Troy Tulowitzki’s Trade Value

Some news-that-isn’t-really-news came out yesterday: Troy Tulowitzki will not demand a trade from the Rockies. After meeting with his agent, he decided against trying to force their hand, and will continue to play with the Rockies until they decide to trade him on their own timeline. But that is why this news isn’t really news, because Tulowitzki is headed out of Colorado at some point in the not too distant future whether he asked for a trade or not. The Rockies aren’t contenders, and it’s beyond time for them to admit this and divest themselves of expensive aging players who would offer more present value to a team that can win this year.

By not demanding a trade, Tulo takes the pressure off the Rockies to make a deal at a time when buyers aren’t really looking to buy, and allows them to let the market develop a little more naturally. With teams spending a significant portion of their time on the draft over the next three weeks, the Rockies will likely get more attentive bidders if they wait a month or so to aggressively market Tulowitzki as a trade chip. And, from their perspective, waiting another month gives Tulo a chance to stop swinging at everything and remind everyone that he is still an elite hitter; it’s probably best to trade him when he’s not running a .297 OBP.

Despite his mediocre start to the year, it’s probably fair to assume that he is still an elite player; our depth chart Projections have him producing another +3.4 WAR over 408 plate appearances through the remainder of the season, so even though we’re expecting him to miss some time — he is still Troy Tulowitzki, after all — he still forecasts to be one of the two dozen or so most valuable position players in the game. The Rockies will absorb some of that value by keeping him through the draft, but if we assume they’ll start really trying to trade him in a month, he should still have roughly a 300 PA/+2.5 WAR projection left when interested buyers start seriously trying to acquire him.

So that brings up the obvious question; at that point, what is Tulowitzki worth in trade?

On Tuesday, I identified nine potential buyers, pointing to the Mets, Red Sox, and Yankees as the favorites, though various media reports suggest the Yankees aren’t expected to get involved in the bidding. Still, with roughly $115 million left on the remainder of his contract, it’s probably fair to expect Tulowitzki to end up with a high-revenue team that can afford to take a gamble on an expensive star with a history of health problems. The Rockies are clearly going to expect a significant amount of talent in return for their franchise player, and they’re probably not going to be interested in paying for him to play for another team, so the buyer is going to have to figure out what kind of young players they’re willing to offer for the right to take on Tulo as a $20 million per year player.

First, it’s probably worth noting that while that is a significant portion of any team’s payroll, Tulo’s market value is well above $20 million per year. From 2016-2020, an acquiring team would be on the hook for 5/$98M (if they bought out the 2021 option), which means his contract going forward is not all that different from the one Pablo Sandoval just signed as a free agent last winter, and Pablo Sandoval is no Troy Tulowitzki. If Tulo were a free agent this winter, he’d probably be aiming for something between the Jon Lester/Max Scherzer deals, and with Jacoby Ellsbury as a recent precedent at $150+ million for an injury prone aging up-the-middle guy, I don’t think he’d have too hard a time pushing his annual average value closer to $30 million for five or six years.

So Tulo is both expensive and somewhat underpaid, even with his questionable health track record. It’s pretty clear that the Rockies should be able to get real talent back in exchange, even while forcing the acquiring team to also take on the remainder of his contract, though his cost in salary will have a negative impact on what teams are willing to offer. If the Rockies need a reality check on the trade value of very good players making $20 million per year, they have to look no further than how teams responded to the Phillies various demands relating to Cole Hamels.

Tulo is likely a better trade chip than Hamels, but that’s the comparison that buyers are going to be making themselves; the salaries are comparable, the projected future value is in the same general range — Tulo is more productive but less reliable — and Tulo is only a year younger. I think Tulo will fetch more talent in return than Hamels, but I don’t know that it will be orders of magnitude more, and I’d imagine that many of the same players that teams refused to deal for the Phillies ace will be unavailable for Tulowitzki as well.

