Why the Perenially Sad-Sack Rockies Won the Tulo Trade

As the trade deadline approaches, if you’re not happy with Cashman's performance, here’s your daily optimism: it could be worse – a lot worse. Trust me: I’m not just a Yankees fan; I’m also a Rockies fan. As Matt noted, the Rockies are deservedly seen as a “clown shoes organization”; the long list of low points span this year’s decision to bring a homer-prone 80 ERA+ starter to Coors Field (predictably yielding 2 HR/9 and a 6.33 ERA), to former General Manager Dan O’Dowd declaring during a 76-86 season, “You look at some of the games we're winning. Those aren't just a coincidence. God has definitely had a hand in this.” I’ll pass on O’Dowd’s theology in favor of Einstein’s view, “God does not play dice,” because I don’t think God plays baseball either – but if I did believe in a baseball-game-influencing God, and I had responsibility for the Rockies’ record of failure like O’Dowd, I’d be displeased, not self-satisfied, at the thought, “God has definitely had a hand in this.” But with O’Dowd getting all-too-belatedly booted this past year, we in Rockiesland are hopeful that new thirtysomething GM Jeff Bridich is a different breed. That’s part of why I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on the trade of Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins for Jose Reyes and three pitching prospects -- but I also like it a lot on a cold appraisal of both the assets exchanged and what the Rockies need.

This may have been the last chance to sell high on Tulo. Recovering from hip surgery well enough to play big-league shortstop is impressive, but Tulo definitely lost the premium defense that averaged 1.5 dWAR/yr since he became a regular. His range doesn’t look good, and his range factor and dWAR confirm the mediocrity of his defense. His hitting remains good but weaker, on pace for 3 oWAR in a full season in 2015, after typically ranging 4.5-5 oWAR for the roughly 120 games a year he’s averaged. Without the premium defense, with the consistent brittleness even before turning 30, and with the slight offensive dip, I think Tulo’s days as a top shortstop are done. His contract through 2020 won’t be pretty: (a) for now he’s still a 3 WAR player, a good-not-great hitter with average-and-dropping shortstop defense, (b) he’ll soon turn into Jose Reyes, netting 1-2 WAR with average-or-better hitting with weak defense, (c) then he’ll turn into Joe Mauer, still an average or slightly better hitter, but low in net value as he’s forced to move from a premium position he no longer can handle to 1B/DH, where middling hitting doesn’t keep up with the Joneses.

Landing Reyes is underwhelming but umimportant. He’s not worth the money, but neither was Tulo, and the Rockies save about $50 million by swapping them. Reyes’s pace of about 1 WAR this year is down from the roughly 3 WAR/yr he’d been averaging, but he’s serviceable enough to keep the seat warm for top Rockies SS prospect Trevor Story, who’s slugged a .820 MiLB OPS (.930 in almost 100 AB at AAA) with reportedly solid defense. The smart money is that the Rockies dump Reyes for salary relief and maybe a B-level prospect – possibly after letting Reyes keep the seat warm for Story the rest of this season. So I see Reyes as a pretty trivial part of the deal. On the other side of the deal, LaTroy Hawkins – a quality 42 year-old reliever two months from retirement – is even more of a nonentity in assessing the deal, barely worth this one sentence.

I’ve probably buried the lead, because given my low faith in Tulo’s 30s, and my view of Reyes and Hawkins as low stakes parts, this trade is all about the three pitching prospects the Rockies landed. I’m no minor-league expert so I didn’t know these folks yesterday, but all seem strong from what I’ve been able to research. Jeff Hoffman (age 22) is a #9 overall pick with a three-pitch arsenal that includes a mid-90s fastball, a great curve, and low walk rates in the minors so far. Miguel Castro, ranked around #5 in two Toronto prospect lists, throws 99 and held his own in a call-up that seemed premature given his age (20) and inconsistent walk rates. Jesus Tinoco, also 20, is less heralded, and still at A ball, but is doing well there with a mid-90s sinker plus a a serviceable slider and change. I’d say this package is like Luis Severino, Bryan Mitchell, and Domingo Acevedo – which I’d have been reluctant for the Yankees to trade for late-2015 Tulo.

All three righties are 6’4”-6’5” and 185-190 lbs. That odd similarity in build hints that the Rockies didn’t too readily jump at unsustainable radar gun readings or unsustainable minor-league stat lines. These three won’t face height-based concerns about durability and needing too much effort to generate their velocities (like Severino, even though his consistent success is making those concerns look overblown). And based on the velocity plus the height, they also won’t face concerns about Jaron Long-like inability to sustain low-stuff/high-command success at higher levels.

Overall, the Rockies traded a star, but an expensive and rapidly declining to averagedom star, for an overpaid but $50 million cheaper stopgap replacement, plus three lottery-ticket promising pitching prospects. That's a better haul than the smaller and more middling prospect packages that Kazmir, Cueto, or Zobrist landed; while Tulo offers more than the two months' performance of those pure rentals, he also comes with an albatross nine-figure contract -- so, on the net, the Rockies' more serious prospect haul strikes me as an impressive get for their rookie GM.

Even top pitching prospects can break your heart, so a reasonable, not-too-optimistic outcome for the Rockies' three-youngster package is one solid starter, one good reliever, and one washout. That kind of young pitching haul would swamp the value Tulo should provide over the next few years while also freeing up $50 million, enough to sign another solid regular. Maybe most importantly, the pitching prospects are huge for the Rockies, given their two big institutional disadvantages: (a) they’re small-ish market, so filling spots with young cost-controlled players is critical; (b) self-respecting free agent pitchers avoid Coors Field, so the Rockies, even more than most smaller-market teams, absolutely need home-grown pitchers – exactly what they got for this just-in-time trade of their declining franchise player.