I THOUGHT THE DYNAMIC DUO WOULD BE BLASTING DINGERS ON OPENING DAY…THE MIGHT BUT PROBABLY NOT HERE OR AT LEAST NOT TOGETHER
Why I Might Very Well Be Proved to be as Wrong as Those Dewey Beats Truman Newspapers
So we see the BIG headlines that the Rockies will in fact listen to offers on both CarGo and Tulo, and I bet anyone else, including the recently re-upped Jorge De La Rosa (cost certainty now for a new team vs. 3 months of a rent-a-pitcher would mean they get a better return if traded today instead of July 31. In truth this isn’t a big deal. Owners and GMs might say over and over again they don’t to trade this or that player, they might say we wont be trading that player. But if a team comes in and says, “Here is my great package of prospects, what do you think?” they always listen. So all these reports are not exactly breaking the Watergate breakin and coveup.
We know that ownership wants to keep Tulo and CarGo. In an ideal world they are the cornerstones of a long period of competitive baseball on par with what the Tampa Bay Rays have had since 2008. They are both great player, both amazing 2 way players, both potential MVPs. Add in that CarGo, when healthy, is a true 5-tool player and that Tulo has a big bat and GG at arguably the most important position on the field. But…
We know that ownership has a limited budget. In order to spend enough to get a great game caller behind the plate, another starter, and the bullpen arms they are not going to be able to stay at the $95 million level, especially now that they are giving a $5 million dollar raise to Cuddy. The team has already had to decline the option on Brett Anderson, a move the had to really regret making…but they had to make it, because $12 million out of $95 million for a guy with all that risk of injury wasn’t smart.
Which brings us to CarGo and Tulo. I have said that both players are untradeable due to the bad combination of their salaries, the years remaining and most important, the injury history and the doubt about what they will look like going forward. If both players had come back in September and showed what their bodies , swings, and fielding looks like post-surgeries/injuries, then the discussion would be vastly different.
But I have been thinking of this whole situation with a 2008-2010 mindset. Baseball is experiencing a financial boom and at the same time an offensive decline and a new appreciation of defense. All that along with a poor crop of free agents and… I think I have been wrong all along (and this is to say nothing of the fact that ownership has to allow Jeff Brdich the opportunity to build the team as he sees fit in his new role as GM).
Both players are well along in their rehab, and when we get to the big meeting in December of owners, GMs and officials as well as the collection of agents and potential free agent bargains lurking in every bathroom undoubtedly both players health will be established. Of course when it comes to trades and free agent deals teams always take risks, both known and unknown (who would have guessed during the offseason of 2010 that Tulo and CarGo would struggle to play even 135 games a year during the heart of their new contracts). And so, when there are plenty of teams with money to spend, teams that expect to win World Series – teams like the Tigers, Yanks, Soxs, possibly the Whites Sox, Phils and Mariners as well – and two of the most dynamic players in baseball when healthy available, well…all best are off.
A lot of people are saying that CarGo is the most likely to go, and that is probably right, given the only 3 years remaining on his contract. In CarGo’s career (using FanGraphs’s data), he has produced years where he was worth $22.8, $16.4, and in 2013 in ¾ of the season $23.7. For those who say it was a bad deal it hasn’t been. In 2011 he was paid $1.5 mill and was worth $16.4, in 2012 he was paid $5 mill and was worth $10.2, in 2013 he was paid $7.5 mill and was worth $23.7, and in 2014 at age 28, when players are in their prime years statstcally, he was paid $10.5 mill and was worth -.3 WAR and -$1.8 mill in salary (yes, he should have paid the team nearly $2 mill for his performance last year…ouch!). Still they had made out pretty good on his contract until last year (in 2013, even missing 52 games and playing with a bad body for weeks before he was finally put on the shelf, he was worth 4.7 WAR – when he is healthy there are few who are as valuable…when he is healthy).
