Is Offseason Troy Tulowitzki Trade the Red Sox's First Step to Regaining Power?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 14, 2012

Is Tulo a realistic trade target for the Red Sox?
Is Tulo a realistic trade target for the Red Sox?Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox have entered a rebuilding phase, and they have many, many steps to tread before they can get back to being a championship-caliber ballclub.

One of the problem areas the Red Sox need to address is one that's been around for a long time. The shortstop position has been a revolving door in Boston ever since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004, and there are still no obvious long-term answers at any level of the organization.

The Red Sox could look to add a stud shortstop from outside the organization this winter, but pickings will be pretty slim on the free-agent market. The only way they're going to acquire an established star shortstop is by trading for one.

How about Troy Tulowitzki?

"Wait, what? Is he actually on the block?"

Not officially, no. I bring it up because Harold Reynolds of the MLB Network brought it up this week, saying that the Colorado Rockies could be willing to deal their superstar shortstop for some much-needed pitching. Via MLB Network's Alanna Rizzo:

Harold Reynolds thinks the @rockies would be willing to trade Troy Tulowitzki to get some decent pitching.Thoughts?

— Alanna Rizzo (@alannarizzo) September 13, 2012

It wasn't Buster Olney who made this suggestion. Nor was it Jon Heyman. Or Ken Rosenthal. Or Jayson Stark. Or Jon Morosi.

It was Harold Reynolds who said this. Take it with a grain of salt.

Listen, I think this is a silly idea just as much as you probably do. So does Troy Renck, the Denver Post's Rockies beat writer. He tweeted this on Wednesday:

Said repeatedly i would not trade tulo or cargo for pitching bc no predictably of performance for pitchers in denver.Get pennies on dollar

— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) September 13, 2012

He's right, you know. Star pitchers in Colorado are few and far between, and these days the Rockies are resorting to wild and crazy experiments to try and solve the great Colorado pitching mystery. Trading Tulowitzki just so they can throw a few more young pitchers into their Bermuda Triangle of a pitching staff doesn't make a ton of sense.

But for kicks, let's back up and consider a "what if" scenario. In this case, what if Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd does get it in his head that trading Tulo for pitching is the best possible direction he can steer his club?

If word gets out that that's what he wants to do, then Sox general manager Ben Cherington could very well give O'Dowd a call. A Tulo-for-pitching trade between the Sox and Rockies could happen.

Granted, pitching is just as big a problem in Boston these days as it is in Colorado. The Rockies have the worst team ERA in the majors at 5.12, but the Red Sox aren't very far ahead of them at 4.57. As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe noted in a recent article, Boston's pitching has become a problem largely because the organization's developmental process for pitchers isn't up to par with what other organizations like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Oakland A's are doing. One of Boston's primary goals for the future is to completely restructure how it goes about developing and evaluating pitching talent.

The bright side for the Red Sox is that they do have some talented young pitching to work with. Right-hander Matt Barnes checked in at No. 13 on Baseball America's midseason rankings of the top 50 prospects in baseball. In right-hander Allen Webster, the Red Sox acquired one of the Los Angeles Dodgers' top prospects in the big trade the two clubs made in late August. They also acquired Rubby De La Rosa, a former top prospect. Felix Doubront, 24, showed some promise as a member of Boston's starting rotation this season.

Because the Red Sox are going to be in no real hurry to get really good really fast this offseason, it's highly unlikely that they'll move any of their best young pitchers in a trade. The only thing that could possibly sway Cherington is a chance to acquire a young, controllable, superstar player who would fill one of the club's primary needs.

To that end, it's hard to think of a more tempting player than Tulowitzki. As a fit for the Red Sox, Tulo is almost too perfect.

Few players around baseball can impact a given game in as many ways as Tulo can. Per FanGraphs, Tulo's weighted on-base average since his rookie season in 2007 is .375. That's tops among everyday shortstops by a pretty wide margin. He's hit more home runs than any other everyday shortstop since 2007, and only Jhonny Peralta has driven in more runs (and he's played 163 more games than Tulo since 2007).

