If you’re a Colorado Rockies fan, this is nearly an impossible scenario to fathom. I mean, why would you want to think trading a superstar like Troy Tulowitzki is even imaginable? How could a team possibly improve by trading away it’s best asset? It’s a doomsday scenario.
And unfortunately, it might be one Rockies fans have to embrace sooner rather than later.
For the first time in his career, Troy Tulowitzki is making it known that he may be a little unhappy in Colorado and is desperate to play for a contender. No longer are Tulo’s statements about being a “Rockie for life” and instead have shifted to “I’m a Rockie right now, and have to do everything I can to help the team win”.
Instead of trying to understand the words within the words, let’s instead look at the task of trading Troy Tulowitzki, if it ever comes to that.
There would be three teams that would be at the front of the line for any Tulowitzki bidding: St. Louis Cardinals, New York Yankees and New York Mets.
St. Louis famously pursued Tulowitzki last off-season, presenting the Rockies with numerous trade offers before being turned away and signing Jhonny Peralta to a lucrative free agent contract. The Mets have seemingly needed a shortstop ever since they let Jose Reyes walk in free agency. And in case you hadn’t heard yet, Derek Jeter is retiring after this season, which opens up a hole in the Yankees infield.
The trick to trading for Tulowitzki is, well, the Rockies don’t have to trade him. Colorado has him under contract thru the 2020 season after he signed a six-year, $118 million extension on top of his current seven-year, $45 million contract he signed back in 2008. If Tulowitzki were to hit the open market this year instead of signing that extension, he’d easily get more money than Robinson Cano signed for this off-season with the Seattle Mariners. The Rockies could let him play out his productive days in Colorado and that could be that. If they were to trade him, they’d have to be blown away.
Before we get into what it takes to get Tulo, let’s remember just how valuable Troy Tulowitzki is. He’s humming along this year at a .345/.435/.613 pace with 21 home runs. He has a wRC+ of 175, a fWAR of 5.2 (in 89 games, that’s ridiculous) a nearly identical K% and BB% (14.9% v. 13.0%) and is a 5.6 UZR. He is the best all-around shortstop the game of baseball has ever seen since Alex Rodriguez’s prime, and he’s only 29. He’s also making a cool $20 million annually from 2015-19, and that drops down to $14 million in 2020. On the open market, he’s much closer to a $30 million-a-year player, so you’re actually getting him at below market value
So, what does each team need to do to get Troy Tulowitzki? Let’s see if we can tackle these scenarios..
St. Louis Cardinals
If the Rockies are going to move Tulo, it’s clear that they want some serious pitching in return. Bringing in free agent pitchers has been a near-impossibility for the Rockies post-Mike Hampton, so it’s been up to the front office to draft the right players and trade for the right pieces that are under team control for additional years. The Rockies brass feels confident that they have mainstay pieces in Jon Gray and Eddie Butler, but still need more to compete, as evident by their team this year.
With Colorado’s desire to get pitching in return, that immediately makes the Cardinals and Mets the favorites to land him.
Despite the Cardinals signing Peralta in the off-season, they’ve made it clear that if Tulowitzki becomes available, they’ll find a way to bring him in. The move that could make the most sense is shifting Peralta from shortstop to second base in the event of a trade, because Colorado is likely to ask for Kolten Wong in the package anyway.
Besides Wong, the Rockies are going to ask for a young, under team control starting pitcher currently in the Majors plus one of the best young arms in the system. The shine has come off Shelby Miller over the last 10 months, so while a package around Wong and Miller is possible, I’m sure the Rockies will aim higher. One would think Michael Wacha is untouchable, but could the Cardinals move Lance Lynn along with Wong for Tulowitzki?
One reason why they might is that Lynn is a more complete pitcher than anyone the Mets could offer at the Major League level for Tulowitzki, and the Cardinals don’t have the high-upside arms quite like the Mets do. It’s personal preference who one considers the best Cardinals pitching prospect between Rob Kaminsky and Marco Gonzales, with Gonzales breaking into the Majors this year and Kaminsky still a year or two away. Say the Cardinals go with Kaminsky, is it possible the Rockies would still want more than Lynn/Wong/Kaminsky for Tulowitzki? Sure, and maybe they can get a player like outfielder Randal Grichuk as well. I don’t think the Cardinals would let Grichuk be the difference in them getting Troy Tulowitzki or not.
