You probably enjoyed your holiday weekend. I watched a good deal of Colorado Rockies baseball, so you tell me which of us had a more productive few days. It’s difficult to remember a time where I’ve seen more incompetent baseball in such a short span. It’s not that Colorado lost three of four, because the Dodgers are a more talented team on a hot streak and it’s not fair to have to face Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke back-to-back. Rather, it’s how the Rockies looked while losing.
Three days in a row, Colorado allowed the Dodgers innings in which they batted around. In the seventh inning on Saturday, the Rockies went through three relievers and seven Dodger hitters before finally getting an out — and turning an 8-2 lead into an 8-7 squeaker. On Sunday, Brooks Brown, who is apparently a real person, entered in relief of Yohan Flande, who is also apparently a real person. Brown faced Miguel Rojas — a .238/.305/.297 hitter in parts of nine minor league seasons and a .230/.288/.246 hitter in his first big league season — with the bases loaded. He hit Rojas to force in a run.
Here’s Rosario on Sunday, after having received a throw from Nolan Arenado, just barely missing a sliding Adrian Gonzalez. This wouldn’t be a big deal if not for the fact that Rosario inexplicably was attempting to tag the runner on a bases-loaded force play.
Obviously, a lot of this is for entertainment effect. Perhaps that’s unfair. We talk about “sample size” a lot here, and with good reason. No one play or one game or even one series should be taken as the story of a team’s entire season. But of course, it’s not just about what happened this weekend. It’s that the Rockies now have lost 17 of 20 and are playing so badly the Diamondbacks are merely a half-game away from escaping the National League West’s basement. In fact, the Rockies are only two games ahead of the Astros for the most losses in baseball. They’re at 0% in our playoff odds. Think about that: There is not a single imaginable scenario for the Rockies to make the playoffs.
This team is not working out, just like the team hasn’t worked for all but two seasons this century. And so the “maybe they should trade Troy Tulowitzki” noises are popping up once again. The difference is that this time, Tulowitzki seems open to the idea. And he’s not wrong to be. Now — or at least this coming winter — is the time.
It’s difficult to argue that Tulowitzki will be more valuable than he is right now. He’s not only the National League’s best hitter, he does so while providing elite defense at the most valuable position. His worst month this season so far, June, saw him post a 155 wRC+. For those who think that he’s a Coors Field creation — and yeah, a .522 OBP at home is absurd — his 132 wRC+ road line would still make him a top-35 hitter and a top-two shortstop. The $114 million he’s guaranteed in the next five years will price out some smaller-market teams, but for a guy who is pretty clearly the second-best player in baseball behind Mike Trout, it’s almost a bargain. Should he keep this up all season, he’ll prove to be a pretty entertaining test case for the ludicrous “only winning teams can have MVPs” debate.
But nearly as important: He’s healthy, and he’s months away from his 30th birthday. Tulowitzki has had five trips to the disabled list in his career, and innumerable bumps and bruises otherwise, including a few days missed this weekend with groin soreness. Despite that, he’s he’s managed at least 500 plate appearances in five different seasons. Still, rare is the player who enters their 30s and manages to become healthier.
Despite all that, the Rockies are on track to finish third or lower for the fifth season in a row. Having one of the best players in the game has not brought success. Now, of course, Rockies fans will likely refute the idea of moving him. The team, they argue, has been destroyed by injuries and isn’t this bad. And they’re right. No team can be this bad, and no team should have Flande, Jair Jurrjens and Christian Friedrich making starts within close proximity of one another. Among starting pitchers alone, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson, Jordan Lyles, Eddie Butler and Tyler Chatwood are on the disabled list. That’s an entire rotation, and outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez — along with reliever Nick Masset — join them. Arenado, Josh Rutledge, Boone Logan and Rosario are healthy now, but they missed chunks of time earlier. It’s difficult to point anywhere other than injuries as the root cause of the demise of the 2014 Rockies.
When those guys are healthy, this is obviously a different team, though not quite as good as the version that was eight games above .500 in early May. (Shockingly, Charlie Blackmon‘s .389/.434/.642 April has been .256/.303/.388 since; he is now barely above a league-average hitter.) But of course, it really doesn’t matter that health has been the main issue. The 2014 season is dead. Over. A failure. Even the complete roster at full strength won’t change that. The only question that should be considered now is whether the future Rockies contend?
