Monday, January 29, 2007

Intestinal Distress or Fortitude for Todd Helton?

It was bad news, of course, when Rockies First Baseman Todd Helton was hospitalized last year with fever and a severe, lingering intestinal disorder. But now the good news is that -- perhaps -- the malady can be used to explain away Helton's declining production as a passing abberation rather than blame it on irreversible failure due to advancing age.

Helton suffered from what doctors labeled acute terminal ileitus -- an inflamation associated with Crohn's Disease -- that not only caused the 33-year-old slugger to lose more than 30 pounds of muscle but left him with acute cramping; and sapped his strength, endurance and likely his ability to concentrate throughout the season.

Whereas Helton hit .358 with 117 RBI and 33 homers as recently as 2003, his successive totals plummeted each year since until he hit just .302 with 81 RBI and 15 homers in his sickly season last year. Bouncing back next season to something closer to his career averages would tend to signal that Helton has escaped anything approaching diagnosable Crohn's, a chronic, potentially debilitating disorder for which there is no cure.

Laboratory tests likely indicate Helton is out of danger, and that rumors of Crohn's are -- pardon the expression -- behind him. Only time will confirm that this is so, as Crohn's -- if it is indeed such -- can recur at any time, even years hence. But evidently an evaluation by the Boston Red Sox points to Helton's full recovery, even if a previous, perhaps less comprehensive analysis by the Los Angeles Angels reportedly is at variance.

Look for the Rockies to pick up only about half of the remaining $90.1 million of Helton's $141 million contract, and dump the rest on the Red Sox as Helton is sent to Boston in exchange for prospects such as pitchers Craig Hansen or Manny Del Carmen. Not only will the Rockies have saved money, space will have been created for outfielder Brad Hawpe to return to his natural position at first base, and the promising rookie Jeff Baker to replace Hawpe in right field.