Estes signs with Colorado

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Thomas Harding

The Colorado Rockies believe left-handed pitcher Shawn Estes of Douglas High is the type who doesn't hide from difficulty.

For that reason, the Rockies signed Estes to a non-guaranteed contract to compete for one of the five starting rotation spots. Estes, who turns 31 next month, could make a base salary of $600,000 with incentives that top out at 200 innings -- a threshold that could bring his earnings to $850,000.

Estes was a key member of the San Francisco Giants' starting rotation from 1997 to 2001 but has gone 13-23 with a 5.95 ERA with three teams since. He went 9-11 (5.73 ERA) last season for the Chicago Cubs.

"It's just a simple case that at this time of year we try to identify one guy that we feel is at a stage of the career that could go either way - they know that, and they perform accordingly," Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "He's left-handed, he's just 30 years old, and he's got a good arm. It's not any more complicated than that.

"We like where Shawn is right now, mentally. He's accountable for his failures in the past. He's at a crossroads. He has won, he has pitched in the National League West and we have seen him in our ballpark, good and bad (2-3, 8.12 ERA in eight starts, 23 walks, 27 strikeouts). He's pitched very well in San Francisco."

O'Dowd said the Rockies contacted Estes' agent, Dave Meier, early in their offseason of bargain hunting and stayed in contact. Recently, Estes contacted manager Clint Hurdle and expressed interest.

Estes was at his best with the Giants in 1997, when he went 19-5 and appeared in the All-Star Game. He also won in double figures in 1999 (11-11) and 2000 (15-6).

The Giants traded Estes to the New York Mets before the 2002 season, and he went 4-9 with a 4.55 ERA before Cincinnati acquired him for what it hoped would be a stretch run. Estes went 1-3 in six games with the Reds and signed with the Cubs before last season.

Going into spring training, the three most solid rotation candidates -- right-handers Jason Jennings and Denny Stark and left-hander Joe Kennedy -- have less than three full seasons in the Majors. They've been spectacular at times, but also have struggled to varying degrees.

Other candidates on the 40-man roster are considered prospects who may or may not be ready - right-handers Chin-hui Tsao, Aaron Cook and Jason Young and lefty Cory Vance. The best options may be non-roster players.

Right-hander Scott Elarton is healthy after three years of shoulder problems, and the Rockies expect to add him to the roster soon. Estes, former San Diego right-hander Brian Tollberg and former St. Louis left-hander Jeff Fassero are the other candidates with solid

Last season, the Rockies were hoping that left-hander Denny Neagle could pitch at the top of the rotation to absorb difficult matchups. But Neagle suffered an elbow injury - one that will keep him out until at least the latter part of this season -- and Jennings was forced to pitch against other teams' best pitchers.

If Estes returns to his past effectiveness, he could fill the role envisioned for Neagle. But O'Dowd said that's going too far.

"We like our competition," O'Dowd said. "If Shawn makes our team it's because he's pitched better than the other guys."

The field of rotation competitors may be set.

The Rockies scouted a workout by right-hander Scott Erickson, who did not pitch last season. O'Dowd said Erickson threw well, but he felt the Rockies have enough pitchers in camp. Colorado will attend a workout by their one-time ace, right-hander Pedro Astacio, in the Dominican Republic just before spring training. Astacio, coming off shoulder surgery, won't likely be ready for big league action until after the season begins.


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