Late last month, I wrote a pretty scathing review of the Troy Tulowitzki trade looking at all of the players involved purely as assets and liabilities via surplus value. In short, it's extremely hard not to conclude the Rockies traded away the beloved face of their franchise while taking a significant loss in overall surplus value. It's a very ugly deal for Colorado when you look at it in a vacuum.
However, that's not the only perspective that's important when discussing this move. In the poll from that piece last month, only 23 percent of the over 2,600 respondents approved of the return, but that group was proportionately active in the comments section, providing a sort of vocal minority within the community.
Some of the best arguments brought to the table were from JP97, bringbackthebombers, Boston Transplant, cosoak, Jordan Freemyer, fluffysheep, LTRock, and McDallas (sorry if I missed anybody). Without trying to put words in their mouth, because each point was slightly different and in some cases included other philosophies as well, my general takeaway from that side of the aisle amounts to this:
It doesn't matter how bad of a move Jeff Bridich made playing checkers if he was actually playing chess.
In other words, if the Rockies devalue the importance of surplus value in the short term -- because boy, did they give up a ton of it in that trade -- they have a better chance of aligning a fleet of surplus value players on the major league club in the long term.
Two things before we proceed:
1) I actually agree with this line of thinking.
2) This line of thinking does not excuse the front office for getting such a light future surplus value return for a player like Tulowitzki. Even if the Rockies don't care about short term surplus value, the Tulowitzki buyer does, and the Rockies should have done a better job making sure they were compensated for that.
Dealing Tulowitzki for prospects was akin to sacrificing your queen in hopes that you can get multiple pawns to the other end of the board several moves down the road. It's not the game I wanted to play, but now that their most prominent piece is out of the picture, it's a game the Rockies have to play. So here we go. Come dive with me into an uncertain future.
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The Tulowitzki trade is the single most important trade in franchise history. Not just because of what it means when it stands by itself, but because of how it has to be measured as part of a domino effect that it either will or will not set off this winter.
Or to put it another way, I don't believe the Tulowitzki trade is justifiable by itself, so it better be the signal that it's the first in a series of moves that can be packaged together.
Publicly, Bridich doesn't want to go that far yet. When asked about a rebuild following the trade, he gave this response to the Denver Post:
"It's not a word we use around here, but we're not close-minded to things that can make us better. It's a layered, multilayered process. To rebuild it says that we're going to sell whatever assets we have at the major-league level just to say we're rebuilding or getting rid of guys for the sake of change."
Every GM worth his salt has lied to the fans and the media, so hopefully Bridich wasn't telling the full truth here. He left himself plenty of wiggle room with that quote and really said something without saying anything. He really doesn't even have to be lying to execute what I'm about to propose; he just has to not be totally forthcoming. (As a side note, I think this club has already been rebuilding since 2011. The only question now is if they're going to make it a nuclear rebuild, which I now believe they have to do after this July.)
So knowing this, the Rockies have to go all in with the idea that surplus value in the short term, particularly in 2016, is irrelevant to the club. Their focus now must be on exchanging the short term surplus value they do have for as much potential surplus value down the road as possible, and unfortunately, this means trading away more favorites.
To determine who needs to go, I looked at the 40-man roster (it actually includes 46 players right now with Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Anderson, Adam Ottavino, Jordan Lyles, Nick Hundley, and Michael McKenry all on the 60-day DL) and asked the following three questions about each player:
1) Will the player already have more than two years of major league service time at the start of the 2016 season?
2) Is the player likely to provide more surplus value in 2016 than 2018?
3) Is the player's trade value high this winter, AND unlikely to rise higher going forward?
If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, then they probably shouldn't be on the 2016 Rockies unless there are some special circumstances.
Here's a link to the current 40-man roster. Right now, 20 players are going to satisfy the first qualification (that's something we can measure that's set in stone). From there, things get more debatable.
Going through the list, six players fit all three criteria (feel free to come up with your own list and comment if your opinion here differs from mine). They are, in order of who should be shopped the most: Carlos Gonzalez, Jorge De La Rosa, DJ LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Nick Hundley, and Nolan Arenado. Let's take a closer look at each of them.
