Group Chat: Would You Sell Half the Farm for Tulo?

Scott: Matt’s Yankees Shortstop Options post was depressing, and rumors are flying about possible trades for Elvis Andrus or Troy Tulowitzki, with one rumor suggesting that the Yankees could have Tulo for something like Luis Severino, Greg Bird, and Manny Banuelos. Would you take that deal, or something like it? I absolutely would. (1) Severino is great, with no red flags to date, but has only 25 IP at AA; it’s a long road yet to being a real MLB starter, much less the sort of #1-#2 starter you might regret giving up for a Tulo. (2) Bird has real holes in his game – rough at 1B (1 error every 10 games) and striking in 23% of PA in the low minors (bad but more a yellow than red flag); his 7 HR in 95 AB at AA, and great AFL showing, may signal exciting improvement, but to regret trading him for Tulo, he’d have to show continued progress. (3) Banuelos is still a prospect but nowhere near what he was, so this would be a trade of one clearly top prospect and two other legit but imperfect prospects for a superstar. But am I overrating Tulo, underrating the prospects, underrating what it would take to land Tulo, or overrating the Yankees’ chance of rising to playoff caliber with Tulo? Domenic: Projecting Troy Tulowitzki feels akin to a fool's errand. There are two certainties about Tulowitzki - he will earn a significant amount of money over the next several years, and he is the best shortstop in the game when he is on the field, and by a significant margin. And those two, taken hand in hand, make sense - he's fairly compensated for his talent and overall production.

Of course, it's not that simple. Tulowitzki feels like the new Chipper Jones - an elite player at a shallow position that struggles to stay on the field. When he plays, you can be confident that he will be great. But how often will he play? How many more injuries can his body sustain without hampering his numbers when he is on the field? It's impossible to know, aside from the knowledge that he's beyond the realm of 'unlucky' and 'fluke injuries.' He's a tremendous risk.

Would I trade him for Severino and Bird, though? Two of the team's three best prospects for the player described above? Well ... yes. As Scott said, Severino and Bird are not without risk, and Tulo would make the team significantly better on both sides of the ball for (one would hope) four or five years. Gambling on 125 games of Tulowitzki seems safer than betting on most any prospect - and there don't appear to be any non-nauseating shortstop options anywhere on the horizon.

E.J.: Hell yes I'd take that deal. I love Greg Bird, but he's not going to be a top-100 prospect this year. Severino will be, but you've got to give up something to get something. Banuelos is a throw in as far as I'm concerned. If the Yankees were to pull off this trade, it would be a steal. Frankly, that's the biggest reason to mistrust the rumor: the cost is unrealistically low.

When you look at the contracts that young star hitters like Giancarlo Stanton are signing these days, Tulo looks like a bargain. Even with the injuries, he has consistently been a 5-6.5 WAR player. Fangraphs put his 2013 and 2014 value at $28.1 million.

Yes, the Yankees are rolling the dice a bit and hoping that he can stay healthy for a reasonable number of games. But I think this is a very reasonable risk to take for an odd reason. The Yankees are going to need a little bit of luck over the next 2-3 years in order to make a deep run at the playoffs. They are going to need to clump together 8-9 wins (maybe more) to break in their direction all at the same time.

That's pretty rare. It would be the equivalent of Brian McCann, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia all having very strong bounce back, comeback player of the year type seasons all at once. If only one or one and half of them have that kind of improbable season, no playoffs. Tulo is the kind of player that could conceivably put it all together and do most of the 8-9 win job himself. All he would have to do is stay healthy all season, and an otherwise 83-84 win Yankee team makes the playoffs, even if a lot of other things don't break their way.

Jason:  Well said.  I'd do it too.

Scott: Ok, everyone would do Severino/Bird/Banuelos, so I'll make it tougher: Pick your favorite 3 prospects -- because the Rockies will; what would you say if the Rockies offered Tulo for those three? I might pick Severino, Sanchez, and Refsnyder. (The Rockies may be less eager for Ref because they have a 2B who just won a Gold Glove, but LeMaiheu is a replacement-level hitter who may be better as a utility guy anyway.)