With CarGo the man issue is this – he is going to be paid $16 mill this season and $17 mill next. With Corey Dickerson and Charlie Blackmon, two players who aren’t even going to get arbitration in 2015 (Charlie B is arbitration eligible in 2016). Blackmon was worth $10.8 in salary last year so it is likely the team can get close to the same level of production for 1/16 of the price. Neither payer can even get in shouting distance of CarGo on defense…if CarGo is healthy. Now in an ideal world you play all 3 players across the outfield (not likely given all 3 are lefties but against righties it would be interesting), and if CarGo can return to the play he was from 2010-2013, he could end up being a bargain. But this team hasn’t got the budgetary room to pay CarGo, so he has to go (but when you are going to pay Cuddy only $700K less than CarGo and his defense is horrible and he has never produced a $15.3 million salary value season, it doesn’t make sense and you keep CarGo and let Cuddy walk). I would love to see the Monforts hold bake sales and check in the cushions to swallow his salary (essentially take it out of the salary equation) and field an outfield group of Dickerson in LF, Blackmon/Stubbs in CF, and CarGo in RF and see what they can do both on offense and defense. But that isn’t going to happen.
Tulo is the player I doubted could be traded the most. He is a great defensive SS, his bat is probably behind only Miggy, Trout, Stanton, and maybe Bryce Harpber and ahead of Posey, Cutch, Jose Bautista, Votto and the rest. But his huge deal is…huge. And his injury history is….well here is his career games:
Personally I had no idea it was that bad. Since his deal was signed his salary/games paid is:
2011 $ 38,461
2013 $ 79,365
If you look at his whole career, and that includes his years when he was young, 22,23,24, he has averaged only 117 games per year. He plays the2nd most physically demanding position on the field. He will play in 2015 at age 30. His salary jumps to $20 million after this year. So, are you willing to pay $20 million for 117 games (since age 25 its only 106 games per year). Yes, he could move over to 3rd or first or DH going forward, but his swing has so much violence in it I am not sure if the defensive play is the primary issue. And playing at 3rd or 1st or DH, his offense has to be even better because defensive play there is not as valuable as it is at SS. So, a team taking on Tulo is taking on a lot of risk and a lot of unknowns going forward.
I always assumed that would make it a closed case. But look around baseball and you see that the shortstop position, especially offensively, is getting closer to the 1980s level, or maybe even 1970s. And it was just a short time ago that we were looking at Tejada, ARod, Jeter, Nomar, Barry Larkin (towards the middle/late part of his career). Why has SS declined? Was the PED issue largely behind this (look at those names)? Or are teams moving their shortstop talent to other positions to save wear and tear and maximize offensive contributions (see what has happened to Hanley Ramirez playing SS)? Anyways, look at the 2014 top 10 in shortstops for WAR (FanGraphs version) :
Rank Team Name WAR Off Value* Defense* Age Contract Ends***
1) Cardinals Johnny Peralta 5.4 12.2 18.8 32 2017
2) Nationals Ian Desmond 4.1 11.2 7.2 29 2015
3) Angels Eric Aybar 4.1 1.9 14.6 30 2016
4) Phils Jimmy Rollins 3.6 5.2 9.5 35 2014/2015
5) Royals A. Escobar 3.5 2.4 9.0 27 2015/2017
6) Orioles JJ Hardy 3.4 -7.6 20.4 32 2017/2018
7) Dodgers Hanley Ramirez 3.4 21.8 -6.1 30 2014
8) W Sox Alexei Ramirez 3.3 2.5 6.4 33 2015/2016
9) Blue Jays Jose Reyes 3.3 8.8 -0.1 31 2017/2018
10) Cubs Stalin Castro 2.9 6.9 2.4 24 2019/2020
* Offensive and Defensive value above the average player
** Age during 2014 season
*** The second date is if the option years are taken
In the numbers above those with options are show as having 2 different contract ending dates, with the second date showing the contract end if all options are chosen.
Tulo played 2014 at age 29 and in a 91 game season produced 5.1 WAR (yes, that is right, more WAR than all but Peralta in basically 60% of the season). So his line is:
NA) Rox Troy Tulowitzki 5.1 28.6 6.8 29 2020/2021
One note on his defensive number. Part of the issue with the evaluations of defense is that for a player at SS his stats can be impacted by the combination of bad pithing (showing him well out position and slow to respond as he anticipates pitches going elsewhere), bad scouting (issues similar to bad pitching), and bad support from his third baseman. Tulo’s numbers were much higher the first 2 months of the season as he played with Nolan Arenado. After Nolan’s injury the team attempted to use Tulo to cover for the clear defensive issues that were now apparent at 3rd. There were many through the first 2 months of the season thought he was playing as good of defense as he had in years, so I take that 6.8, which is still a good number, with a grain of salt (as we should of course asterisk his offense for his Coors/road splits).
