Despite a blizzard of trade speculation so far this offseason from reporters and fans alike, Troy Tulowitzki remains a Rockie. There's good reason for that too: keeping the best shortstop in baseball is in all likelihood a really good idea for the club who ultimately has the final say in where he plays next season.
This isn't just about next season, however. This is about two very different paths the club can take that will unfold over a five or six year period, and that's really the only way you can look at a decision of this magnitude with proper perspective. So let's dig in.
1) Troy Tulowitzki is really, really good
I realize this probably sounds like a "water is wet" statement, but it's also one of those things that can't be hammered home enough. Everybody knows the Grand Canyon is big, but unless you're actually standing in front of all it at a given moment, it's easy to forget / fail to understand the type of vastness we're talking about.
Last week Dan Szymborski ran his 2015 projections for the Rockies, and the Tulowitzki results are incredible.
BREAKING: Troy Tulowitzki is good. pic.twitter.com/QM4jkLO1kV— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) December 10, 2014
In short, the machine has absolutely zero confidence in Tulo's ability to stay on the field (he never plays in more than 111 games in a season again), and yet it still projects Tulo to average 4.2 Wins Above Replacement over the next six seasons (the number of guaranteed years remaining on his contract).
It's very difficult to put into words just how absurd and unique these numbers are in this situation. A player who can average 4.2 WAR over six seasons is a rare bird; a player who can do it with this little playing time is a generational talent at the position.
On top of that, he's still finding ways to get better. Earlier this month, I went into detail about how Tulo's found a way to balance his contact and power skills to inflict outrageous amounts of damage with less than two strikes. If he ever figures out pitch recognition on the lower outside portion of the plate, we could witness something unbelievable.
2) He's likely to age well
This may sound odd at first with all the time he's missed, but look at the facts. If I'm looking for a player who's likely to maintain solid value on the field as he ages, I would look for the following qualities:
A) A guy who plays up the middle instead of on the corners.
B) Good defense
C) A player who's starting from a very high perch offensively
D) Strong contact skills at the plate (contact ages like wine, power ages like cheese)
E) A tenacious personality. A guy who will work to fight off decline at another level because his drive to succeed is higher than most players.
Tulo possesses ALL of these qualities. So what we're dealing with here is a player who's likely to keep producing at a high level through the end of the decade as long as he's able to put a uniform on.
The wild card, as it always is with this player, is the number of games he's going to play. However, unless we see him suffer a setback where he literally can't take the field anymore, it's hard to imagine him taking a major step backwards here since the number of games we've seen him play in the last three seasons is so low (he's averaged just 88 games 2012-2014). In other words, short of a career-threatening injury, we won't see a huge drop off in games played for Tulo over the next four or five years because he hasn't played in enough games to reasonably see a major drop off. In fact, there's actually even a chance he plays in more games and proves more valuable in his early thirties than late twenties.
3) The next opportunity for contention should come well before Tulo's contract expires
When combined with the first two points, the argument for keeping Tulo really takes shape. Short of another general manager calling Jeff Bridich and offering a package so stupid it deserves an immediate firing, there's really only two ways the Rockies should trade a high-end player, particularly a franchise player that's expected to continue to be really good as we have in Tulowitzki's case.
One is if you have a Matt Holliday situation with the player nearing free agency and a trade being the only way to get respectable long term-value. The other is if the extended future looks so hopeless that you believe the bulk of the next contention window falls outside of a period between now and the end of the star player's contract.
Tulo doesn't come close to fitting either one of these categories. This is why a trade of Tulo and a trade of Carlos Gonzalez signal such different agendas for this club. Cargo is only under contract through 2017 while Tulo is under team control through 2020 with an option for 2021. Even if Colorado believes 2015 is a lost season, it doesn't make sense to move Tulo if you believe the next wave of pitching prospects can make the team a contender for a good portion of the five years after that. Perhaps it makes sense this summer to move Gonzalez to get the final pieces you need for the that run and to free up some salary, but it doesn't make sense to move Tulo as he would be a big part of the team's next success window.
Here's another thing to keep in mind. As of right now, the Rockies have Tulo under team control for longer than Nolan Arenado, Tyler Matzek, and Corey Dickerson. So if you believe that the Rockies should be moving Tulo, then you should also believe the Rockies need to move all of these players as well, since the next reasonable contention window would fall outside of the team's control of these players.
