Rockies bring Giambi back into fold

Rockies bring Giambi back into fold

DENVER -- The Rockies have reached a one-year agreement with first baseman Jason Giambi to be a key left-handed hitter off their bench, and to spell veteran Todd Helton.

The club is withholding an official announcement until Giambi, 39, has passed a physical, Rockies officials said Saturday.

For much of the offseason the Rockies have sought a right-handed bat for a reserve role, but all along they considered bringing back Giambi, who hit .292 with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 19 late-season games in 2009 and helped the club into the playoffs. Giambi had been seeking a contract as a designated hitter and first baseman for an American League club, but he and the Rockies were open to reuniting if such work was not available.

Rockies manager Jim Tracy made a personal appeal to Giambi in December.

Giambi began last season with the Athletics and hit .193 with 11 home runs and 40 RBIs in 83 games before being released. He had been signed to play mostly DH, and said his legs wore down when injuries to teammates forced him into more duty at first base than he was prepared to handle.

In case the Rockies want to add a right-handed hitter, they've invited outfielder Jay Payton and catcher Paul Lo Duca to camp under Minor League deals to compete for a roster spot. Switch-hitting Eric Young Jr., who hit .246 during a late-season callup last year, is penciled into a utility role, as well. Giambi served as a mentor to Young, 24, last season.

Helton, 36, overcame back problems to hit .325 in 151 games last season. However, even Helton, who throughout his career has fought the concept of days off, admitted he wore down late last season.

"Last year was one of the first years I really felt tired at the end of the season," Helton said during a visit to Coors Field on Friday. "I was worn out. I'd like to have something left at the end of the season, feel like I'd be able to go out there and hit a home run, do something crazy at the of the season, instead of just slapping stuff the other way, trying to get by.

"Some of that is my fault. I need to take care of myself a little bit better, and work a little bit harder so I can be ready for the end of the season."

As for less regular playing time being an option, Helton said, "We'll see. There are a lot of circumstances that go into how much I play."

Before landing Giambi, the Rockies said they would use right fielder Brad Hawpe in limited duty at first base. Hawpe played first early in his Minor League career and in college at LSU.

The Rockies are down to one available spot on the 40-man Major League roster, presumably for a pitcher. One it won't be used on is right-hander Jose Contreras, another vet who helped the Rockies with their late push in 2009. Contreras, who helped the club out of the bullpen after spending his career as a starter, has agreed to join the Phillies' bullpen, according to an ESPNDeportes report.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.