Troy has generally been a 5 WAR player if he plays more than 50% of a season (in seasons with more than 81 games – 5.2, 5.5, 5.9, 5.6, 5.4, 5.1. Or, he is easily the best player at the 2nd most important of the position of the everyday players. Peralta is making about $12 mill, Desmond $6 mill, Aybar $9 mill, JRoll $11 mill, Escobar $3 mill, Hardy $13 mill, Hanley $11 mill, Alexei $8 mill, Reyes $17 mill, and Castro at $10 mill (by the way, who the great Andrelton Simmons was only #12, wth a WAR of 2.3, because despite a 22.1 on the defensive side, his offense was -18.3!!! Mark Belanger lives! – Simmons is signed through 2020 but for about 3 seasons worth of Tulo dollars).
With those data items all of a sudden Tulo’s $20 mill contract isn’t quite as big an issue, and even if he does only play 105 games a year a team trading for him will still receive, at least in terms of WAR, as much value as any other player playing that position (of course if the backup is a disaster and causes a -4 WAR, then you are back to about 0).
While it is true that the Red Sox have player they think can play short stop, they clearly are interested in Tulo. The Yankees are salivating after Tulo, whose #2 after the other #2, might have to be switcher or maybe they would be happy to retire the jersey after Tulo’s days are over and put both names to #2. The Dodgers would love to find a way to get Tulo, even if it is a 3-way deal where they work through another team who acquires him first, since the Rox would hate to trade him in division (though Tulo is a California kid). All three of those teams wouldn’t blink at the salary. The Mets have struggle with payroll issues since the Great Recession but also have had issues getting both D and O from the SS positon. The Angels? Well, they might be reluctant to take on another big contract but can you imagine a lineup with Trout, Hamilton, Puljos and Tulo? The Cubs are said to be ready to start spending money and are not enamored with Castro and would love to put Tulo in the middle of their lneup. If the Tigers lose either Victor Martinez or Matt Sherzer they might have substantial interest and the payroll room and can include Iglesias, their fine Cuban SS who missed all of 2014 with an shin splint. The White Sox also might have payroll openness if they can move Ramirez. So, the contract would likely not turn away at least 8 teams and the value you get from Tulo is big enough you can live with the injuries. So, yes, Tulo may very well be gone by January 1.
But…there are a few reasons why I think Tulo isn’t going anywhere. First, the team loves him and the fans love him and this team needs players like him to put bums in the seats. How do you justify spending $15.3 million on Cuddy and dumping Tulo? Additionally would Josh Rutledge or Trevor Story provide enough D and O to at least be league average? Probably not (I still think Josh may well end up being traded this off-season due to the huge shortage of quality shortstops in the bigs and the fact that he still has potential to grow and even now is better than quite of few players manning the role today). Second, Tulo didn’t have just an injury. He had a hip surgery to repair serious tendon damage. Todd Helton looked okay coming back from the same surgery but he wasn’t playing a position requiring so much lateral movement, so much start, stop, and turning. I have to think that most teams want to wait and least see his performance in Spring Training. If he looks good and seems strong enough, then there is a good chance teams will step up to the sales window to see what it takes to get Tulo. Those two factors speak to both ends needed for a deal – the seller is highly reluctant to make a deal unless they are under duress and the buyers are clearly wondering if the product is damaged so badly that the great prior value has nothing to do with the future. Antiques Roadshow meets Hot Stove.