If Hamels had roughly $30 or to $40 million in value above and beyond his contract, Tulo probably has $50 or $60 million, but keep in mind, Yoan Moncada — generally not regarded as one of the 10 best prospects in baseball at the moment — just signed for $63 million and some additional penalties, and the Dodgers reportedly offered $70 million if he’d wait until after July 2nd to sign, so the market value of elite prospects is extremely high. The Astros aren’t giving up Carlos Correa and taking on Tulo’s contract. The Dodgers aren’t offering Corey Seager or Julio Urias. And the Red Sox aren’t going to offer up Mookie Betts.

But once you get beyond the top tier of young talent, the values of prospects drop off pretty quickly, and moving away from the one-big-piece trade to focusing on a package of very good but not quite elite players will likely be the Rockies best path forward. While the top prospects in the game are probably worth somewhere between $75 and $100 million, the next tier are probably closer to $30 or $40 million, because they’re generally not ready to contribute at the big leagues right away and come with significantly more risk. So you might not be able to get one one of the very best prospects for Tulo, but two guys from the next tier isn’t unreasonable at all, and since there’s a significant markup on talent in-season, the winning bidder will likely have to give up more than just a couple of a very good prospects to secure the best shortstop in baseball.

So, let’s take the list of teams I threw out there as potential buyers earlier in the week and see if we can build some packages of talent that look reasonable-ish, at least to my eye. The goal is to get Colorado two or three good young talents that are roughly equal in value to prospects in the #11-#50 range, though since not every team has three guys in that grouping, we’ll also include some big leaguers for certain franchises. The prospect ranks in parentheses come from Kiley McDaniel’s preseason Top 200.

The Longshots

Pittsburgh

As noted on Tuesday, they probably won’t take on this kind of salary risk, but there’s an argument that they should, given their window to win during Andrew McCutchen’s prime years. And they have the talent to get it done. Tyler Glasnow (#12), Austin Meadows (#30), and Jameson Taillon (#66) fit roughly the type of package that we spitballed Tulo is worth. Unlikely that the Pirates do it, but there’s a fit here if they want to make a real run the NL Central in the next few years.

Tampa Bay

This one’s tougher, because the only top 50 prospect the Rays featured was Steven Souza, who is now part of their starting line-up. Daniel Robertson (#97) is crushing AA pitching and his stock is likely up since that list was published, but he was only enough to land one year of Ben Zobrist a few months ago, and so making him the feature return for Tulowitzki now would be a difficult argument. The Rays have a lot of good candidates for secondary pieces in a Tulo deal, but it’s not clear that they have a prospect really capable of being the primary return in a trade for Tulo. This was always an extreme long-shot anyway, and given the Rays farm system, I think we can probably say that there isn’t a great fit here.

Anaheim

There is basically one one package you could even pretend to come up with here: Andrew Heaney (#50), Sean Newcomb (#54), and maybe some lower-level guys that the Rockies like but haven’t gained prominence yet. Roberto Baldoquin (honorable mention) was the only other guy Kiley included from their system on his list, so the Angels probably just don’t have enough chips to get this done unless the Rockies put a very high value on Heaney and Newcomb.

Maybe In The Mix

Seattle

This is likely a package that would have to be built around MLB players, as the Mariners two top-50 prospects — Alex Jackson (#20) and D.J. Peterson (#55) — are both struggling badly in the minors this year. Jackson could be still be a piece, but the deal would almost certainly have to be built around Taijuan Walker or James Paxton, with either Brad Miller or Chris Taylor also likely heading back to Colorado, and then some combination of prospects beyond that. If the Rockies prefer big leaguers to prospects, then there could be a deal to be made here, but with the Mariners rotation already thin at the big league level, they may not be too anxious to give up Walker and/or Paxton, and it’s hard to see Colorado trading Tulo to the northwest without getting those kinds of arms back.

