Point of no return
Astros' uncertainties drive Hampton away from Houston
Hampton, who still lives in Houston, notified the team through a representative Friday morning he no longer is considering the Astros.
"It had nothing to do with money. In fact, money was never discussed," Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker said. "The biggest reason they gave us was the uncertainty surrounding some of our key players that directly could affect the competitiveness of our team, which seemed to be Mike's primary focus."
Hunsicker said Hampton was concerned whether injured second baseman Craig Biggio (left knee) and closer Billy Wagner (pitching elbow) would overcome surgeries that ended their 2000 seasons early.
The 28-year-old left-hander, who went 15-10 in helping lead the New York Mets to the World Series last season, is looking for a multiyear contract.
While his agent, Mark Rodgers, hasn't talked money with teams yet, it's possible Hampton could get a deal rivaling Kevin Brown's $105 million, seven-year contract with Los Angeles.
The Mets acquired Hampton in a trade after the 1999 season, when Hampton went 22-4 with a 2.90 ERA and helped pitch Houston to a third straight NL Central title.
The Mets, along with Atlanta, St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs, are considered the favorites for Hampton. He also has met with Colorado and Houston.
Astros owner Drayton McLane had been interested in getting Hampton to return.
"Drayton and I were encouraged after a meeting this week with Mike and his representative and would have welcomed him back enthusiastically," Hunsicker said. "Unfortunately, this one did not work out."
The Astros tumbled to 72-90, though they played well near the end of the season. Beefing up a pitching staff that posted a league-worst 5.42 ERA is Hunsicker's top priority.
"We'll continue to explore the options out there, either through free agency or through trades," he said.
Rodgers did not immediately return a telephone message.
Hampton came up with Seattle briefly in 1993 before his trade to Houston, where he went 69-40 and never had an ERA above 3.83 for a season. The Astros moved from the Astrodome, which was a pitcher's park, to Enron Field after the 1999 season, and the new ballpark became a haven for offense.
Hunsicker noted the new ballpark did not come up during Hampton's visit, except that he gave it a "positive endorsement."