I love both players and I wish the Rockies could afford to keep them both. I do truly believe that this team in the near future is going to be good (maybe 2016), with so many quality pitching prospects and a plan on how to develop these pitchers. Having CarGo and Tulo and a league average pitching staff with great defense…that would be great to see. But unless ownership is willing to increase payroll to the $120 million level that cannot fill out the roster with enough quality in the starters and real depth behind them (while the team did an excellent job through trades at creating good depth in the outfield, where despite losing CarGo and Cuddy for large chunks of the season they got outstanding performance. But it was in the infield and the starting pitching where there wasn’t enough quality depth to weather the storm (I am on record stating I liked the depth in starting pitching that Dan O’Dowd brought together in 2014 but there were too many injuries which overwhelmed the team’s depth but based on results, they failed in the depth department there as well). That is where small market teams (or low-payroll) teams really suffer – not in the starting 8 but in the reserves, the 6th and 7th starters and in the bullpen after the 4th man. Carlos Gonzalez is a luxury they cannot afford at this budget. This team clearly needs more depth if it is ever to win the division.
In all the discussion of trading CarGo I have not mentioned the return in terms of players. If the Rockies are able to trade CarGo and it is just a straight salary dump without any talent, the fans will certainly become angry. So they are going to have to find a way to get at least one decent prospect in return – somewhere in the 4-8th position of a team’s top 10 prospects. To get that the team may well have to pay some of the salary due to CarGo (the more they pay, the better the prospect). If they pick up $5 million of CarGo’s salary they still get $11 million in salary (I still ask myself then why pay $15.3 million for Cuddy – I just don’t understand it, especially since CarGo only has 2 more years after 2015, and players are easily dealt when they are within that 2 years to FA point). So the team needs to get more payroll flexibility, trading CarGo will provide some of that but to get the return in terms of talent that will make it possible to sell the deal to the fans, you have to be willing to eat money and therefore get less payroll flexibility.
The best example of how to do this is Dexter Fowler. Dexter was going to cost the team $8 million in 2014. The team looked at their depth in the outfield, especially playing center, and with the strong September from Charlie Blackmon (and I assume that the groundwork for the Outmann for Stubs deal was already laid) and said 1) we need to get Charlie ABs, 2) we can get payroll wiggle room (which they used to get Morneau) and 3) we need to get value in return (and then did in Lyles and Barnes. They were roundly criticized for the deal, for not getting enough, but they knew they had to move quickly to get the payroll flexibility to get Morneau before other teams pursued him and they also valued Lyles very highly. So despite being called a horrible trade the Dexter Fowler trade is a great example of how to move salary around to create depth (and in 2014 Dex was worth 1.4 WAR, Lyles 1.6 and Barnes .1, so the team came out nearly a third more wins above replacement than the Astros, and if you add in the 2.5 WAR of Morneau, you have a WAR of nearly 3!).
Can they do the same with CarGo? The team clearly would benefit from waiting til mid-season and allow CarGo to show his health and production post-surgery and also reduce the amount of contract dollars still owed, but this is the time these deals often happen.
As for Tulo? The Rockies have to have the same concerns that other teams have – is the hip going to be strong enough to handle the day-to-day grind of playing short? I have talked about the potential and value of trading Rutledge this off-season into the teeth of a weak shortstop market.
But then what if Tulo can’t take the grind? He can’t move to 3rd – you already have a great option there. Trading Tulo is a way to reduce the risk remaining on the contract and at the same time to free salary room to fill out the roster. But the goal has to be to win and what if Tulo is still too close to the player he was before the hip, how do you ever replace the 5 wins above replacement that he represents (again players prime offensive output is age 28-32…would hate to miss Tulo in his prime)?
And then there is the return for Tulo issue: what kind of prospect/prospects do they get for Tulo? If the Rockies eat $5 mill/year for the next 3 years that should buy them a better prospect (this is Tulo they are trading so they have to get a high quality prospect or player in return – you don’t trade one of the 5 best players around just for salary relief).
The Rockies will listen to offers all off-season on both players (they probably have every year since the inked them both in 2010/2011). Dealin-Dan O’Dowd maybe gone, but I am betting this offseason will feature as many trades as any offseason in Rockies history, even more than last year (we could see our stating C, 1B, LF and SS dealt along wtih at least 1 of the main bullpen arms, probably Boone Logan). What we as fans don’t know and therefore don’t know what is going on behind the doors at 20th and Blake is:
- What is the budget that the ownership is willing to allow? We all understand you cannot lose money year-after-year in any business, and baseball is a business but with the additional sources of revenue at the league level, can he Rockies jump the payroll more than expected (with all the built-in pay increases and arbitration numbers they need to go up at least $10 million just to stay even). If they don’t have any extra payroll coming then CarGo or Tulo will be dealt and quickly to get the best deal available before they are left without suitors and they find their ability to make roster changes thwarted (which would lead to trading other players they don’t want to lose having to be traded). Not only are we the fans interested in this fact but so are the other clubs, because they need that info to know whether the Rox are so desperate for payroll relief that they can be taken to the cleaners.
