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4 Troy Tulowitzki trade scenarios with the Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies make perfect trade partners. The Nationals are looking to unload pitching. The Rockies need pitching. The Nationals have the next best shortstop in the NL after Troy Tulowitzki. Can a blockbuster trade be worked out?

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

With the Washington Nationals signing Max Scherzerreports immediately began circulating that the team in the nation's capitol might be looking to unload some of their highly touted pitching.

Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still at the forefront of trade talk for many in Denver and across the country, so it seems only natural that the two teams may be able to figure out some kind of deal, especially if Stephen Strasburg is seriously a part of the conversation. The Nationals' Ian Desmond also presents a unique opportunity for a team to make an offer for Tulo while including a shortstop who isn't a massive drop-off in production, at least in a relative sense.

Understanding that the WAR stat has its shortcomings — specifically when it comes to properly valuing Coors Field outfield defense and hitters, as well as injured players in general — it is a useful tool for giving an objective, albeit less nuanced, look at potential blockbuster trades. It is a blunt instrument to be sure, but a good place to start.

The following is a look into a few potential trade scenarios through the lens of only WAR and money. Can the Rockies find a deal with the Nationals that helps them in one or both categories? First, let's look at the details.

The table below includes each player's average WAR for the last three seasons, their WAR/162 (or per 150 IP for pitchers), and their contract status.

Name WAR Avg WAR/162 (WAR/150 IP) Free Agent Money owed
Troy Tulowitzki (30) 5.36 7.38 2021

$20M through 2019

$14M, 2020

$15M Team Option, 2021

Ian Desmond (29) 4.60 5.13


$11M through 2015
Jordan Zimmermann (28) 4.06 3.01 2016 $16M through 2015
Gio Gonzalez (29) 3.76 3.06


$11M, 2015

$12M, 2016-2018

Cond. Team Option, 2018

Stephen Strasburg (26) 3.90 3.15


$7.4M, 2015

Arb. 2016

Tanner Roark (28) 2.20 2.62


$0.5M, 2015

Arb. 2017

Trade scenario #1: Troy Tulowitzki for Jordan Zimmermann and Ian Desmond

Positives: The argument can fairly easily be made that this trade would make the Colorado Rockies a better team in 2015. You can't assume all the players involved will continue to produce at exactly their three-year WAR averages, but the numbers suggest that if they all perform at an approximation of them in 2015, the Rockies would net about 3.30 additional WAR. This is assuming Tulo is at his average health from the last three seasons.

If Tulowitzki plays in 162 games (let the hysterical laughing commence), the numbers still say that the Rockies could net about 0.76 WAR by having Desmond and Zimmermann instead ... in 2015.

Negatives: After 2015, this trade scenario falls apart from a Rockies perspective.

It's not outside the realm of possibility that the Rockies could re-sign Ian Desmond, but it is far less likely that Jordan Zimmermann would even consider doing such a thing. And it is absolutely possible that both could leave the Rockies after just a one-year rental.

Best case scenario is the Rockies make themselves three, maybe four, wins better in 2015. The worst case scenario is that the Rockies give up seven more seasons of Troy Tulowitzki in exchange for less than one added WAR in 2015, and nothing beyond that except, I suppose, relief from his contract if they could get Washington to assume all or most of it.

There is a chance that this trade makes the Rockies immediately better, but unless you think it is an organization-changing move that puts the Rockies into immediate contention while simultaneously increasing their chances to re-sign these players (or players of their ilk), the risk of losing so much service time for the greatest Rockie in history is just too much.

Remember, too, that Troy Tulowitzki would likely make (at least) $8 million more per year in free agency than he is making in Colorado, so factor that in when considering any possible free-agents the Rockies could target by simply freeing the Rockies up from his contract. From a Fangraphs article explaining $/WAR:

Regardless of which model you pick, the range is somewhere between $5 and $7 million per win, which nicely supports the earlier $6 million estimate. Dan Szymborski has been using $5.5 million per win as his assumed price in transaction analysis pieces for ESPN, and that lines up nicely with the median of the 5% NPV model. Lewie Pollis and Matt Swartz have both used different methods of calculations to determine price paid per actual win of past contracts, and have both ranged a little higher, with Lewie recently presenting his calculations at $7 million per win.

If one WAR is worth $7 million, Troy Tulowitzki (even with all his injuries) should be getting paid in the neighborhood of $35 million instead of the $20 million he is currently due. The $/WAR numbers are probably lower than that, but are also on an upward (inflation) trend, giving even more value to the length, and ingenious sudden drop at the end, of the Tulo contract.

