It's a one year, 2 million dollar contract with the potential to grow into 4 million.
Before signing an oft-injured player, teams must ask themselves a line of questions.
Does player, when healthy, help our team?
If yes, can we expect at least 50% playing time?
If yes, will player still help our team?
If no, pass.
If yes, can we expect 75% playing time?
If yes, is the player's value equal to his asking price?
If no, is the player's value equal to his asking price?
If no, pass.
I would suspect the Astros went through this conversation, and they arrived at yes multiple times. Despite this, I'm not sure I agree with their thinking. Houston won 86 games last season despite being outscored and having 75.8 third order wins. Since they aren't in a position to win 90 games or honestly compete for a playoff spot, barring unforeseen miracles, they should be shielding themselves against overpaying for slight upgrades that will only push them to a fourth place finish.
Since 2003, when Hampton was traded to the Marlins and then the Braves, he's thrown 190, 172.3, 69.1, and 78 innings. Observant readers will note that two seasons worth of innings are missing those being 2006 and 2007, which Hampton missed in full. When Hampton has pitched lately, he hasn't been his usually self. Even in 2005, only 9.51% of Hampton's plate appearances resulted in strikeouts. That number was back up to pre-injury days in 2008, at 11.48%, but Hampton was still only generating 6.3% swinging strikes with his 87 miles per hour fastball.
While two million is hardly going to sink their budget, this is a team that had better options on hand. It's not that Hampton is overpaid or a poor risk, but rather a redundancy. At this point, the Astros have Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez who are clearly superior to Hampton, Brian Moehler and Chris Sampson who are arguably better, and Brandon Backe, who is special in his own "snowflake" sort of way. Will Hampton's contributions even make that much of a difference over Backe?
In order to project Hampton's value we have to make assumptions about things like his FIP and innings workload. Marcels has him at 4.77 and 99 innings pitched. If that's the case, Hampton is 10.78 non-leveraged runs saved. Backe projects for 146 innings of 5.39 FIP ball, or 5.84 non-leveraged runs saved. That's a difference of just over a half of a win. On a .500-at-best team, is that worth 2 million? Even more so, Claudio Vargas is a free agent who can likely be had for 800k. If Vargas simply pitched to his career 5.22 FIP for 160 innings, he would compile 9.42 NLRS. Almost equal to Hampton, and for 1.2 million less that could've went towards the draft or amateur signings.
The deal isn't bad, at least not in the sense that Houston will regret signing Hampton. Instead, it just seems like a questionable usage of resources for a team that apparently has some payroll cutting concerns.