- What do they know about the rehab progress for both players? If one or both are struggling to rehab they will never pass the physical needed for a trade to be consummated. This is not common data for we the fans but the team knows.
- Is there a prospect that they think can break camp with the big league team that isn’t expected? A David Dahl or Trevor Story, Tom Murphy, Ramiel Tapia or perhaps an Antonio Senzatela? These are players who can play the outfield positions, catcher, or pitch (Senzatela was only at Asheville last year but could go to the pen and make a big difference as he gets used to the major leagues with an eye to being a full-time starter in the future – he turns 20 in January). If the team thinks they might have an in-house option making it easier to trade either player (Dahl and Tapia could replace CarGo, Story would make it possible to trade Tulo, in-house pitching depth from a guy like Senzatela reduces the need for trades and provides easy budget solutions). The team has their own evaluation process and with the new GM having been tied to the development program of the team and he might know better than anyone else if there are several league minimum cost answers to filling out the depth of the team (who can also provide league average production and play), making it possible to keep the luxury items CarGo and Tulo.
- Does the team think it has a realistic opportunity to compete in 2015. If the answer is no, if they know it will be a rebuilding year, then trading CarGo is smart, since even a great year is meaningless for a 95 loss team. If things are worse than we know, if 2017 is the earliest to compete, trading Tulo becomes a no-brainer, and the sooner the better since teams will play handsomely for his age 30-32 seasons, years when the Rox might be struggling. Of course no team really know show their season will go, but if this a Houston Astros situation, where we have to gut things to the bone, then Tulo as well as CarGo go. I don’t think that is the case but again, we don’t know how the team really is evaluating itself.
- I alluded to this on my post regarding the free-agent offer to Michael Cuddyer, but what trades are the Rockies planning on doing this off-season. By bringing back Cuddy Corey Dickerson, Charlie Blackmon, Drew Stubbs, and Justin Morneau are all potential trade candidates. If a better deal s possible by including both Dickerson and Morneau or both Dickerson and Blackmon, then you cannot afford to deal CarGo unless you are getting the needed replacement piece. What is happening behind closed doors even before they think about trading Tulo and CarGo?
- Do the Rockies and the league believe we have entered a long-term offensive slowdown? If so the power of both players becomes even more valuable, and that changes the calculus of the trade. Both players with their defense/power combination are even more valuable if we are in a mini-dead ball era. If teams and the league believe offense is going to rebound (and for those of us who remember the offensive explosion in the 1980s when it was believed the ball was juiced to create more offense then perhaps it is possible based on the leagues actions and teams know they will do this, then power and defense are less important).
I started this article by admitting that I was wrong about the Rockies trading the powerful injured 2 this off-season. It is now more possible and likely than I imaged and I would even say I expect the team to trade CarGo and to listen long and hard on Tulo. Yes, the team would do far better waiting til the trade deadline (assuming both players are healthy and on form) or even til after the 2015 season, but it appears, based on the budget limits, that the team has gotten itself in a bad situation not unlike the one around pitching in 2011 that led to the Ubaldo trade. Having spent their way into a bad situation (though again, those two could very well carry the Roxs into the playoffs if they played 145 games and the pitching avoid using double digit number of starters) it looks like the must trade away their most valuable assets or risk seeing the overall makeup of the team suffer.
CarGo, if you have played your last game, good luck and stay well. Your swing at tmes is a thing of beauty and belongs in the Denver Art Museum. Tulo, I cannot imagine you not being at short at Coors Field but maybe it is time to see Derek Jeter’s greatness eclipsed by yours.
For Rockies fans this is about winning. We wanted to win with you. We still we possibly could, but if this is what it takes to win, then do it and we will take our saddness to the rooftop bar and offer a toast in your name.