Tragic news for the Colorado Rockies and their fans today. First basemen Todd Helton was placed on the 15-day DL with a torn right hip labrum that will require surgery. Although it's only a 15-day DL assignment, the fact that he will require surgery will effectively end his 2013 season. Could this injury also mean the end of Helton's 16-year career?
Apparently Helton has been dealing with pain in his hip for the past few months and has missed a number of games while trying to fight through the pain. What probably started as inflammation eventually resulted in a tear of the labrum that made it impossible for Helton to continue. The labrum of the hip is a ring of soft tissue that lines the top part of your hip joint and that holds the joint together. It certainly doesn't have to be a career-ending injury. Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees had the same surgery for this condition in 2009 at the age of 34 and has played decently since.
The problem is Helton's age (he will be 39 next spring training) and the fact that he's clearly nearing the end of his career on a team that is focused on rebuilding with young talent. Helton played in just 69 games this season which is by far the shortest in his career. He also batted .238 with 7 home runs and 37 RBIs. Those are all easily career lows. While he had his hot streaks at times in April and May, fans could clearly see there was something wrong in him after a time. The Rockies began to platoon Michael Cuddyer and Tyler Colvin at first base for a while. Now, with Cuddyer on the DL himself, the Rockies have brought up rookie Matt McBride to fill in at first base for (probably) the rest of the season.
Should it be time for Helton to call it a career? Does he have anything left to give or to prove? Can he be productive for another team? If Helton wanted to continue to play, he'd most likely be used as a pinch hitter or as a designated hitter for an American League team (if the Rockies dared to trade him). If you look at his last three seasons (2010-2012), he's had 286 hits in just 1,059 at bats. That's a .270 batting average which is a far cry from his career batting average of .320. His power numbers have fallen off precipitously for quite a while (hasn't hit 20 home runs in a season since 2005) which is usually a required quality of a prospective designated hitter. Who would take him with numbers like that?
I don't think the Rockies should bring him back for one last swan song year, but they should not trade or release him as well. He is the face of the Colorado Rockies franchise and the leader of the team. Helton needs to get through his surgery, heal, and then think long and hard about what he wants his final legacy as a ballplayer to be. I, for one, want him to go out gracefully as he can. Retiring either at the end of this season or at the beginning of the next would be the appropriate thing to do. For now, I wish him the best of luck with his surgery.
Julie is a lifelong baseball fan who grew up in Atlanta with a family who loved both the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Upon moving to Colorado in 2001, she quickly became a Colorado Rockies fan and has attended many games at Coors Field.