It's been nearly four weeks since the Rockies traded Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays, and it's still tough to come to terms with the fact that he's never going to play another game in a Rockies uniform again. I don't think I've gone more than five minutes since the trade happened without lamenting that fact over and over and over again. It still hurts.
I've already covered the emotional side of this trade in the hours after it occurred however, and while I could probably write a dozen more articles from that perspective, I've been asked by numerous people to cover it from an analytical point of view. So that's what I'm going to try to do here. I originally thought I might do it a couple of weeks ago, but I just wasn't ready yet. Even now I'm not sure I really want to go down this road, but it's something I feel I owe the readers of this site regardless of which side of the fence they fall on.
To try and remove any emotion from this piece, we're going to use surplus value when evaluating some of the key components of the trade (more on that in a moment). What we really want to do though is see if this equation balances:
Troy Tulowitzki + LaTroy Hawkins = Jose Reyes + Jeff Hoffman + Miguel Castro + Jesus Tinoco
Let's start off with something I think is pretty easy to eliminate from both sides: LaTroy Hawkins and Jesus Tinoco. This looks like a pretty fair trade to make straight up. Hawkins represents a reliable reliever who could help a team in contention sure up their bullpen depth. He struggled a bit early this season, but in his last 18 outings leading up to the trade, Hawkins allowed just two runs while holding opposing batters to a .550 OPS.
It doesn't appear to be a fluke either. Since the start of the 2013 season, Hawkins has a 3.08 ERA (with a huge chunk of those innings coming at Coors Field), a 129 ERA+, and an almost unbelievable 1.6 BB/9. He's not an automatic shutdown late inning guy that gives hitters nightmares, but he's without a doubt a valuable piece to a team like the Blue Jays.
On the flip side, we have Jesus Tinoco. A 20-year-old power arm that throws lightning bolts but didn't even crack that top 20 on John Sickels' prospect rankings for Toronto as recently as this past winter. In fact, he doesn't even appear in the "others of interest" section. Granted, Tinoco's value is significantly higher than it was seven months ago (and still seems to be rising), but he's also still miles away from a major league uniform and carries with him the most uncertainty of any of the six players moved in this deal.
If I were to rank him on an updated version of one of our PuRPs lists, he'd rank 18th on my ballot. That's not a bad ranking, but with 30 teams out there, that would average out to being somewhere between the 511th and 540th best prospect in the game. Of course, he's probably higher than that since the Rockies system is stronger and deeper than most in the game right now. So 18th on a PuRPs list might translate to being a couple of hundred slots higher on a national board. Even so, it's probably tough to make an argument that Tinoco is much better than the No. 300 prospect in the game right now.
This doesn't mean he can't become a valuable major league player someday. It just means he's too far away from the top level and still has too many question marks surrounding him to deserve an extremely high ranking just yet.
So if we conclude that a Hawkins for Tinoco swap is a fair deal, and I believe it is, we're left with this equation now that we've subtracted a name from both sides.
Troy Tulowitzki = Jose Reyes + Jeff Hoffman + Miguel Castro
Now that we've got Tulo all alone, we can try to convert him and his contract into a number. To do this we can use projection systems designed to estimate the total WAR Tulo is likely to provide for the rest of his contract and convert that into money by calculating what the value of a win is likely to look like over the coming years. We then can compare that number to the actual money remaining on Tulo's contract. The difference between those two numbers represents the player's surplus value.
One of the best projection systems out there for public consumption is Dan Szymborski's ZiPS figures. These figures take everything into account from likely production based on past results to the likelihood of injury based on past results. For Tulo, it projects the following WAR totals for the remainder of his contract:
2015: 1.7 WAR (after the trade)
2021: 2.2 (option year with a $4 million buyout)
Assuming $6.6 million for a win in 2016 and a five percent salary growth in the game over the time remaining in Tulo's contract, we can get a figure that Tulo would expect to earn if he was a free agent right now in relation to what he's actually going to earn. (I'm not including 2021 in the following table because the math gets messy with multiple scenarios if you include the option year, and the final figure comes out virtually the same in each scenario with or without that year included).
Here's what that values look like in table form:
There's a bunch of gory math details in there, but the number that really matters here is that last one on the bottom right. Even with aging, even with all of his past injuries, and even with $100 million left on his contract, Tulo is still projected to be a major, major asset through the end of the decade.
It's not just ZiPS either. Every projection system out there I've looked at (public and private) sees the Tulo contract as a massive bargain. Some have the surplus value closer to $30 million, some have it north of $40 million. ZiPS seems like a good choice to use because it's more middle of the road. You'll see some people attempt to spin this this as "the Rockies got out from underneath a huge commitment that had a stranglehold on the organization," but don't believe them.