Would I give up all three? Tough one, but I'm still a yes. As EJ notes, even with the injuries, Tulo averages 5-6.5 WAR; at $19.7m/yr, he has to average only about 2.5-3 WAR/yr to provide fair value (most studies figure $6m/WAR but others show a higher $/WAR for NY). Even if Tulo declines to 4.5 WAR/yr, you still get 27 WAR in 6 yrs, which (a) makes him worth $160-190m to the Yankees, well over his $118m contract, and (b) may still exceed what you can expect out of even three good prospects, because odds are decent that one will disappoint, another will be middling, and another may excel without racking up the 30+ WAR that few amass. Even if, say, one ends up with a 30-40 WAR career, I’m ok giving that up now to firm up a total void at SS for the next several years: without Tulo, they probably suffer a replacement-level SS now, and who knows if the prospect who hits it biggest will be at a position where the Yankees have less need? Maybe Ref will be the biggest success but Pirela proves solid at 2B; maybe Sanchez is the best but McCann lasts five more years; maybe Murphy breaks out. In short, value of X, at a position of known dire need, beats value of Y>X at a position that may not be as big a need.

So, yeah, I’d give up high-potential uncertainties, at positions not certain to be big needs, to firm up 25-30 WAR from SS, a known major position of need with few other good options, for several years.

Domenic: If it's my three favorite prospects - meaning Severino, Judge, and Bird - then I do not think that I could pull the trigger. Adding in that additional, top-100 type prospect with upside frightens me off just enough that I get too caught up in my own head to pull the trigger. It's not difficult for me to see Severino, Judge, and Bird in pinstripes sometime in 2016, and I think that that potential excites me just a bit more than being an 85-ish win team next season.

And, with respect to Troy Tulowitzki's seasonal averages, I worry a bit more than everyone else does about his injuries. He produced 5.1 fWAR in 91 games last year, yes - but 71 games of Brendan Ryan et al may well knock that down to 4.1 fWAR. I am also hesitant to say that he can maintain that level of production if he keeps suffering the sort of injury that keeps him out for half the season, a quarter of the season (like 2013), or three quarters of the season (like 2012). I know that he keeps coming back healthy and strong ... but how much longer can he keep that up?

Brad: Would I sell "half the farm" for Tulo?  Absolutely not.  Not given his propensity for getting injured and the size of his remaining deal.  The Yankees have gotten burned on that front too many times recently and are struggling to stay relevant in today's baseball landscape with albatross deals for A-Rod, CC, and Teix ballooning the payroll and dragging down the overall quality of the roster.  I'm all for the team being in "win now" mode, but I think we've all learned by now that being in that mode in the context of sacrificing the entire future for a small part of the present is not the way to go.

Would I be interested in selling some of the farm for Tulo?  Absolutely.  His talent is undeniable and there's no one or 2 prospects in the Yankee system that project to be anywhere near his level of performance.  Nobody in the system should be considered untouchable for a player like that, but too many of the top somebodies in the system probably should be for a team as old and injury-prone as the current Yankees.  It really comes down to asking price.  If it's too high, pass.  If it's reasonable, go for it.

E.J.: Two replies for Domenic:

Replacement level is defined pretty literally as the average contribution of a replacement player. The Yankees have been terrible at finding people to fill those roles, but that isn't inevitable. It is probably more likely that they'll replace someone with an above-replacement level player, turning that 5.1 wins into 6.1 wins, or more. In fact, were I Cashman I'd only trade for Tulo if I had some solid backup plan in mind should he get injured. Jayson Nix, for example.

On decreased performance due to injuries - it hasn't happened yet. Tulo has actually gotten better on a per-game basis over the years:

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So far, injuries have not affected his performance at all. Any risk of injury-decreased performance has to be weighed against the probability that most of the prospects traded in return for Tulo will fail. Yankees would be enormously lucky if even one of the prospects were worth 3-4 WAR per year over the course of Tulo's contract. A lot has to go right with those players for the Yankees to lose the deal. Judge and Severino are very good prospects, but we're not talking about top-10 guys here.

Domenic: I think *yet* is the key word there. Tulowitzki has missed 222 games these last three seasons, and 107 over the last two. He's 30-years-old now, and he has a ton of wear and tear on his body. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip last season, and surgery to remove a great deal of scar tissue in his groin in 2012. In between he has had several lower body and abdominal injuries - I won't go so far as to say that he's playing on borrowed time, but I am also not confident that he can continue to keep this up.