Cardinals trade P Lance Lynn, 2B Kolten Wong, OF Randal Grichuk and P Rob Kaminsky for Tulowitzki
New York Mets
If there’s one thing the Mets have, it’s a ton of available pitching. And if there’s one thing the team doesn’t have, it’s an above-average shortstop. We’ve already talked at length at what the Mets could trade to get Chicago’s Starlin Castro, but what exactly do they have to offer the Rockies?
The simple answer is: be prepared to give up a lot more. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that the Rockies would want both Jonathan Niese and Noah Syndergaard in a trade for Tulowitzki, and they’re not exactly crazy to offer that. However, I don’t think they can get both. Of the two, I’d say Niese is more likely, though the Mets would rather trade Dillon Gee instead of Niese. In this scenario, let’s say the Rockies get their man and are able to get Niese.
Beyond that, trading one of Syndergaard or other top arm Rafael Montero is a given. Again, even with the struggles Syndergaard has had this season at AAA, the Mets would be more comfortable moving Montero instead, and they would in the right package. The Rockies will also ask for Ruben Tejada as a short-term replacement for Tulowitzki, and New York would move him if it meant getting a long-term replacement.
Beyond those three, the Mets would still have to include more. I would think the Mets could sweeten the package by offering rising prospect Gabriel Ynoa, who has worked his way up to AA this year using remarkable control on all his offerings to keep opposing hitters off-balance and is only 21. New York could also include (and will likely have to) their top middle infield prospect in 18-year old Amed Rosario, who scouts love as a five-tool shortstop with potential oozing out of him. He has at least three years before he’s MLB-ready, but the buzz around him in genuine.
That’s a huge package to give up for one player, but one the Mets could swallow. Losing Niese in the rotation isn’t that big a blow when you consider they would still have Matt Harvey coming back from injury next year, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz nearly ready in the Minors and Dillon Gee and Jacob deGrom as rotation holdovers. Hell, they could move Niese and still have the depth to move Bartolo Colon to replenish their minors a little.
Mets trade P Jonathan Niese, SS Ruben Tejada, P Rafael Montero, P Gabriel Ynoa and SS Amed Rosario for Tulowitzki
New York Yankees
The Yankees make sense in theory, since they’re the Yankees and they have an opening at shortstop. However, the hill they have to climb in terms of pieces they could trade to get Tulowitzki may truly be insurmountable.
The Yankees don’t have a Lance Lynn or Jonathan Niese currently in the Major Leagues that they can entice the Rockies with. David Phelps is still viewed by some as a swing-man as opposed to a every-fifth-day starter. Dellin Betances has been a revelation in the bullpen, but the Rockies aren’t trading Tulowitzki for a package built around a reliever, no matter how good. The best Yankees prospect arms are still miles down the road in terms of development, with their best – arguably hard-throwing righty Luis Severino – just reaching AA recently.
Even with all that in mind, let’s try to figure out an acceptable package. Without question, Gary Sanchez will be involved in the deal regardless of Wilin Rosario’s presence on the Rockies or not. Severino will be involved, as would other top arm Ian Clarkin, the Yankees 2013 first rounder. None of those prospects are as sexy as what the Mets or Cardinals can offer, but if you’re a Yankees fan and you want Tulowitzki, they’re going to be included.
After those three, there’s just not a whole lot at the MLB level for the team to offer, which is why I don’t really think there’s a way for the Yankees to get Tulowitzki without trading major pieces for other prospects. Would adding Phelps and Betances be enough for the Rockies? I really don’t think so, but it might be the best the Yankees could do. In theory, if the Rockies wanted to completely strip down and start fresh, they could also look to move Carlos Gonzalez, making Brett Gardner a piece the team could bring in and utilize. Put Gardner and Phelps into the trade talks, and all of a sudden the package becomes a little more interesting, but I still don’t think it’s enough.
Yankees trade OF Brett Gardner, P David Phelps, C Gary Sanchez, P Luis Severino and P Ian Clarkin for Tulowitzki
Do either of those three teams feel comfortable offering those types of packages for Tulowitzki? Are the Rockies ever going to be in a situation where they feel the need to trade their best player? Those are the two questions that truly need answering before we can go any further.
However, if you’re going to dream about trading for Tulo, that’s what that dream will look like.
It’s certainly worth it. But, will it ever happen?