Let’s Think About a Troy Tulowitzki Trade

Things are not going particular well in Colorado, and I’m not just talking about the fact that it snowed in May. The state’s baseball team has lost nine straight games, and new GM Jeff Bridich isn’t particularly pleased with the results he’s seen as of late.

“We have a good collection of players,” said Bridich, the first-year GM whose team is 11-17 and last in the National League West. “And at this point, meaning the last two weeks of the season, they’ve added up to a bad team. I don’t think there’s any other way you can look at it. That’s not saying anything shocking. The players know that.

“There are bad stretches that befall every team in a season, or most every team in a season. This is where we see what type of resolve our players have — if they take a look around that clubhouse and deal with reality as adults and say, ‘We’re going to make some changes and do things necessary to start winning games.

“I continue to believe in our guys, but when you have to make changes like we did with Tyler Matzek [who was sent down to Triple-A Albuquerque over the weekend], when it’s in the best interest of the team and the player, you go ahead and give somebody else an opportunity,” Bridich said.

Unfortunately for Bridich and the Rockies, swapping out every underperforming player is logistically impossible. They’re not going to bench Carlos Gonzalez, but he’s been their worst player this season, putting up -0.6 WAR in his first 101 plate appearances. They could start taking some playing time from Justin Morneau and give it to Wilin Rosario, but that doesn’t seem like an obvious upgrade, and Morneau was pretty good for the Rockies last year, so that would seem like an overreaction to a slow start. And if the team had better pitchers than Jorge de la Rosa or Kyle Kendrick hanging around, they wouldn’t have spent some of their free agent money to sign those guys in the first place; this is not an organization overflowing with quality arms.

So yes, the Rockies can do things like demote Tyler Matzek or swap out Daniel Descalso for a different utility infielder, but moving the deck chairs around isn’t going to stop the ship from sinking. While Bridich is right that the team does have some good players, they just don’t have enough of them, and when the team’s two highest profile players aren’t performing like superstars, the rest of the roster gets exposed. And that’s what has happened early on; Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez have been mediocre and terrible respectively, and there just isn’t enough around them to pick up the slack.

Of course, Bridich isn’t ready to blow things up quite yet.

Asked whether more dramatic moves are on the horizon, such as trading high-priced shortstop Troy Tulowitzki or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, Bridich said, “No, it’s early in May. If and when those situations come up, we’ll deal with that then.”

Teams almost never make significant moves in May, preferring to wait until after the draft to start reevaluating their roster, so the Rockies are likely a month away from fielding offers for their veteran talents. But while Bridich might consider May 12th early, the reality is that Troy Tulowitzki has likely never been closer to the trade block than he is right now.

The Rockies are already 8.5 games out of first place in the National League West, and our Playoff Odds give them just a 0.2% chance of winning the division and a 2.3% chance of capturing one of the two Wild Card berths. This puts them in the same tier as the Rangers, Reds, Braves, Brewers and Diamondbacks — all teams that will likely be July sellers. It’s not impossible that one of them turns things around and makes an unexpected playoff run — maybe the Rockies will even be that team — but while it’s too early for the season to officially be over for this group, it’s far later in the year for these teams than it is for the other two dozen clubs in baseball.

So let’s assume the Rockies aren’t going to turn things around overnight, and in a month’s time, they’ll still be roughly 10 games behind the Dodgers, with slim Wild Card hopes fading as the calendar pages turn. At that point, contenders looking for an upgrade will begin seriously evaluating who is available, and they’ll almost certainly begin calling the Rockies about their star shortstop. And this time, the Rockies should actively be looking to move him.

While Tulo hasn’t been great thus far, his track record ensures there would be plenty of bidders for his services as long as he’s healthy. Right now, there’s no reason to think he’s not healthy. Given his history, though, future health is not guaranteed, and the longer the Rockies hold him, the more likely it is Tulo once again will make himself unavailable due to injury. There’s significant risk involved with holding Tulo too long, and the Rockies should be aggressively trying to divest themselves of that risk while the market for him remains strong.