1) Carlos Gonzalez
2016 Age: 30
2015 rWAR: 3.2
Contract Status: $17 million in 2016, $20 million in 2017
This is sadly the easiest pick on the entire roster. He's rebuilt his value over the last four months and it's unlikely to be of any use to the Rockies unless it comes in the form of prospects in a trade. The Gonzalez / Tulowitzki dream is dead.
2) Jorge De La Rosa
2016 Age: 35
2015 rWAR: 3.0
Contract Status: $12.5 million in 2016
This will be another tough player to lose. He's been a brilliant counterpoint to everything generally attached to the Rockies and pitching.
"You can't pitch at Coors Field the way you do everywhere else."
Well he has for the bulk of his tenure here.
"The Rockies can't develop pitching."
The Rockies didn't technically develop De La Rosa, but he came here as a 27-year-old with zero success at the major league level and got better and better.
"Nobody wants to pitch for the Rockies because they have to deal with Coors Field."
De La Rosa did. He signed a two-year extension a year ago when he was mere weeks away from free agency and probably could have gotten more money on the open market. You only do that if you like pitching in Colorado.
Still, De La Rosa is getting older and even if he wants to keep re-signing in Denver, the Rockies are unlikely to be good again during the best years he has left. He does have a no-trade clause, so that could make any deal he's involved in tricky. But if the Rockies explain to him that a trade is his best shot at winning in 2016, I'm sure he'll agree that a new destination is the best thing for everyone involved.
3) DJ LeMahieu
2016 Age: 27
2015: rWAR: 2.7
Contract Status: Arbitration eligible, 2016-2018
The Rockies have done very, very well with LeMahieu. He and Tyler Colvin came over from the Cubs in exchange for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers back in December of 2011. Since then, LeMahieu has improved each season, and now he's finishing up a career year in which he's become one of the best dozen or so second basemen in the game.
He's the perfect piece for a club that's already built to win in most areas, but needs help at second base (this description is going to fit several American League teams this offseason). Unfortunately for the Rockies, they're not close to being one of those clubs, and as nice as it would be to win with LeMahieu, it just doesn't make sense to hold onto him for the next couple of years while he gets more expensive.
There might be a very brief period where the Rockies are competitive before LeMahieu hits free agency, but not enough to justify keeping him around and burning his surplus value in the short terms while getting nothing in return. His value may never be higher than it is right now. SELL! SELL! SELL!
One other very important note as it concerns LeMahieu: I believe it's more important to move him out of the middle infield this winter than it is Jose Reyes. Not because I like the idea of Reyes still being there in 2016, but because Reyes represents a negative surplus value for the remainder of his contract, and the Rockies shouldn't care about that when it concerns 2016. What's most important over the next few months is that they cash in on current surplus value and turn it into potential future value, and LeMahieu represents the most surplus value of anyone they have left in the middle infield.
Trevor Story and Cristhian Adames should be getting the majority of starts in the middle infield by late 2016. Not only that, but they should both get starts at second and short to keep as many options open here as possible. If they both prove they can handle the middle infield full-time by 2017, great. If not, the Rockies may have to acquire somebody to play either short or second depending on A) how close they are to contending; B) where Forrest Wall and Brendan Rodgers are in their development; and C) which position Story and Adames prove they can handle best. The more positions Adames and Story are comfortable with, the easier it will be to add the right piece when / if that's necessary.
4) Charlie Blackmon
2016 Age: 29
2015: rWAR: 1.7
Contract Status: Arbitration eligible, 2016-2018
Not all that different a situation from why the Rockies should move LeMahieu. Blackmon's just a little less valuable, a little older, and plays a position that won't be in as high of a demand on the market, so I'd expect the return to be less.
Still, like LeMahieu, Blackmon's a perfect piece on a club that already has the foundation in place. He's not a guy you build around though, and if the Rockies don't move him, they're just wasting the prime of his career as he gets more expensive. Again, like LeMahieu, his value may never be higher than it is right now. SELL! SELL! SELL!
5) Nick Hundley
2016 Age: 32
2015 rWAR: 1.7
Contract Status: $3.15 million in 2016
The only reasons I don't have Hundley higher than Blackmon on this list is because he's injured right now (so that could depress his value some even though he should come back strong next season), and because the Rockies may like the idea of having a veteran catcher handling all the young pitchers who will be coming up in 2016.
