Much has been written about the return of Mike Hampton to the Braves, but the difference between many of those articles and this one is...wait for it...this time he actually made it back!
But really, the question is, how much will Hampton help the Braves? Is he even a viable major league pitcher at this point in his career?
Admittedly, the Braves face a long road if they plan on competing for the last couple months of this season, and an honest look at the situation indicates the Braves are going to be sellers at the trade deadline for the first time since the 1990 season.
If Mike Hampton had only been out for one year that conclusion may be different. The Braves might have been able to look at his return as a trade deadline acquisition of a no. 2 or no. 3 starter.
But that is not the reality of the situation. Hampton has been out for so long Hayden Panettiere has gone from "Jail-bait" to perfectly legal. That fact completely alters the landscape for Hampton and for the Braves.
The Braves cannot look at Hampton as some sort of boon to the starting rotation. In fact, considering the amazing over-achievement the starting rotation has managed to maintain this season, the addition of Hampton may, indeed, be viewed as a major negative by the end of the season.
The Braves are not competing this season, despite the astounding job done by the cobbled together pitching staff. The bats have gone to the grave, with the exception of McCann and Chipper. Texiera is sure to soon be traded because of this situation.
Hampton had his first major league start in 35 months yesterday and did admirably for the first four innings. But in the fifth inning he imploded, along with a couple other pitchers, and coughed up a six run lead.
This is not the sort of addition the Braves can handle if they plan on competing in the division. Granted this was Hampton's first start and he is sure to improve, if he can maintain his health.
But there is the rub. By the time Hampton improves enough to be a positive boon on the Braves it will be too late, considering the hole the rest of the team has dug in the first four months of the season.
In all honesty, it is too bad Hampton could not make it back sooner, not for the possibility that it might have helped the Braves this season, but for the possibility that if he had managed to get a few quality starts in before the trade deadline he might have been trade fodder to a contending team somewhere.
You may say that in that situation the Braves would have had to eat a large portion of his massive contract and would not gotten much in return for Hampton. But I say to you this: Isn't that what the Braves have been doing for the past couple of years?
In the end, I hope Hampton can maintain his health for his own sake, and even more-so get a few quality starts in on his resume before the end of the season. I would hate to see his career end after this season because no one is willing to sign such a risk.