While every contract carries risk, especially long term contracts like this one, all of the best educated guesses / projection systems have Tulo producing surplus value for the duration of this contract. EVERY, SINGLE, ONE OF THEM! Yes, the Rockies now have an additional $50 million to spend late in the decade once you subtract the money they now owe Jose Reyes (more on that in moment), but the Rockies are extremely unlikely to spend that $50 million on anything better than the end of Troy Tulowitzki's contract.
This is why we have the surplus value figure. We can expect the Rockies to spend that newly freed up money on something that comes to a neutral surplus value, and if they do, it will be a far cry from the immense positive surplus value Tulo was providing.
Not only that, but the amount of money freed up isn't even really that high. By moving Tulo, the Rockies gave up many more millions in the chance to market him as a potential Hall of Fame shortstop who spent his entire career as a Rockie. They may never have that opportunity with another player for generations.
This is the guy who would have had his name on every third giveaway from now until the mid 2020s. This is the guy everybody thinks of when they think of the Rockies in today's MLB. Troy Tulowitzki is one of the best shortstops to ever put on a baseball uniform, and until a month ago, he was exclusively putting on a Rockies uniform. Now, he will never put on a Rockies uniform again.
There's no way to calculate the exact figure the Rockies gave up here, so I'm not even going to try to include it in the analysis, but make no mistake about it, the Rockies brand is weaker without Troy Tulowitzki than it was with Troy Tulowitzki, and I expect that to show up in attendance among other things in 2016 and beyond until this team does some serious winning, which could be who knows how many years away.
So now that we have Tulo converted into a surplus value figure, our equation looks like this:
$38.9 million in surplus value = Jose Reyes + Jeff Hoffman + Miguel Castro
Now let's do Reyes. Once again, we're going to use ZiPS, and once again, it really doesn't matter what major projection system you use, because they all agree that this contract is terrible. In fact, Reyes is the most known asset of the entire group of players moved here except for maybe Hawkins since he has only a few months left. There shouldn't be any big surprises value wise going forward. What you see in this table is what you're probably going to get:
Let me start off by saying that I like Jose Reyes as a person, and believe he will provide some fun moments on the field. Unfortunately, this trade isn't about how much we like certain players. It it was, Tulo would still be here.
The sad reality is that Jose Reyes, when combined with his contract, is a toxic asset. So toxic in fact that it seems like much of the fan base has forgotten how these contracts work since we haven't had one this bad in a long, long time. There's a reason Reyes wasn't flipped at the July deadline and still hasn't been moved three weeks into August despite expectations of that happening: Nobody wants this contract!
Reyes is among the worst defensive shortstops in baseball (and getting worse) and is getting paid more to be a shell of his former self than Tulo is for each of the next two years. That's awful! While several teams in contention at the deadline including the Yankees, Angels, Twins, and Royals could have used his services at either second or short before the July 31st deadline, nobody wanted to pay that contract, let alone give something else up in return.
Rockies fans need to realize right now that they are not going to get anything of value moving this player. They will do well to eat half the contract and a get a Tinoco like lottery ticket in return. Reyes' contract is the bugaboo that makes this deal go from unpleasant to a potential fiasco.
So going back to the table above, Reyes' surplus value comes in at a -$21.6 million, but it's actually even worse than that, because after Reyes get's overpaid to the tune of $22 million in both 2016 and 2017, there's an option for another $22 million year in 2018 with a $4 million buyout, and we can be over 99 percent sure that whatever team has Reyes under control at the end of 2017 is paying the $4 million to get out from underneath the last year of that contract.
This means that Reyes' surplus value is actually -$25.6 million and not -$21.6 million. Here it is in our equation:
$38.9 million in surplus value = -$25.6 million in surplus value + Jeff Hoffman + Miguel Castro
Since Reyes' value is negative, we can add $25.6 million in surplus value to both sides, and end up very close to what we really want to find out. Rewritten, we get this:
$64.5 million in surplus value = Jeff Hoffman + Miguel Castro
Now, just to cover ourselves (even though we probably already more than did that by not including all the marketing money the Rockies lost by moving Tulo), let's knock ten percent off that total surplus value. ZiPS tends to be pretty middle of the road in terms of projection systems, but for the Rockies sake, let's slide the equation slightly more in their favor, just to make sure we're not short changing them with this particular projection system.
Here's our new equation with ten percent taken off the total surplus value of the Tulo and Reyes contracts:
$58 million in surplus value = Jeff Hoffman + Miguel Castro
So now we're left with this. In order for the Rockies to break even in this trade, Jeff Hoffman and Miguel Castro need to be worth $58 million in surplus value. And of course, you don't trade face of the franchise, potential future Hall of Famer Troy Tulowitzki to break even, you trade him because you got an offer you simply couldn't refuse. So in reality, we're really looking for something north of $75 or $80 million on the other side of that equation.
So how do we calculate the surplus value of prospects? Well, there's some excellent work being done in the field, and it can be summarized pretty well in a table like the one in this fangraphs link from last winter. It's not going to be perfect. Nothing when trying to evaluate prospects is perfect because they're so unpredictable by nature, but it does give us a really solid educated guess.
