Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rockie Mountain High

Prior to today, Troy Tulowitski was a rich man.  Now, he’s even richer.  Rather than have Tulowitski play out the remaining three years of his six year $31M contract, the Rockies have decided to not only pick up his $15M option for 2014, but also tack on an additional six year $120M contract that will run from 2015 to 2020.  All told, Tulowitski will make $157.75M over the next 10 years.  

Like Craig Calcaterra of NBC’s Hardball Talk, I’m left wondering why the Rockies made such a big push to sign a player that was already locked up for the foreseeable future.  It’s most confusing.  Don’t get me wrong.  Tulowitski is a fantastic player who does a lot of things incredibly well.  For starters, he’s only 26 years old, and he’s already a consistent 5-6 WAR player.  Second, he’s an excellent defender at one of the most defensively challenging positions (SS) on the field.  He has soft hands, great range, and a strong arm.  Third, he hits for average, has excellent power for this position, gets on base at an above average clip, exhibits good plate discipline, and is an above average base runner.  If you were going to build a contender around one player, he’s on the short list of five or ten guys you’d consider. 

Still, I can’t help but wonder if this was a somewhat of a miscalculation on the part of the Rockies.  Tulowitski may be an excellent player now, but what happens if he runs into a string of nagging injuries that not only keeps him out of action for extended periods, but also limits his production.*  This isn’t completely out of the realm of possibilities as he spent significant portions of both the 2008 and 2010 seasons on the disabled list with a torn quadricep and fractured wrist.  I’m not saying he’s going to have an injury riddled career, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention it as a possibility.  That said, assuming Tulowitski remains healthy, I project him to be a 4.5-6.0 WAR player between 2011 and 2016, and a 2.5-5.0 WAR player from 2017 and 2020.

* Nomar Garciaparra, a player with a comparable skill set, had his first major injury in his age-27 (2001).  By the time Garciaparra reached his age-30 season, he was overcome by a barrage of injuries that completely derailed a career that seemed Hall of Fame bound.  Nomar's career as an effective major league starter ended at age-32.  He was out of the game by the time he was 35 years old.  
To an extent, I understand the Rockies' desire to lock up their franchise player.  After their last franchise player (Matt Holliday) priced himself out of the Rockies comfort zone, they were forced to trade him to Oakland one year prior to him becoming eligible for free agency.  As such, they wanted to make sure they had Tulowitski locked up through his prime.  The problem is that they didn't need to sign Tulowitski to another extension.  They already had him locked up for the next four seasons.  While the Rockies probably saved themselves $20-40M by signing him now, they’ve added considerable risk due to the length of the commitment they’ve made.  The smart move for the Rockies (and Tulowitski) would have been to hold off signing a contract for another two or three seasons.  Luckily for the Rockies, Tulowitski is a good bet to provide enough value to justify his contract assuming he stays healthy.  It's not a bad signing.  Just a confusing one.    

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