It was supposed to be the golden era of Rockies baseball. Five Novembers ago, the Rockies signed Troy Tulowitzki to an extension designed to keep him in a Rockies uniform for life, and judging by the way things had gone up to that point since Tulo arrived, it was reasonable to conclude that magical things were on the horizon.
The club didn't have to do this. At the time, Tulo was still four years away from free agency, and had already signed his first long extension with the Rockies three years earlier. But as Troy Renck explains in this piece from years gone by, the big Tulowitzki extension was all about trust. The Rockies loved what they had in Tulo, and Tulo loved what he had in being a Rockie, and both sides wanted the relationship to continue forever.
Five years later, the following quotes not only stand out, but also sting:
"In our situation, we have to move quickly in these situations. It's about a player trusting a club, and the club trusting a player," general manager Dan O'Dowd said. "His character and commitment represent everything we are about."
"It's not about getting top dollar. I don't want to be anywhere else." Tulowitzki said
"I grew up admiring players who stayed with one team. It's special to have this opportunity. I want to give fans someone they can fall in love with for the long haul, not a guy that's going to be gone."
This helps explain why Tulo's 2015 season ended in a Kansas City clubhouse explaining to a group of Toronto reporters why he felt he couldn't trust anybody anymore. Somewhere between the Shangri-La of 2010 and the emptiness of 2015, the trust that became the foundation for what was supposed to be a career long tenure in Colorado for Tulo eroded. Not because the two sides grew bitter towards each other, but because neither party could ever live up to the obligation they thought they could provide when their mutual dreams burned brightest. (Dan O'Dowd hinted about this from the club perspective in an interview over the weekend. The important stuff starts around the 5:35 mark, and he's almost certainly talking about the Tulo extension even though he never references it directly.)
Tulo could never stay on the field as often as he wanted, and the club never came close to surrounding their shining star with enough pitching to compete. Despite genuine intentions, neither side could fulfill the other's needs, and in time, this opened the door for the unthinkable.
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The most important moment of of the Rockies 2015 season didn't happen on the field, but instead occurred over a phone call with Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos on the evening of July 27th. In a flash, the direction of the franchise was altered forever, and potential aftershocks of the move still need to play out over the coming weeks as we learn the fates of Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, DJ LeMahieu, and Jorge De La Rosa. In many ways, the impact of this deal is only starting to be felt no matter what course of action the Rockies take from this point forward.
This makes Tulo's review different from all the other player's we've done. It's less about what he did on the field and more about what happened to lead to the moment he left. With that said however, what did happen on the field is still really important to note, because Tulo wasn't quite himself this year.
He still ranks eighth on our Wins Above Replacement (WAR) list countdown and would rank third if he spent all 128 games in Colorado (Not sure if it says more about Tulo being good enough to be the third most productive guy on a roster in a down season or the Rockies' lack productive players, but either way it's noteworthy), but he wasn't Troy Freaking Tulowitzki at the plate.
This could be a product of many things. Perhaps he wasn't completely healthy following the hip surgery that ended his 2014 season. Perhaps it was just a random down year where things didn't break right that we see from superstars from time to time - Or perhaps he just got off to a slow start and was distracted mentally all the way to October in what turned into an incredibly turbulent season personally. There's too many variables here to know what's up either way for sure, but we'll get some answers next summer.
My best guess is that Tulo is still a better player than the 2.9 rWAR he posted in 2015, but he's also no longer a top three player in the game when healthy like he was for most of his tenure in Colorado. Either way, 2016 is a huge year for both him and his new team in Toronto, and I know Rockie fans will be following this very closely.
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Right up until Tulo was traded, Rockie fans dreamed of a future that involved a winning team with him at shortstop. It's something we've been waiting to see ever since he signed that contract in 2010. The time frame shifted from what seemed like a foregone conclusion that was mere months away in the spring of 2011, to a dream that would occur in the distant future but be all that much sweeter after all the losing this club endured in recent years - But no matter what, a winning team with Tulo on it always seemed like part of the Rockies future. For me personally, the belief that I was going to get to see Tulo win with the Rockies again at some point is what fueled my fandom more than anything else in recent years.