Trade scenario #2: Troy Tulowitzki for Stephen Strasburg and Ian Desmond

Positives: Keeping all of our caveats about the numbers in mind, this is the trade most likely to excite Rockies fans. Even without factoring in the possibility that Strasburg has still yet to unleash his full potential, the Rockies could gain about 3.15 WAR in 2015, 0.90 should Tulo miraculously play 162 games for the Nationals after this trade.

Strasburg would be controlled through the 2016 season, though likely due for a pay raise in arbitration after 2015. But he would be maybe the most exciting pitcher to ever take the mound at Coors Field in a home jersey.

If you truly believe that the Rockies' window for contention begins in 2016, Strasburg would be a part of that, and if he were around to see the success of budding prospects like Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, Tyler Anderson, and David Dahl, the argument could be made that he may actually be willing to re-sign here and would be the ideal candidate for the Rockies to finally break their streak of not signing big name pitchers to big contracts.

Negatives: Two years of Stephen Strasburg is more comforting than one of Jordan Zimmermann. But how much more? What if the prospect-heavy plan of magic and wonderment doesn't work? Then, the Rockies would be left in a similar situation as described with the Zimmermann deal, or maybe even worse if they became somewhat built upon a Strasburg-based foundation when beginning to see success only to have that rug pulled right out from underneath them at the most inopportune time.

Is seven years of Troy Tulowitzki worth only two guaranteed years of Stephen Strasburg (a Scott Boras client) and one of Ian Desmond? The move is full of risk.

Trade scenario #3: Troy Tulowitzki for Gio Gonzalez and Ian Desmond

Positives: Gio Gonzalez, while being the guy pushed into the fifth spot in all of this mess should the Nationals decide not to trade anyone (talk about an embarrassment of riches), may be the guy the Rockies should actually target. He has a team option at $12 million in 2017 and another one at the same price in 2018 if he can manage 180 IP in 2017.

When coupled with Desmond, he represents approximately 3.00 additional WAR (0.81 over a fully healthy Tulo) with guaranteed control for the next three seasons. His contract never exceeds $12 million per year.

Negatives: Gonzalez is older than the other trade candidates, and the potential to be eaten by Coors Field exists for all of these guys, but the friendly contract makes Gio Gonzalez someone the Nationals want to keep. For Tulo, though, they'd probably listen. So then the question becomes, do you feel strongly enough that you can keep Ian Desmond and that both players can continue to produce, and is that worth trading the face of the franchise?

Trade scenario #4: Troy Tulowitzki for Tanner Roark, Ian Desmond, and ???

Positives: Tanner Roark is signed through 2020 and is currently making next to nothing. The financial relief in the immediacy (assuming still that Washington eats most of Tulo's contract) would be massive and the Rockies could add another All-Star level player, or a handful of good players, with the money saved.

Roark doesn't have as much on his resume as the rest of these guys and therefore is slightly harder to predict. But if he is close to the 3.00 WAR player he was last season, the mere suggestion that the Rockies could have a pitcher like that signed into the next decade is almost tear-inducing.

Negatives: Roark is on a rookie contact, but he is the same age as Jordan Zimmermann (28) and is more likely than anyone on this list to regress, as players who don't make their debuts until 27 don't usually go on to be amazing. Also, the ultimate payoff, the numbers suggest, is only about 1.44 WAR, 0.37 if Tulo stays healthy.

If you take into account the $/WAR numbers above, it could end up being quite difficult to replace Tulo's long-term production in the aggregate. In order for this trade to work from the Rockies perspective, they would need to ask for another player that can likely produce around one additional WAR for the next few seasons.


These trade scenarios highlight the trouble with trying to trade Troy Tulowitzki. Not a player like Tulowitzki but the bizarro Cal Ripken himself in all his uniqueness presents a multitude of challenges to creating a trade proposal that any two people, let alone any two GMs, can agree upon.

Ian Desmond's presence on the Nationals give them a huge advantage in trying to attain Tulo, if they so desired, but even then asking for their starting shortstop and some incredibly promising pitching could still only amount to replacing and not necessarily surpassing Tulo's production.

This is where the Rockies likely ask for some supplemental piece or pieces (think prospects) in addition to both Desmond and one of these pitchers in order to minimize risk in the long-term and then are criticized for asking for too much and overvaluing their own players.

But even when you throw out big names and prospects, there is no guarantee that you bring back more WAR, especially at the bargain price of what the Rockies have Tulo under contract for longer than any player in mentioned in this article.

Would the Nationals, a team right in the epicenter of contention, make such broad sweeping changes to bring in Tulo? Would the Rockies trade the face of the franchise for a couple of players who may not be here three years from now? Would you?