Toronto

This is maybe the most interesting one, because the Blue Jays have the young arms the Rockies are looking for, and could send back Jose Reyes to offset Tulo’s salary. A deal including Reyes, Daniel Norris (#17), and Jeff Hoffman (#67) would almost certainly get the Rockies interested, and might even be enough going back to ask for more than just Tulo; at that point, maybe the Blue Jays get Justin Morneau with the Rockies covering his salary as well, or something along those lines. Whether the Blue Jays would want to trade two high-end pitching prospects for an upgrade from one expensive and oft-injured SS to another is an open question, but the Blue Jays could likely make a real run at Tulowitzki if they wanted to.

Houston

The Astros will probably just promote Carlos Correa to play shortstop instead, and while Correa could replace Luis Valbuena at third if they acquired Tulo, they also have Jed Lowrie returning from the DL at some point in the second half of the year, so yeah, this probably isn’t happening either. But if they wanted to make a run at Tulo, and use him to mentor Correa (perhaps flipping them at SS/3B next season), they could probably make an offer with Mark Appel (#18) teamed with Lance McCulllers (#126 pre-season, but likely moving up the charts quickly with a strong 2015), and perhaps include Lowrie to help offset some of the salary they’d be taken on, and give the Rockies a middle infielder for the next few years while they figure out what they have going forward. They have a good amount of depth beyond those arms as well, so if the Astros want to be involved in this bidding, they can be. But they almost certainly will just go with Correa instead.

The Favorites

Boston

This is the one place where a one-shiny-thing offer actually could work, as the Red Sox would be displacing Xander Bogaerts if they acquired Tulo to take over at shortstop, so if the Rockies prefer one big asset over several smaller ones, this is probably their best fit. But if the Rockies want pitching, the Red Sox might not be the right organization to call, since the Red Sox need all the talented pitchers they can find about now, and it’s unlikely that they’d want to include guys like Eduardo Rodriguez (#23) along with Bogaerts while taking on Tulo’s entire contract. If the Rockies paid down some of his salary, that might become a possibility, but even then, the Red Sox might be better off just promoting Rodriguez rather than trading him.

New York Yankees

The Yankees can leak that they’re not in the mix all they want, but I’ll believe it when Tulo actually goes elsewhere. They have the need, the financial capabilities, and the prospects to get it done. Maybe they’re really not interested, but I’d imagine Colorado would be interested in Luis Severino (#26), Aaron Judge (#58), and a few extras. If the Yankees really don’t want to give up that kind of package for the best shortstop in baseball, then they really have turned a new leaf. I still am not buying it, though.

New York Mets

As I said on Tuesday, the Mets are the best fit. They have the pitching depth that the Rockies want and the motivation to make a deal that makes them a legitimate Wild Card contender, rather than just hoping their hot start doesn’t get wiped out too quickly. If the Mets packaged Noah Syndergaard (#19), Amed Rosario (#60), and Steven Matz (#65) together, they’d very likely have their shortstop of the present and the future. Maybe the Rockies even settle for Thor and one of those two, plus some additional stuff. Or maybe they even package up enough of their lower-tier talents with Matz and Rosario to keep Syndergaard out of the deal, arguing that his early 2015 performance puts him in that top tier of guys that aren’t worth giving up. There are plenty of options here, and the Mets have enough depth of young talent to get Tulowitzki if they want him.

Right now, everyone is playing coy and downplaying their interest, but at some point in the next month or so, the best shortstop in baseball is going to become available. These are the kinds of offers I’d expect Colorado to receive when they finally do put him on the market.

We hoped you liked reading Troy Tulowitzki’s Trade Value by Dave Cameron!

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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The Ghost of Dayn Perry
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The Ghost of Dayn Perry

Nice article, Dave.

By Kiley’s own admission, the numbers within Future Value tiers don’t mean much. Instead of using raw rankings, maybe include FV in the parenthesis after players instead?