People used to always ask me how I could spend so much time following the Rockies when they were so terrible every single year, and my response was always that I considered the experience a journey - A journey that I thought would include a time where I got to see my favorite player play on a winning Rockies team again, and that would make it all worth it.
That look on Tulo's face while surrounded by a bunch of young guys the Rockies developed when the team finally won some close, meaning games in September at Coors Field was going to be priceless. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to this experience, and judging by the emails I still get from those of you out there almost every week on this topic, I know I wasn't alone.
More than anything else, the death of a potential winning Rockies team led by Tulo is what the 2015 season was about. In an instant, success with Tulo went from something Rockie fans could dream about in the future, to something that was completely in past. Unless he's somehow reacquired by the Rockies before his career is over (it's something this club tends to do with former players when it makes sense), I'll probably be upset about this until I'm in the grave.
Still though, I don't have it in my soul to hate the front office for moving Tulo. I understand why they did what they did; I just completely disagree with the move and don't think it was the best course of action. I'll always root for the Rockies, but I don't think I'll ever be able to love them the same way again after what happened this summer, and that saddens me.
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The Tulo trade wasn't just the biggest story of the Rockies 2015 season, it was probably bigger than the next ten biggest stories of the year combined. We see this reflected here at Purple Row in the page views of anything Tulo related.
Not only did the days following the Tulo trade produce the most active week in Purple Row's history in terms of viewership, but stories about Tulo weeks and months after the trade still get more attention than anything else we write. The move's created an odd division among Rockie fans, leaving one group who is completely ready to move on, and another who still wants to follow Tulo's journey with the Blue Jays and get some form of fulfillment from a player they love while the Rockies continue to sputter at the bottom of the NL West.
One of the most interesting aspects of 2016 will be how the Rockies handle this schism in their fan base during what's likely to be another losing campaign. In the immediate aftermath of the trade, the broadcast seemed to go out of their way not to mention Tulo, and other forms of the team's communication with fans including their Facebook and Twitter accounts have mirrored that policy. This has been one of the biggest complaints I've gotten from e-mailers venting their displeasure on the topic.
Needless to say, the last week of June when the Blue Jays come to visit Coors Field will be among the highlights of the 2016 season. Hopefully it will help bring healing to everybody involved, because so far, the haunting combination of the finality of the trade juxtaposed with the lingering unanswered questions it leaves in its wake is one of the most frustrating aspects to this ordeal. If nothing else, it may finally bring some sort of closure to what's turned into a ballad of broken dreams for so many fans.
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It was supposed to be the golden era of Rockies baseball - But then the losing came, and it changed everything. Not just our perceptions of what this franchise was supposed to look like this decade, but the interactions of both the people within the organization and the fans who follow it changed too.
Along the way, we've all learned some valuable lessons.
We've learned that one or two superstars can't bring you success in baseball the way it can in the NFL or the NBA (the Angels and Nationals found that out in 2015 as well missing the playoffs with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper).
We've learned just how long a ten year contract is in reality, and that the details of dreams tend to change over time.
We've become aware that promises, even when made with the best of intentions, can't always be kept.
The Rockies learned that the young pitching they wanted most, could only be instantly acquired if they were willing to give up the person they wanted to part with the least.
Tulo learned that no matter a player's relationship with the front office, the ability to control your fate without a no trade clause is largely an illusion.
And then there's the people who've been emotionally invested in the idea of Tulo winning with the Rockies since he signed that extension in 2010. This group was forced to learn the sport's harshest lesson of all .... Baseball can be cruel, cold, and wicked. Relationships in this game are fragile - And if you let yourself fall in love, it will find a way to break your heart.