Over the past couple of years, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has found his name mentioned in speculative trade rumors as often as anyone else in baseball. He's brought much of that upon himself. From his trip to New York last summer while DL'd to catch Derek Jeter's retirement tour (read: "wants to be a Yankee! Yeah Jeetz!"), to his agent's suggestion back in May that the five-time All-Star might prefer to be dealt, Tulo has done little to quiet talks that he could soon be on the move. His comments at the All-Star game about his status in Colorado included the phrase "it is what it is," and while he claimed he was committed to the Rockies on Tuesday, that assertion still seemed less than spirited.
Tulowitzki's hitting .316/.360/.495 with a 119 wRC+ on the year, which includes a .292/.386/.563 line in July. Didi Gregorius has shown signs of steady improvement at shortstop for the Yankees, but it's rare that one of the best players in baseball becomes available, even if he comes with more red flags than St. Petersburg in 1917. Let's take a look at a few of those caution signs to see if any are reason enough for the Yankees to steer clear of the 30-year-old star.
Tulowitzki's current deal, a six-year, $118 million pact agreed to way back in 2010, when he still had three years to go on his previous contract, guarantees him $108 mil over the next four and a half seasons if his 2021 option is declined. That's a number that's very likely to be a deal-breaker for the Yankees, given ownership's current preference for eschewing long, rich deals. If Tulo declines, can't stay healthy for full seasons and can't stay at short much longer, that'd be another onerous contract on the Yankee books, which would go on long past most of those they're dealing with now.
But Tulowitzki's contract isn't exactly bad. If he's past all his medical woes, it's actually team-friendly for a superstar in his age 30-34 seasons. Hanley Ramirez is a year older and had a similarly checkered medical sheet, yet he was able to snag $88 million for four years along with a $22 million fifth year option only a few short months ago, and that was to not even play shortstop. Tulo at full strength is a better player who'd be a lock to top that if he were a free agent right now.
The prospect cost
It's hard to imagine what a package for Tulowitzki would look like since players of his status in the midst of big deals aren't usually traded. On the one hand, the Rockies would understandably ask for multiple top-100's to part with their franchise player. On the other, GM's might balk at giving up that kind of talent while also absorbing so much risky money.
The Yankees can't give up both Aaron Judge and Luis Severino to get Tulowitzki. But depending on how many teams actually show interest, they could get away with including one or neither. If the Rockies intend to trade Tulo, they'll need to decide if they want a premier prospect haul - in which case they'd need to eat some of the dollars owed - or if they're content to wipe nine figures off their ledger and move on from a player who'd possibly rather be somewhere else. If owner Dick Monfort chooses the latter, the Yankees would have the opportunity to strike without devastating their farm, much like they did when they got Bobby Abreu for peanuts in 2006.
The Coors Field factor
Tulowitzki's numbers away from thin-aired Coors Field are a problem for some. Though he's hit better on the road this season, his career splits are fairly drastic (.956 OPS at Coors vs. .819 away) and that could lead to a decline if his home games start taking place at a different park. Historically though, plenty of Rockies stars have had disproportionate home/road production and have still gone on to be very good elsewhere. Ellis Burks, Andres Galarraga, Larry Walker and more recently Matt Holliday all starred for other teams after their Rockies days ended. Even Dante Bichette, long considered a Coors Field phenomenon, was pretty solid for Boston. Vinny Castilla, who busted for the Rays and Braves, is really the only major exception.
Another thing to consider about Rockies hitters is that while Coors Field helps them at home, the unbalanced schedule does them no favors away. They play about a third of their road games at Dodger Stadium, AT&T Park and Petco Park, which are all notoriously pitcher-friendly. As a Yankee, Tulowitzki would play home games at a hitters' park and divisional road games at several other hitters' parks, particularly Fenway Park, Camden Yards and Rodgers Centre.
Tulowitzki hasn't reached 130 games played in a season since 2011. His health woes began way back in 2008 when he missed time with a torn left quadriceps tendon and later a deep cut in his right palm. After an intact '09, he was back on the shelf in '10 with a fractured wrist. In 2012, Tulo played in only 47 games thanks to left groin surgery in May. A fractured rib was the culprit for a 25-game DL trip in 2013 an MVP-like first half in 2014 was cancelled by a left hip injury in late July that required labral repair surgery.
Tulowitzki's case is not like Jacoby Ellsbury's where a string of freak accidents have stained him with the "injury prone" label. Tulo's had three serious injuries to his lower left side, and that can't be ignored for someone who plays a physically demanding position in the field. Think of a shortstop moving to his right to field a ball in the hole then stopping abruptly, pivoting and firing to first. For someone playing on a surgically repaired hip, it's painful just to consider, so it's not that surprising that Tulo's UZR/150 at short this year is a substandard -7.7. Any team that brings him in has to do so with the expectation that he's likely to miss significant time over the remainder of his contract and that he probably won't be playing shortstop for all of it.
For the Yankees though, that might not be the end of the world. In 2014, Tulowitzki was worth 5.3 fWAR in only 91 games and in 2013, he provided the same in 126. It may be worth dealing with the injuries if Tulo for 110 games and a replacement level backup for 50 still brings more total value than a middling starting shortstop. If he needs to change positions, the Yankees have an uncertain future at second base and spots clearing over the next two years at first base and DH when Mark Teixeira's and A-Rod's contracts expire.