So let’s evaluate the suitors and see what kind of market we might expect for Tulowitzki. If you’re trading for Tulo in-season, you’re almost certainly a 2015 contender, so let’s scratch off the five teams I mentioned, along with the Phillies, as those guys aren’t going to be in a position where swinging a deal for Tulowitzki makes sense. We can probably cross off the Twins and White Sox, as well, as they might have hopes of contending, but neither one is likely to be in a position where selling the farm to land Tulo is reasonable this year. The A’s and Indians can’t afford him — and might be playing their ways into seller status — so that’s 10 teams we can cross off pretty easily.

From the potential contenders, we can assume teams that already have shortstops they like won’t be too involved, so let’s eliminate the Marlins, Orioles, Giants, Cubs, Royals, Cardinals, Tigers and Nationals. The Rockies probably won’t trade him within their own division, so the Dodgers and Padres are out too, even if maybe they would like to be in. It’s just too difficult to see Colorado letting Tulo play against them 19 times per year for the next six years. So that’s 10 more clubs off the list.

That leaves us with nine potential landing spots that make some degree of sense. We’ll break those into three categories.

The Longshots

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates weren’t willing to extend enough money to retain Russell Martin, so it’s unlikely that they’d be looking to take on the $20 million per year salary Tulo is due for the five years beyond this one. But they’re also smart enough to realize that $20 million a year for an elite player is actually a pretty good deal in this day and age. Jordy Mercer isn’t exactly a barrier to acquiring Tulo, and while Jung-Ho Kang has proved interesting, he could easily slide to second base, with Neil Walker unlikely to stick around long-term. The Pirates have a strong farm system with the kind of arms the Rockies would likely be looking for, and they’re at the spot on the win-curve where a big upgrade would mean the most to their chances of making the postseason. If they want to capitalize on Andrew McCutchen’s prime years, putting a superstar next to him for the rest of his contract is a good way to do it. Still, the Pirates aren’t known for taking big risks, and this would probably be a bridge too far for their tastes.

Tampa Bay Rays

This has maybe moved from longshot to no-shot since Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly went down for the year, hindering the Rays chances of making a strong second-half run. It’s still not entirely impossible, though. The Rays are a bubble team getting nothing from Asdrubal Cabrera, and while they’re also a low-payroll team that generally focuses on cheap young talent, they paid Evan Longoria to stick around and would likely recognize that Tulo’s salary isn’t out of line with what he’d provide in return. It probably won’t happen, but I could see them making a cursory phone call just to see what the price is, especially if they get hot in the next few weeks.

Anaheim Angels

They have Erick Aybar, so you wouldn’t generally identify them as a team who needs a shortstop, but then again, Aybar could easily move over to second base. That means Tulo would actually be replacing Johnny Giavotella in the starting lineup. The Angels haven’t been shy about paying big money to aging players, so Tulo’s contract is probably less of an issue for them that it would be for some others, but it’s also not clear what the Rockies would want from the Angels in exchange. Maybe they could get in with a lower-talent offer if they also took Carlos Gonzalez’s entire contract, but that’s probably rich for even Arte Moreno. I’d never count them out entirely when a big fish is out there, but despite their deep pockets and need for another good player to stick next to Mike Trout, this probably isn’t a good fit for Colorado.

Maybe In The Mix

Seattle Mariners

The Mariners thought they were poised to be really good this year, but they’ve struggled out of the gate, and will likely be looking to make a significant splash this summer before Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz get too old to hit in the middle of their lineup any longer. The Mariners have young big leaguers — Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, James Paxton and Taijaun Walker are among the most prominent — who could be fits for the Rockies’ needs if Bridich wanted big-leaguers back instead of prospects who might be further away. But would Tulo really be interested in going from Coors Field to Safeco Field? And if his primary goal is to get to a contender, would he be happy hoping he’s the piece that pushes the Mariners out of the disappointment column? The teams might be more interested in a deal between them than Tulo is, and if he’s not excited about going to Seattle, I’d expect the Mariners will look elsewhere for an upgrade.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays don’t really need another right-handed slugger, and with Jose Reyes on the books and Devon Travis playing well at second base, they probably don’t need another middle infielder either. But they do have the kind of young arms that Colorado would likely be interested in. Of the Rockies took Reyes back with some of those pitching prospects, maybe there’s a deal to be struck here, as the monetary differences wouldn’t be all that large anymore. In reality, the Blue Jays path of least resistance is to find another starting pitcher or two to upgrade their own rotation, rather than trading young arms for another big bat, but it’s not impossible to see Alex Anthopolous getting involved if he sees this as the best addition he can make to a team that needs a short-term boost to help an aging core make a push to the postseason.