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For Colorado, the idea of rebuilding is distasteful. This franchise is supposed to be on the verge of the next generation of young Rockies. Arenado, 23, is already there and a star. Rex Brothers is 26. Rosario is just 25. Outfielder Corey Dickerson, with a career 132 wRC+ in just under a full season of play, is 25. Chatwood is only 24; Lyles and Tyler Matzek are 23. Butler is 23. Jon Gray is 22. Kyle Parker is 24. David Dahl is 20, though still only in Single-A. There’s a lot of good young talent here. Ideally, Tulowitzki is complementing this group, not leaving it.
But then, reality. Cuddyer is going to be a free agent. Butler made one major league start before going down with a shoulder injury, one that thankfully seems like it won’t require surgery. Gray has been more adequate than dominant in Double-A. It’s possible both are in the 2015 Rockies rotation, yet foolish to count on them both to be above-average immediately. Jorge de la Rosa is going to be a free agent. Morales will be a free agent. Anderson has a $12 million club option that seems unlikely to be exercised. Juan Nicasio has been awful this year, and has rarely ever been good for sustained stretches. Chacin has “fraying in his rotator cuff,” is likely out for the year, and could be a non-tender candidate. Every other young pitcher mentioned above — no matter how talented — has had health concerns. Is that a winning rotation in 2015?
There are a ton of “ifs.” If Chatwood and Lyles stay healthy and productive and if Butler’s arm is OK and if Gray pitches to his potential and if Nicasio and Chacin pitch like the best versions of themselves and not the messes they’ve been this year, then maybe there’s something. Of course, all of that happening at once seems incredibly unlikely. And even if it does, there’s no one there who compares to Kershaw or Greinke or Madison Bumgarner. Every team can play the “if” game, of course, but most other teams that fancy themselves contenders can point to at least one or two near-certainties. The Rockies rotation can’t.
Remember when the Rockies were winning early this year? It took completely unsustainable performances. Blackmon was hitting out of his mind. Justin Morneau had a 158 April wRC+. Tulowitzki had a ludicrous 214 April wRC+. Lyles somehow turned a 4.66 K/9 in April into a 2.70 ERA. Injuries or not, these things were never going to keep up, and they didn’t.
The idea of taking 90% of the same roster into next year, hoping for better health and continued unsustainable production over a long period, and making it a winner, seems unrealistic. And in the meantime, Tulowitzki will be 31 with plenty of additional opportunities to have seriously injured himself and destroyed his value. There’s also a near certainty he won’t be hitting as well as he is right now. Who could?
Maybe it’s less about whether the Rockies can afford to trade Tulowitzki, and more about whether they can afford not to. It hasn’t worked with him so far, and with Josh Rutledge only 25 and shortstop prospects Trevor Story and Rosell Herrera in the system, they have alternatives. With the state of offense in baseball being what it is — and the trade interest should Tulowitzki suddenly appear on the market — might this team might not be better off with a ton of salary saved and high-end, nearly-ready prospects in town? If the prospects are the right ones, of a similar age to the early 20s group mentioned above, this isn’t an Astros-style rebuild. It’s selling high on a very valuable piece to improve other areas that may not be able to support that very valuable piece.
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As for likely trade partners, that’s a different discussion entirely. Both New York clubs could use him, though the Yankees might not have the prospects; the Mets would have to destroy its young pitching core. Detroit has an obvious hole at shortstop, and an owner with bottomless pockets. The Mariners badly need to make an offensive splash, and could easily replace or trade Brad Miller at shortstop. The Cardinals always appear in these rumors. Maybe the Cubs want yet another shortstop. If the Red Sox could do it without including Xander Bogaerts, imagine that left side. If some of these teams may not have the right prospects for the Rockies, well, that’s why three-way trades exist.
The specifics don’t matter yet, though, and you could probably make most of this same argument for Gonzalez. Of course the public-relations aspect would be painful. But it happens. Things can’t stay the same. There’s no point in letting Tulowitzki spend his early-30s in a situation that isn’t likely to be a winning one simply over concerns about his legacy in Denver.
Of course, a Tulowitzki trade perhaps could open a wormhole. Maybe that puts Cuddyer, if healthy, De la Rosa and LaTroy Hawkins (who all should be traded this year, no matter what) on the move, plus Gonzalez and Morneau. Maybe ownership decides it has had enough of the bizarre Dan O’Dowd-Bill Geivett pairing. There’s a lot of ways this could go. Whether it’s now or this winter, it’s time.
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