Todd Helton: "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"
Todd Helton is done, at least for 2012. The Rockies' first baseman is calling it quits on the year to have surgery on a torn labrum in his hip, a surgery that optimistically calls for a 6-month recovery period. If all goes well, he will be ready to get back to action in February for spring training.
But would he want to? Helton has made over $155 million in his career and has more coming to him in deferred payments after 2013 than in salary next season. He would be returning to what will most likely be the worst team in franchise history. Oh, and he'd be 39 coming off hip surgery.
Pride has a knack for blinding reality, and the tough road Helton has to travel to get back on the playing field may be more trouble than he expects. He likely falls short of being a Hall of Famer with or without a 2013 comeback, so that shouldn't be a consideration.
At any rate, Todd Helton deserves to call it quits whenever he wants, as Troy Renck wrote very well this morning. Todd Helton is Mr. Rockie. With Jason Giambi holding a roster spot for three years, certainly there's room on a lesser team for the best player in franchise history. I am hoping to see him play once more, even if he hits .240 again.
Altitude will be a barrier for Helton to climb whether he returns to the playing or retires. Fans have been inundated (especially this year) with the message that altitude causes pitchers to wear down and become injured, but that same narrative is never extended to hitters for some reason. Todd Helton has 2123 games played in a Rockies uniform dealing with that altitude, nearing 1000 more than second-place Larry Walker, who also had an injury-riddled career. If altitude shreds pitchers after one season, certainly it has hurt Helton over his 16-year career.
Still, consider the Rockies were in discussions to trade Todd Helton to the Red Sox to give him a late-career chance at a championship in January 2007. Instead, he played 699 games over 6 years with Colorado, winning as many pennants as Boston in that timeframe. His original long-term contract only had salary obligation through 2011, which Helton surpassed. His longevity is actually quite good.
If it is the end, it has been (was?) a fantastic career. His final game included hitting an RBI double off Tim Lincecum from the 3-hole. For now, Helton is one of five active players with a career batting average above .300 and at least 300 home runs, surpassing each mark easily (.320/354). He is joined by future Hall of Famers Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Chipper Jones, and Miguel Cabrera.
Yet as noted above, Helton's presence in the Hall of Fame will likely be as a visitor either way. Injuries, the PED era, pre-humidor Coors Field, and a relatively low number of home runs from a first baseman are all working against him. In a story solely about his surgery, his career home/road splits still garner a mention.
If Todd Helton or any Rockie is to have a chance at the Hall, the reverse Coors effect needs to be publicized more. Coors Field helps hitters, but it makes it more difficult on the road. Only one hitter has played part of his prime as a Rockie and with another team.
Granted, he improved as a Cardinal overall to make up for Coors Field a bit, but it is almost as if his true talent level was his overall line and not his road line. Also, Matt Holliday is woefully underrated.
However these next six months shake out for the ToddFather, he owes us nothing. His career has been a joy to watch.
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