Houston Astros

For years, the Houston area has tuned the Astros out, as the organization gave them no reason to even pay attention to baseball during the summer or fall. But now the Astros have made a surprising surge to the top of a weak division. If Jeff Luhnow wants to make a significant splash to get his city watching again, Tulowitzki would be that kind of shock-and-awe acquisition that could reinvigorate the team’s fan base. Of course, with top prospect Carlos Correa coming and Jose Altuve holding down second base, the Astros don’t exactly need a middle infielder, but Correa could slide over to third base and the team could make two big additions to its line-up in one fell swoop. They’ll probably just stay the course with their young kids and make minor moves around the periphery instead, but it would be pretty fun to see the Astros put themselves back on the map with a Tulo-led run at the AL West this summer.

The Favorites

Boston Red Sox

Another slow start is testing the patience of Boston fans everywhere, and with Xander Bogaerts still looking for his power stroke, Tulowitzki would represent an immediate upgrade at shortstop. If the Rockies preferred to get Tulo’s replacement back in the deal where they traded him away, they likely can’t do much better than coercing the Red Sox to swap Bogaerts for Tulo, as he retains the potential to turn into a high-level player down the road. It would be a risky play for the Red Sox, especially given Tulo’s health concerns and the fact that he wouldn’t fix their pitching problems, but he’s their kind of player and would dramatically improve a roster that continues to underperform expectations. Few teams in baseball could put together the kind of package for Tulo that the Red Sox could, and while they might prefer to stick with their kids, acquiring Tulowitzki would also serve to keep him off of the….

New York Yankees

The Tulo-Yankee rumors have been kicking around for years, and with Didi Gregorius doing a pretty good impersonation of a pitcher at the plate, the Yankees are still likely looking for their shortstop of the present and future. And given their strong start, the team has more incentive to play for 2015 than it might have appeared going into the season. Packaging up a group of prospects along with Gregorius is likely more appealing than it was when the Yankees looked like an old team who would struggle to a .500 record. The Yankees aren’t likely to shy away from an opportunity to get back to the postseason, and the money obviously won’t be an issue, so the only question remaining is whether they’d want to empty their farm system to land another aging player after working so hard to get away from older, expensive players on the downside of their careers. If Boston gets involved, though, I can’t imagine the Yankees stay out of the bidding, especially if they keep their hold at the top of the American League East for another month.

New York Mets

Even if he doesn’t go to the Yankees, he may still end up in New York, because no team could use a slugging shortstop more than the Mets. Wilmer Flores has been a reasonable enough short-term fill-in, but it’s widely accepted that he’s not the answer there for the future. Tulowitzki would clearly represent a significant 2015 upgrade. The Mets should have the financial capability to afford his salary, and they definitely have the young arms that the Rockies would be looking for in return; toss in that they’re probably a legitimate Wild Card contender after their strong start and Tulo to the Mets makes a remarkable amount of sense. The Red Sox and Yankees could certainly benefit from adding him to their line-up, but the Mets are the team that stands the most to gain from bringing Tulowitzki into the fold. This is the Astros rebooting their fan base writ large, with one grand gesture to show everyone in Queens that the team is serious about winning and that the Wilpons will spend money when it’s needed. If the Mets are still hanging around the top of the NL East in a month or so, no one should be more incentivized to get Tulowitzki out of Colorado than Sandy Alderson. The fit is just too obvious.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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What the heck has happened to Tulo’s plate discipline?

Dan Greer
Dan Greer

That’s what I want to know as well. He swings at everything now.


Why not? May as well have some fun up there! Who else is driving him in?

Richard Bergstrom

He’s still at roughly the same pitches per plate appearance than he has been at throughout his career. It’s just harder to pitch around him these days.