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Helton and Rockies begin talks for 10-year contract extension

Early contract discussions initiated by the Rockies with first baseman Todd Helton have raised the possibility of a 10-year extension.

Helton, 27, has two years left on a four-year contract that pays $4.95-million next season and $5-million in 2002.

A 10-year extension could amount to a lifetime contract.

"It could go that far with options," general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "But we have Todd for three more years _ two under contract and another year of arbitration _ so there's no real sense of urgency on our part. We're working on it, but I'm not going to add pressure to the situation by putting a deadline on it."

Helton finished 2000 hitting .372 with 42 homers, 59 doubles and 147 RBI. In his first three full seasons, he has hit .336 with 102 homers and 357 RBI.

O'Dowd said his other priority is finding a right-handed hitting, leadoff-type outfielder and a left-handed hitter who can win a game in the ninth inning with one swing.

The Rockies have budgeted six-figure salaries for extra outfielders and would like to have right-handed Roberto Kelly and left-handed John Mabry. But both are commanding at least seven figures.

BREWERS: New outfielder Jeffery Hammonds says surroundings played a part in his decision to join the team.

"I wanted to play in a city where I could become part of the community," said Hammonds, who last week signed the three-year, 21.75-million deal he agreed to on Dec. 22. "Milwaukee has a long history of baseball. I always enjoyed coming here as an opposing player.

"I also wanted to play for a team that wanted me for my talent. I wanted to play where I could help a team rather than be a fill-in. Playing in Miller Park and for (manager) Davey Lopes also were big factors."

REDS: Cincinnati has invited knuckleballer Jared Fernandez to spring training. He was 10-4 with Boston's Triple-A Pawtucket before a line drive broke his wrist.

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