In other words, the trade questions shouldn't put Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki in the same bucket like we generally see, but instead should be putting Nolan Arenado and Troy Tulowitzki in the same bucket. (More on why neither of them should be going anywhere in a moment)
4) Tulo's contract is not only reasonable, it's a bargain
Six years and $114 million remaining sounds rough, but the reality is that today's free agent market has spiraled completely out of control and fans are still scrambling to catch up mentally. Need proof? Kendrys Morales posted a .612 OPS last year going into his age 32 season and just got a two-year deal from Kansas City that guarantees him $17 million to DH. If that's not a sign the scale is being recalibrated, I don't know where else to look.
The value of a win on the free agent market is rapidly approaching $8 million, and with the average annual value of the six years remaining on Tulo's contract coming in at $19 million a pop, he's looking like a steal. Remember above, how Dan Szymborski's projections have Tulo averaging 4.2 WAR over the next six seasons without him ever playing in more than 111 games? Well on the current free agent market, Tulo would only have to average 2.4 WAR over the next six years for the rest of his contract to be worth it.
Wins are getting ridiculously expensive! So although the Rockies could save payroll space in a Tulo move, they're extremely unlikely to spend it on anything as useful as what they get from Tulo, even in limited playing time.
5) Don't underestimate the value of a franchise player
Believe it or not, it can get worse than what the Rockies have seen over the last four years. It's one thing to be terrible, it's another thing to be terrible without having stars on the roster who fans can look forward to seeing. Part of the reason the Rockies have seen such strong attendance compared to their record over the years is that they've always had a star player. From Todd Helton to Larry Walker to Matt Holliday to Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, the Rockies have always had a star to fall back on since the shine of the new franchise wore off sometime around the turn of the century.
Even as the club suffered through its third and fourth consecutive losing season in 2013 and 2014, the Rockies still ranked fifth in the National League in attendance the past two years. Some of it is Coors Field being a great place to watch a ballgame, and some of it is Denver being a good sports town, but some of it is also fans paying to see a once-in-a-generation shortstop man the position for the home club. If the front office trades him, fans are unlikely to ever see a shortstop as good as Tulo in a Rockies uniform for as long as they live.
If Bridich wants to venture down this road, he absolutely has to get it right. If Tulo is moved and the pieces that come back are anything less than a home run, the fan base will forever look at him as the guy who sold off the franchise guy for an undesirable return. That's a toxic brew even Rockies' fans haven't had to endure over the last four seasons, and I want no part of it.
6) Only a fool would break up the best left side of the infield in baseball
I can't pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but somewhere along this club's injury-filled journey, Nolan Arenado vaulted ahead of Carlos Gonzalez as the second best player on this team. This is a game changer because of his age, because of his position, and because of how long he's under team control (through at least the end of the 2019 season whereas Cargo hits free agency after 2017).
It's been such a bumpy ride recently, thanks to disabled list visits from both players, that most fans have overlooked the potential of the glorious duo right in front of them. So far, they've only fully played 134 games together, but the way each can single-handedly alter a close contest both offensively and defensively is something that should be getting more attention from the media and fans alike, because when these two are on the field together, the Rockies are a different team.
Since April 28th, 2013 when the Rockies first called up Nolan Arenado, there's been 134 games where both Tulo and Arenado have started and lasted at least seven innings. In those games, the Rockies are 67-67, an even .500. However, in the 166 games since that date where either one or both players didn't start or left the game early with injury, the Rockies are a dreadful 58-108, an appalling 50 games south of .500.
It doesn't have much to do with the caliber of starting pitchers in these games either, because I've checked that and the two batches of games have similar levels of starting pitching. Here's a list of all the pitchers who made at least three starts in either scenario:
Obviously some of this is just random circumstance, but having watched enough games where both Tulo and Arenado are active, there's a palpable difference that's very tough to deny. Every time a ball is hit to the left side of the infield, they can kill a rally. Every time they come up, there's the potential they'll inflict damage on the opponent. There's more energy in the dugout, and you just feel that something good could happen, as these players seem to feed off each other and the rest of the team seems to feed off them. It's not the same when only one of them's there.
The Rockies have the best left side of the infield in baseball, and they have it in their power to keep it that way for at least five more years. That sounds to me like something you build and market the team around, not trade away.