What would Troy Tulowitzki make if he were a free agent?

The Rockies are at least exploring the idea of a Troy Tulowitzki trade, which means it’s time to look at his estimated value.

The Rockies, being a downtrodden team with no plans to contend soon, or plans at all, are exploring the idea of trading an expensive veteran. This is what downtrodden teams normally do. Old and expensive out, young and cheap in. Except the expensive veteran in this case is Troy Tulowitzki and the Rockies are … different. Whereas the Phillies have come around to the idea that Cole Hamels isn’t going to fetch a Bartolo Colon-like return, the Rockies are still holding out hope:

And an insider said the Mets fans clamoring for a Tulo acquisition would go “bat s—” if they knew the package the Rockies wanted for Tulowitzki.

Tulowitzki is 30, owed scores of millions, and often injured. That seems like the kind of player and situation a rebuilding team should want to foist on someone else. Except there are other ways to describe Tulowitzki. Really, really, really good, for one. The face of the franchise. The all-time face of the franchise. The source of just about everything that’s gone right for the franchise over the past two decades. A player whose face will be on ballpark giveaways in 50 years. And, again, really, really, really good.

So the Rockies are holding out for bat shit. Good for them. We talked about the reasons the Rockies should have for keeping Tulowitzki over the summer, and nothing much has changed.

On the other hand, when the team has a face-of-the-franchise star, there’s at least one thing going right with the organization. People buy tickets for that. Kids keep the posters up on the wall.

There’s trading away an All-Star to aid the rebuilding process, and then there’s trading away a might-stay-in-one-uniform-possible-Hall-of-Famer. This isn’t a Josh Donaldson trade, even if the two players have been comparable in value over the last two years. There’s something about Tulowitzki that means more to the Rockies, so they’re asking for a franchise-player tax. The interested teams don’t care in the slightest what he means to the Rockies, so they’re refusing to pay the tax. It’s a stalemate, and Tulowitzki probably isn’t going anywhere.

The obvious problems: The Rockies don’t want to eat any of Tulowitzki’s salary, and they’re asking for a farm system in return. The interested teams don’t want to pay the six years, $118 million left on his deal and give up three or four of their best young players. This brings us to the point of the article. Is that contract — that six-year, $118 million remaining — something akin to what Tulowitzki would get if he were a free agent today? Once you figure that out, you can start wondering what kind of prospects the Rockies should reasonably expect.

The player in question

That would be a 30-year-old shortstop who can’t stay on the field. The injury history is the first thing you think of, I’m sure. Tulowitzki drinks malk. A list of body parts that have forced him off the field:

  • Left quad
  • Right quad
  • Left wrist
  • Right groin
  • Left hip
  • Left groin
  • Left shoulder
  • Ribs
  • The whole groin, just all of it, the whole danged thing
  • Left hip (different injury)

His latest injury was a labrum tear in that hip, requiring surgery and knocking him out for the 2014 season. Again, he’s 30. This isn’t a situation that’s likely to improve. There are more body parts to fall off. If he runs out, he’ll invent more. A 400 at-bat season is something of a coup for Tulowitzki, at this point.

So a one-year deal with performance incentives?

Ha ha, no. That wouldn’t work because focusing on the DL time is a great way to obscure just how valuable Tulowitzki has been. Since coming into the league, he’s been something like the 10th-most valuable position player in baseball. He’s basically tied with Matt Holliday in that stretch, despite playing in 250 fewer games. In five out of the the last six seasons, he’s produced like a star, something comparable to the Andrew McCutchens and Buster Poseys of the world, regardless of how many games he’s missed. That’s how excellent he’s been, when healthy.

Or, to put it simply: Troy Tulowitzki (400 at-bats) + whatever random shortstop a team has in their system (300 at-bats) is still one of the greatest players in baseball. Just pretend the random shortstop is a slumping Tulowitzki if it makes you feel better.

Of course, he could stay healthy, too, you know. He could stay healthy, win a Gold Glove, and hit 30 homers at one of the most important positions on the diamond. That might be unrealistic, but so is expecting Nelson Cruz to hit 40 homers again, or Max Scherzer to stay healthy for the next eight years. Teams pay good money for unrealistic.

The potential market for him

Strong … to very strong? Everyone’s looking for instant offense, and 400 at-bats from Tulowitzki would be an upgrade at short for every one of the 29 Tulo-free teams. Teams looking for a franchise shortstop and additional offense include the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers, Padres, Tigers — rich teams that would all bite each other’s noses off to get him. Let’s take a brief moment to appreciate the Padres’ inclusion on that list before we move on.

So danged odd.

If Tulowitzki were a free agent, though, imagine the skirmish between the Yankees and Dodgers. They would each have to hire someone whose sole job would be to sit in the conference room and yell, “Don’t forget he’s on the 60-day DL every year” every 15 minutes, just to give them some sense of perspective. It wouldn’t work. One of them would pay him as if he were a healthy star.

Teams give out deals every offseason that they know will look awful in four years. It’s not like the Angels really thought Albert Pujols was going to be worth $30 million when he was 41. The Mariners don’t have any illusions about what the last years of Robinson Cano’s contract will look like. Think about a deal that would make you feel comfortable with Tulowitzki. Three years? Now double it. Double what you’re comfortable with for any free agent, and now you’re on the trolley.

I’d guess Tulowitzki would get something close to six years, $170 million. If you don’t think that’s realistic, considering his injury history, think about the recent superstar contracts. If he were consistently healthy like Robinson Cano, he’d get more money the $240 million Cano got. That’s a $70 million dinged-and-dented outlet store discount just over Cano, who plays a less important position. I’m worried I’m vastly underselling the contract Tulowitzki would get, to be honest.

So that’s a guess that Tulowitzki is underpaid by about $50 million compared to what he’d get on the open market. I can’t do all them fancy $-to-prospects conversions like the folks at FanGraphs, but the number-crunchers wouldn’t be too excited. Top prospects can have speculative values worth more than that gap (in pretend money!), so the current sabermetric thought is to be less than impressed with undervalued contracts.

Both can be true, then. Tulowitzki might be underpaid, relative to the value he might have on the open market. But teams might be right not to want to ditch the top half of their farm system for him. That’s before you get into the face-of-the-franchise stuff.

Everyone wants Tulowitzki. No one wants to pay the prospects the Rockies think it should take to get him, which is why he’ll stay put for a good, long while.

December 22, 2014 by : Posted in Uncategorized No Comments

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