Moreover, 2014 was his best offensive season, yes. He also had a career high in BABIP by 21 points, a career high HR/FB by 2.5%, and a 126 wRC+ on the road - which is still quite good, but it's right in-line with his career 118 wRC+ away from Coors.

So what are we looking at, then? A guy who will play good defense at shortstop and post a 125 to 130 wRC+ for 125 games per season seems fair, right? And he's guaranteed 6-years, $118 MM ... which also seems fair. I just don't know that (1) I would sell the farm for him, or (2) that I am confident that he'll perform at that level as he ages.

Brad: The piling up of injuries is what makes me worried that he won't keep up the performance.  If he could stay on the field a little more consistently, I'd have more confidence that he could maintain his production.

E.J.: I'm not sold that injury history is a strong predictor of future per-game performance. Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Hideki Matsui all had pretty much perfect health records before they started to rapidly decline in on-field performance.

That doesn't mean the Yankees shouldn't check and make sure Tulo's labrum surgery was successful, or that adding any 30+ year old on a long term contract isn't inherently risky. I just don't think there's evidence that the effect of these kinds of injuries are cumulative as far as per-game on-field performance goes.

Brad: Oh I agree with that.  Should have clarified.  My feeling on it isn't based in anything factual or statistically-supported.  Just a personal worry.

Stacey: Here's my answer: No. :)

Moshe: Look at that Stanton deal [$325m/13yr], and the Russell Martin deal [$82m/5yr]. Tulo's contract is actually cheap based on the current market. I'd give up a lot for him.

Michael: VMart getting a ton too, Beltran got a lot last year, Ellsbury, Cano. Prices seem to be skyrocketing with all the TV deals. I don't dread Tulo's contract, but the teams that are supposedly in on him are likely reluctant to take on that deal, which is good. Dodgers are probably a threat, but they have a ton of money already on the books, when they had a similar problem at second base last year, they didn't sign Cano, they went a much cheaper route and signed a few cuban shortstops. Maybe their strategy changes with the new front office, but I don't think that changes the ownership's reluctance to hit a $300 million payroll. I'd be willing to trade anyone not named Greg Bird for Tulo, but that's for purely fanatical reasons. At this point, the Yanks should be willing to give up whatever it takes (as long as it's within some reason) to get a franchise player.

Scott: Ok, Domenic's injury history has me nervous, but I'd still do the deal, even though I dislike deals of this type (I'm just old enough to have PTSD from Buhner for Phelps), for three reasons. (1) Tulo at $19.7m.yr is much better than most other >$20m star acquisitions (before signing, Teixeira averaged 4.3 WAR while Sabathia had two years of 6+ WAR but before that was 3-4 WAR for years). (2) The folks to trade are "top prospects" only if graded on a curve, because the Yankees have such a weak system: maybe only one (Severino) would be a "top prospect" on the Cubs, for example; so in a sense, the most the Yankees could give up in a 3-prospect deal would be one "A level" prospect and two "B+ levels." (3) There are so few other SS options that without Tulo they'll likely have a replacement-level-or-worse SS (Ryan or Drew could easily be sub-replacement), with no AAA/AA alternative nearly ready -- so this is an unusually dire need that Tulo could fill.

Great chat, folks! Seems like here's where we ended up:

(1) We'd all offer a package like (a) one top prospect (Severino), (b) another who is either a top or a very good prospect (Bird), and (c) a middling prospect like a fallen star youngster (Banuelos).

(2) Disagreement about giving up whoever you think are the team's top three top prospects: I'd nervously give up my top three (Severino/Refsnyder/Sanchez), whereas Domenic wouldn't give up his (Severino/Bird/Judge); Stacey is firmly on Domenic's side, while Brad is also wary of too high a price, but Moshe, EJ, and Michael are more on my side of the fence.

(3) Mixed views about Tulo's odds of maintaining elite performance given his odd profile of suffering many injuries, but remaining a top-5-in-MLB player between injuries -- so there's a consensus that for any of these trades, you'd obviously need a close look at the medicals.

Thoughts, all? Are several of us crazy in thinking we'd cough up three of the team's few prospects for a walking injury at a tough position, or is Tulo an unusually rare opportunity to fill an unusually dire need?