Troy Tulowitzki seemed destined for a well-deserved first All-Star game selection this season, with a stellar 132 wRC+ combining with his solid defense at SS setting him on pace for his third 5.0+ WAR season in four years. His season will be temporarily derailed, however, as a broken wrist looks to place Tulowitzki on the DL for the next six to eight weeks
This is a huge blow to a Rockies team which sits only four games out of the NL West race. Their +44 run difference is only 10 behind the Giants and Padres and 32 runs ahead of the Dodgers. Given the talent on that team, including Ubaldo Jimenez, Tulowitzki, and others, the Rockies were certainly in position to make a run. However, without Tulowitzki, the starting infield will probably contain Melvin Mora (proj. .291 wOBA) and Clint Barmes (.283), both of whom are probably 1.0 WAR players at best and possibly at replacement level or below.
The Rockies were projected as .520-.540 team with Tulowitzki entering the season. Without him, they fall to a .485-.505 true talent team. As the Rockies will likely play somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 games in the period that he’s gone, the loss could cost the Rockies around 2 wins. In an ultra-competitive NL West, that’s not something the Rockies can afford – they need to look for a replacement.
The SS trade market isn’t terribly hot at the moment, but that may not be an issue for the Rockies, thanks to the versatility of their infielders. Ian Stewart is capable, albeit not great, at both second and third. Clint Barmes can play a Craig Counsell or Nick Punto type super-infielder role, playing at 2B, 3B, or SS. That means that the Rockies could add to any of their non-1B infield positions in order to replace Tulowitzki in the short term.
Perhaps the cheapest would be to call on Akinori Iwamura, recently designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Moving Clint Barmes to SS, where he’s about as good a defender historically as at 2B, would increase Barmes’s value slightly. He’s probably a below average player, as his defense at 2B isn’t great (career -6.0 UZR) and his projected wOBA is at .320. That’s still an improvement over Mora and would at the very least improve the Rockies’ bench, even though it likely wouldn’t pick up more than one win over the time that Tulowitzki is out.
If this tweet from Jon Paul Morosi about Kelly Johnson hitting the trade market is true, he may be a perfect target for the Rockies. He’s finally hitting like the various projection systems expected him to this year, with a wRC+ of 136. His projected wOBA is .371, well above that of Barmes and Melvin Mora, making him a useful piece even after Tulowitzki returns. However, given that Johnson plays for the division rival Diamondbacks and has a year of team control left, the price may be too high.
The best move for the Rockies seems to be to acquire a second baseman, as they are weak at 2B even with Tulowitzki, but there are some interesting shortstops on the market. Specifically, Ryan Theriot of the Cubs and Stephen Drew, also of the D’Backs, could draw some interest from Colorado. At this stage in the season, though, it’s hard to say which teams will be selling. As we creep closer to the trade deadline and teams fall out of the race, the Rockies may find the perfect suitor from out of left field.
Regardless, the Rockies need to shore up their infield whether it’s with a quick fix like Iwamura or a more expensive solution like Johnson. The Rockies are a very talented team, and in a division where seemingly anything can happen, four games is no large deficit. However, the season isn’t getting any longer, and they can’t afford to lose much ground over the time that Tulowitzki misses. If Dan O’Dowd can find the right quick fix and keep the Rockies within striking distance, the Rockies could be able to compete for the division title or Wild Card come September. Still, without their star shortstop and already facing a four game deficit, the team’s margin for error is small.