Right now, the Rockies have five players on the 40-man roster going into 2016 who can catch: Hundley, Michael McKenry, Dustin Garneau, Tom Murphy, and Wilin Rosario. At this point, it's a good bet that at least two of them won't be with the organization much longer when you take into account the roster crunch that's coming. Rosario is extremely likely to be one that gets the ax, and if the Rockies feel they can get anything of value for Hundley via trade, he should be the other.
6) Nolan Arenado
2016 Age: 25
2015 rWAR: 4.9
Contract Status: Arbitration eligible, 2016-2019
This is the one where I could be talked in either direction. Arenado could easily get the biggest haul in a trade of any player anywhere on the roster, but at the same time, he's controlled longer than anyone else on this list and is also better than anyone else on this list.
Just as important for the Rockies, he's younger than everyone else on this list, meaning he's likely to still be as productive (if not more productive) in 2018 than he will be in 2016. Now read this carefully in tandem with the second qualification to get on this list above: Arenado will probably be slightly more PRODUCTIVE in 2018 than 2016 (more WAR), but he'll also probably provide less SURPLUS VALUE because he'll be more expensive by that point.
In this case, the Rockies should be engaging in conversation and listening to offers, but should only pull the trigger if they get a truly monstrous haul. For this to happen, they'd have to get back more than they received in the Tulowitzki deal.
At the same time, I wouldn't expect anything, nor would I rush it. Unlike some of the other players on this list who could see their value drop by next summer if things don't go well, Nolan is a good bet to keep producing at his current rate. His trade value isn't going anywhere. In addition to this, holding onto Arenado longer gives the Rockies a better and better idea of what Ryan McMahon will become.
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Carrying on with the theme of surplus value not mattering in 2016, the Rockies should adopt this into their payroll as well. No, this doesn't mean going out and signing bad contracts like the Jose Reyes deal they already have on the books, but it does mean spending money on things they'll see no return on in 2016 if it could make them better down the road.
Enter the Gonzalez and De La Rosa contracts. While I don't believe either one of those players should be tied to the Rockies on the field in 2016, I absolutely believe their contracts should be paid via a purple check.
Even though they cost $17 million and $12.5 million in 2016 respectively, Gonzalez and De La Rosa have value on the trade market. But what if they didn't cost that much for the acquiring club? What if the Rockies were willing to pay all or most of the 2016 money?
Or to ask the question a different way, how much better of an offer would a winning club be willing to make for De La Rosa if he came for free instead of with a $12.5 million price tag attached? How much more attractive would Gonzalez look than somebody like Yoenis Cespedes if the former is only owed pocket change in 2016 and is off the books after 2017?
If the Rockies are treating 2016 as a lost cause -- and they better be after the surplus value dumped in the Tulo trade -- they need to prove it. Don't spend money on free agent waste that's going to get the club from 67 to 69 wins. While that may be nice, the 2016 money is going to be put to much better use if it's essentially used to buy better prospects in these deals that should be happening anyway.
One final note here: While I'm all for paying CarGo's 2016 money for another team, all for kicking in the cash on De La Rosa's contract, and even don't mind eating Reyes' 2016 money, I'd like to prevent as much of this as possible for 2017. Spending money for players to play on other teams is not a practice I'd want to make a pattern. But for one dismal, downtrodden year, it should be fully embraced to make the team better in the future.
After that however, I want the books as clear as possible so this team can have the freedom to add the right pieces. Even if 2017 isn't going to be a winning season (WAY too early to tell on that right now), it is a season where the Rockies should want to start adding pieces and moving in a northward direction.
So as the final home stand of 2015 begins tonight, go out to the ballpark. Go see CarGo and the sweetest swing in the game. Go see LeMahieu and his slick gold glove defense.
Go see De La Rosa as he tries to once again master Coors Field when he starts next week. Go see Blackmon and all his admirable quirks. And go see a budding young superstar in Arenado (although I don't necessarily think he should be moved).
If the Rockies do what needs to be done this winter, it may be your last chance before this roster is blown to pieces.