Late last night, you know by now, the Blue Jays swung a trade for Troy Tulowitzki, acquiring the by-default best shortstop in baseball and LaTroy Hawkins for Jose Reyes and three minor league pitchers. This morning, the consensus seems to be that the Rockies got played, sending Tulowitzki away for less than full value. Me? I'm not so sure.
Now, there's little doubt that Tulowitzki is an excellent player. As Aaron Gleeman noted last week, even Tulowitzki's performance in road games is better than any other shortstop's single-season overall offensive performance since 2013:
Highest OPS by shortstops from 2013-2015: .941 - Tulowitzki .832 - Tulowitzki only in road games .806 - Peralta .752 - Lowrie .739 - Reyes— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) July 22, 2015
Add to that that Tulowitzki is still at least an average or better defender, and you have a franchise player, when he's on the field.
And that's the rub. Because Tulowitzki is often not on the field. He missed more than 60 games last year with a labrum tear in his hip. He broke a rib in 2013. In 2012, a groin tear kept him out for 113 games. He has played more than 140 games just three times in his nine year career. So far, this year, he has been healthy, and hasn't missed more than two consecutive games. That said, he is over 30 and his history suggests that he is a likely candidate to go down at some point before the end of the season.
So, too, was Jose Reyes of course. Reyes has suffered a series of leg injuries since 2011, and had a cracked rib through part of 2015. In 53 games since returning from that injury, however, Reyes has hit .294/.337/.408 on the year with 13 steals, while only being caught twice. He's still an adequate defensive shortstop, even if Tulowitzki is probably better at this point. He's also two years old than Tulowitzki and making a couple million dollars more per season. So he's definitely not as good an investment as the man replacing him (though the difference between the two in 2015, according to fWAR, is pretty miniscule).
Not that Tulowitzki has a lot to complain about. With the escalators in his contract, Tulo is now owed something like $111 million over the next five seasons. With no money changing hands, the Blue Jays will be on the hook for all of that. That will look awful if Tulowitzki's injuries chip away at his effectiveness and leave him like Ken Griffey Jr. on the Reds. While Reyes is still owed $48 million himself, that's only a two year commitment for the Rockies, or for whoever winds up with the shortstop if the Rockies turn around and deal him again.
Now, Dan Szymborski points out that Reyes is hopelessly overpaid:
If nobody would be willing to sign Reyes for 2.3333/55, why would someone pay for the privilege?— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) July 28, 2015
And he's right, without a doubt. There is no way Jose Reyes would get $22 million per year on the open market (thank you, Jeffrey Loria). But he is still at least a league average shortstop when healthy, and that, dear friends, is still worth a good $10-12 million per year for a couple years. The Rockies (or their trading partners) aren't wasting $22 million, they're wasting that extra $10-12 per year. And, assuming they do turn around and flip him, the Rockies will subsidize that amount as well for the Twins or the Mets or the Yankees in return for an actual prospect. And with such a short commitment, at least Reyes will not be a millstone around the neck of the club that gets him beyond 2017, if he collapses entirely.
There's also the other players the Rockies got in this deal: Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco. Castro is a 20 year old righty who throws 96-97 MPH out of the bullpen. He has moved incredibly quickly through the Jays system, and debuted as a reliever earlier this year. Prospect hounds seem to agree that he lacks the movement and the secondary pitches to succeed as a starter, and will probably wind up a bullpen arm (and perhaps a good closer), though it's probably too early to close the door on that possibility. Hoffman, another righty, was the Jays' first round pick last year, and was ranked as a top 100 prospect coming into the season by Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com despite not having thrown a professional pitch. In his first exposure to the minor leagues, he has been fine, but has not shown swing-and-miss stuff. Tinoco is also 20 and a righty and has the potential to develop into a decent starter down the road. The Rockies didn't get any sure things, even as far as pitching prospects go, but an interesting collection of hard throwers to potentially fill out their staff in two or three years. And if they are successful in finding a suitor for Reyes, they will save even more money and add to this collection, while clearing a spot for top shortstop prospect Trevor Story.
Story is an important part of this picture as well. He's almost ready and probably will be by the start of next season. Because of the scarcity of good hitters, let alone great shortstops midseason, the Rockies are going to receive a premium for trading Tulo now, rather than waiting. If you're going to deal Tulo, and really I don't see why they shouldn't have, the best deal they were going to get was going to come at this deadline.
This is not to say that the Blue Jays made a bad deal. In fact, I think they got an excellent player at a very affordable price. As long as Tulowitzki remains healthy, he will continue to be the best shortstop in the game for the foreseeable future. At some point (probably before the end of this contract) he won't be, but the Jays are making this deal primarily for 2015. By then, it won't matter to them (as much). The riskiness associated with him, and the replacement the Rockies have in hand, however, make dealing him an opportunity Colorado couldn't pass up here, either. Did they get the most value they could have for him? Probably? Maybe? I mean, we'll never know for certain. But they got enough.