organization that gave Hampton the eight-year, $121 million contract before the start of the 2001 season. Schuerholz simply made it a more financially-savvy deal when he acquired the left-hander. But unfortunately, like all mortal beings, he had no way to predict the injury-wrecked future that would follow.
"Injuries are a part of what we do," Schuerholz said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.