Knowing what we have in that table, we have to first figure out where Hoffman and Castro rank in terms of top 100 prospects. Hoffman is a little tricky because he's coming off a lost 2014 season, so he was ranked lower last winter than he would be right now. Coming into the season, Baseball Prospectus ranked Hoffman as the No. 73 prospect in baseball, while he didn't even make Baseball America's top 100 list. However, as he's pitched well this season, Hoffman's stock has started to climb.
In the recently updated MLB.com prospect rankings, Hoffman ranks as the No. 55 prospect in baseball. However, I'm willing to give him an even larger bump than that. The Rockies obviously picked him over Danial Norris (the other highest rated Blue Jays pitching prospect) because they see something specific they like. Every team has their own personal prospect rankings based on different scouting and results, so we'll once again give the Rockies the benefit of the doubt here and say that Hoffman is significantly higher their list.
So let's move Hoffman all the way up to the slot on the table in the above link that ranks him somewhere between the 11th and 25th best prospect in baseball. That's almost certainly overdoing it, but he's the centerpiece of the other side of the trade, so you know the Rockies think highly of him.
If he does rank that high, his projected surplus value going forward according to our table in the link above is $24.5 million. A nice figure indeed but, well, I think you can already see where this is going ....
Now for Miguel Castro. Unlike Hoffman, he's hard to find on top 100 lists right now. For instance, he completely misses the top 100 on the recently updated MLB.com list Hoffman ranks No. 55 on. However, he does rank just outside the top 100 on other lists according to several people I've talked to. So once again, since the Rockies picked him to be a big part of the Troy Tulowitzki deal, let's give him a massive bump and assume that he ranks significantly higher on their rankings than everywhere else.
Since he's a 20-year-old in Triple-A, we'll rocket him right past more than half the guys in front of him on most lists and say Castro makes it into the 26th to 50th best prospect slot. For reference, that's ahead of where any major prospect list ranks Hoffman right now. So again, this is extremely generous. Here, Castro projects to be worth $18.7 million in surplus value.
So now that we have the $24.5 million and $18.7 million figures, let's plug these numbers into our equation and see what we end up with ...
$58 million in surplus value = $24.5 million in surplus value + $18.7 million in surplus value
$58 million in surplus value = $43.2 million in surplus value
It's time to start crying again. Even after taking away ten percent of the surplus value ZiPS projects the Rockies gave up in this deal, even after ignoring all the all the legacy money the Rockies could have had by keeping Troy Tulowitzki forever, and even after being incredibly optimistic about the prospects that came back in the deal, the Rockies still end up $14.8 million short in surplus value. $14.8 MILLION!!! -- And remember, they're doing this in a deal where they gave up Troy Freaking Tulowitzki!!! If they broke even in surplus value I wouldn't be particularly thrilled.
This is a move you make because you're blown away. The idea that this deal had to happen or that it was too good of an offer to pass up as I've seen all over the internet in recent weeks is ridiculous! This entire episode, especially considering how fast it came together is reflective of an embarrassingly incoherent thought process.
Now of course, this deal could work out for the Rockies. There's scenarios out there where Hoffman becomes a bonafide ace, Castro becomes an extremely useful middle of the rotation arm, and Tulo's career fizzles in Toronto -- all of which would defy the current surplus projections. But just because those scenarios exist doesn't make this a good deal for the Rockies. You can talk yourself into any trade by banking on the most extreme scenario.
In reality, you have to make the best educated guesses with the current information you have, and I don't believe the Rockies did that in this case. It's just more likely that one of these arms falls into the black hole of failed prospects, another becomes useful for a couple of seasons but is nothing special, and the third does well, maybe even making an All-Star team, but never quite reaches that ceiling you're dreaming about now. Meanwhile, Reyes' contract proves to be a disaster, and Tulo keeps doing Troy Tulowitzki things in Toronto.
Maybe the front office is right. Maybe they just now figured out how to spot elite pitching talent and develop it (even though their failure to be able to do that for the last five years is what got them into this mess). If not though, and this deal fails, Rockies fans are probably going to reserve the right to storm the front office with torches and pitchforks, duct tape those responsible to the foul poles, glue french fries to their faces, and let the local bird population have their way with them.
Now of course, this deal can also start to make a little more sense if it becomes a part of a series of moves this winter. The only thing dumber than trading Troy Tulowitzki for a return that nets you this much negative surplus value would then be to hang on to the other major league assets and try to compete with them in 2016. So we'll see how this goes. Either way though, I find it hard to believe that this was the best return out there for Troy Tulowitzki, and if it was, he shouldn't have been moved. The whole thing, especially by itself is just completely indefensible.
Some here have called Jeff Bridich heartless after this move, and that's meant as a compliment considering his job is to make the team better despite having to deal with emotional situations. However, when looking at the value the Rockies exchanged in this trade, I'm afraid this deal was made not by the Tin Man, but by the Scarecrow.