Should Your Team Trade for Troy Tulowitzki?
It’s not his fault.
When Troy Tulowitzki signed his mega-extension after the 2010 season, he expected the Rockies to compete fairly soon. In 2010, Carlos Gonzalez broke out for 34 homers and 5.7 fWAR, and Ubaldo Jimenez had his UBALDO first half.
In 2010, the Rockies finished 83-79 and third in the NL West. In 2007 and 2009, the Rockies won 90 and 92 games, respectively. Tulowitzki signed on with a winning ball club where he could play at a ballpark that made him look like a superhero. From 2011-2013, the Rockies failed to top 74 wins in any one season.
Although Tulowitzki has acknowledged that he would like to continue playing in Colorado, he has made it known that he wants to win, and he wants to win now. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported this month that Tulowitzki had given Rockies owner Dick Monfort a blessing to trade him, doing so in the middle of a career season.
Let’s throw a Rorshach Test of Tulowitzki stats at you. I say Rorshach test, because your interpretations are entirely up to you, but a few answers are ill-advised. We’ll start out easy; Tulowitzki’s 5.1 WAR places second only to Mike Trout, and he is a half win ahead of third place. His .340 batting average and .432 OBP lead the bigs, as does his .443 wOBA. He has saved nine runs according to Defensive Runs Saved, which is fourth among shortstops.
In short, he’s playing pretty well, but is he worth acquiring in a trade?
The Demands Are Not Tulo (Cons)
We’re going to examine the arguments against trading for Tulowitzki first, because I believe that's the predominant position. First, a trade at this time plays into Monfort’s leverage. He's notoriously stubborn and loyal to his players, and he won’t trade Tulowitzki unless he is convinced he is receiving a sundae with a cherry on top. And, you know, a good trade package.
At first, the fantasy player in me doesn’t want to trade for Tulowitzki while his value is highest, but I’m not sure he’s on the table again unless he could return elite prospects. If a team trades for Tulowtizki now, it gets his production without having to deal with Monfort deciding if Tulowitzki is available next year. The prospects traded away are unlikely to contribute, and they are cashed in before anything can go awry. In terms of opportunity cost, overpaying now could let a team come out ahead.
I promise I thought of this before Tulowitzki got himself hurt again. It was bound to happen eventually, as he hasn't played in 150-plus games since 2009. If he keeps playing shortstop and keeps his style intact, it’s a safe bet he’ll continue to rack up the nagging injuries that have plagued his career thus far. These occasional DL stints can be frustrating, but they do allow him to recharge. With five 5-plus WAR seasons, Tulowitzki shows that he can make it count when he is in the lineup. We’re going to get to his contract soon, but it shouldn’t be a problem as long as he can get on the field and produce.
Players in their primes who are signed to long-term contracts are not traded often, so there isn’t much of a benchmark in terms of prospect return. A team should be ready to give up a few top prospects or an MLB-ready player in any package, so there will be instant comparisons to the Mark Teixeira and Herschel Walker deals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as both players played well while the teams that traded them away reaped the benefits.
The Contract is Tulo (Pros)
It’s tough to definitively place a dollar value on a single WAR, but the general accepted range of values is between $5 and $7 million dollars per win. Tulowitzki’s contract runs through 2020 with a team option for 2021, with a salary of $20 million in all years except the last ($14 million, but can boost to $20 million with incentives).
20 million bucks for an aging middle infielder seems like a poor allocation of money, but there's a chance that inflation makes that figure look more reasonable. Also, using the dollar values for WAR, Tulowitzki won’t need to repeat his career year every year to be worth the cash.
The Oliver projection system will predict Tulowitzki’s performance as far as 2018, where it expects him to be worth 4.5 WAR. With the conservative $5 million per win, Tulowitzki would be worth $22 million and outperform his deal.
However, a system like Oliver could potentially take a wrong turn if misled by stats suggesting Tulowitzki is better than he really is. Something that has yet to be touched on is the Coors Field effect. If Tulo wants statistical glory, he should never leave. He has a crazy .529 wOBA at Coors this season; Kyle Seager is second with a .460 wOBA at Safeco Field in Seattle.
At Coors, liners turn into doubles, and routine fly balls can sail out for home runs. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, 10 of Tulowitzki’s 21 bombs just made it out of the park, and seven of those were hit at Coors. Still, Tulowitzki has 20-home-run power, and can mash in the righty-hitter’s park.
On the road this season, Tulowitzki’s wOBA is .354, which is still above the league average of .320. His 0.8 WAR in 47 road games is nothing special, but over a full season that means he is a three-win player at minimum. He has proven that he is mortal outside Denver, but can still hit.
If a team can swallow the loss of prospects, Tulowitzki is a great player to acquire. He’s easily the best position player on the market, and is likely to play up to his contract if he can stay on the field. Whether the Rockies will make him available is still to be determined, but adding him to the picture will add a spark to an otherwise slow deadline.