Other markets may follow a roller coaster path, but the baseball free agent market just continues to shoot upwards. The Colorado Rockies announced Saturday that they've signed pitcher Mike Hampton to an eight-year, $123.8-million contract -- the biggest in baseball.

The 28-year-old lefty was the most prized pitcher in this year's free agent pool. As the ace of the New York Mets starting rotation, Hampton went 15-10 with an ERA of 3.14, good for fifth in the National League.

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    In 1999, Hampton led the National League with 22 wins as the anchor of the Houston Astros staff.

    While Hampton, like most of his Mets teammates, seemed all but powerless to stop the New York Yankees in the 2000 World Series, he was named the MVP of the NL Championship Series.

    "We added a horse," said Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd. "His leadership in the clubhouse will be very important for us in the next eight years."

    O'Dowd has invested heavily in New York lefthanders this week. Last Monday, he signed Denny Neagle, a member of the World Series champion Yankees, to a five-year deal worth $51.5 million.

    But in signing on for eight years with the Rockies, Hampton has also sentenced himself to a lengthy term of toiling in the high-altitude, gravity-disadvantaged climes of Coors Field.

    Hampton's career ERA at Coors Field is a bloated 6.88, and if signing with Colorado has inflated his paycheque, it will likely do the same for his lifetime ERA and the opposite for his chances at the Hall of Fame.

    "There's no doubt it's the toughest place to pitch," Hampton said. "It's a test I look forward to and something that I think will make me a better pitcher in the long run."

    The financial terms of the contract should go a long way toward easing any pain, though. Hampton's deal is worth slightly more per year than the seven-year, $105-million deal Kevin Brown signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, which prompted baseball pundits to cry salary apocalypse.

    Depending on how the math works out, Hampton is worth slightly less per year than baseball's highest-paid pitcher, Roger Clemens, whose two-year contract extension with the New York Yankees is worth $30.9-million contract extension.

    The Toronto Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado remains baseball's highest-paid player -- at least until Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriquez agree to a contracts with a generous franchise -- at $17 million per year.

    The full package includes a $20-million signing bonus and $1 million payable directed to charity, as well as $19 million deferred without interest until the end of the contract. The rest of the money will be doled out in 10 annual payments of $1.9 million, with the money accruing interest at a rate of three percent.

    Hampton had apparently narrowed his final choice down to Colorado and St. Louis, but Mets general manager said that all the teams interested in signing Hampton were offering contracts worth $100 million or more.

    He added, of course, that in the end, it wasn't really about the money.

    "It didn't come down to the last dollar," Phillips said. "All the clubs were close enough. It came down to other issues, like the chance to win and quality of life for his family."