Though he's probably lost a step or two since his rookie season, Tulo is still one of the game's elite defensive shortstops. He's won two Gold Gloves, and he routinely posts positive UZR's and DRS's when he's healthy (see FanGraphs).

For the Red Sox, a shortstop with Tulo's skills is a pie in the sky. After watching Edgar Renteria, Julio Lugo, Alex Gonzalez, Jed Lowrie, Mike Aviles and others man the shortstop position over the last eight years, seeing Tulo at shortstop in a Red Sox uniform would be a dream come true.

And given the circumstances, the Red Sox might just be desperate enough to go all out in an attempt to make this dream a reality. They need a shortstop now as badly as ever before.

Aviles has done a serviceable job as Boston's everyday shortstop this season, but he's not a long-term solution. He's 31 years old, and the production the Red Sox have gotten out of him this season (.253/.284/.389) is about as good as it's going to get.

In a perfect world, the Red Sox would be able to use Jose Iglesias as their starting shortstop in 2013. The Red Sox certainly know that he can play defense, but Iglesias has done virtually nothing to prove that he's capable of hitting major league pitching. He hit .251 in parts of two seasons at Triple-A, and he has just two hits in 27 at-bats since he was called up to The Show this season. 

John Tomase of the Boston Herald said it best about Iglesias:

While his defense remains elite, he’s not a big leaguer without a better bat. And with one more season remaining on the four-year, $8.25 million he signed in 2009, we’re no closer to answering that question than the day he signed.

In other words, it's only becoming more and more apparent that Iglesias is a failed experiment. 

The Red Sox do have other young shortstops in their system that could eventually come along and solve Boston's shortstop quandary, namely Xander Bogaerts, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin. These guys, however, still have much to prove. It's not a given that any of them will be making an impact in the very near future.

Tulo, obviously, would make an impact in the very near future if the Red Sox were to go out and trade for him. He'd be around for a long time, too, as his contract is good through the 2020 season with an option for 2021. The dollar amounts aren't small, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, but that shouldn't concern the Red Sox too much seeing as how they just jettisoned about $250 million in salaries.

So, to recap, Tulowitzki to the Red Sox makes sense for the following reasons: The Sox have the pitching prospects to entice the Rockies into giving Tulo up, the Sox certainly have a need for him and Tulo's controllability  makes him an even more attractive option.

There has to be a catch somewhere, right?

Yeah. More than one, in fact.

At this point, all of the lovely things we can say about Tulowitzki must come with a certain caveat: "when he's healthy." This caveat is particularly glaring this year, as Tulo has been limited to only 47 games due to a bad groin that ultimately required surgery. 

Given the severity of his leg injury and the physical demands of his position, there's a train of thought out there—championed by people such as Mark Kiszla of the Denver Postthat a move to third base is inevitable for Tulo.

As such, the Red Sox's dream shortstop may not be cut out to play shortstop for much longer. Complicating matters is the fact that the Red Sox have a pretty good young third baseman already in place for the long haul in Will Middlebrooks. 

Even if the Red Sox were to acquire Tulo and move him to third base, there would be no guarantees that he'd be able to stay healthy. They'd therefore have yet another risky $100 million-plus contract on their hands, one that could easily become an albatross contract.

In other words, Tulo could come over to Boston and step into the shoes previously occupied by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. After all they've been through, the Red Sox should be trying to make sure those shoes stay empty.

Both the Rockies and the Red Sox therefore have legitimate reasons not to do business. Colorado should indeed be wary about giving up its star shortstop for pitchers who would probably be doomed to fail as soon as they were to put on Rockies colors. Boston should be wary about acquiring yet another player who probably wouldn't be worth it in the long run.

The Red Sox could further rationalize not trading for Tulo by coming to the conclusion that acquiring him wouldn't necessarily be a huge leap forward for the franchise. He would ideally solve the team's longstanding shortstop quandary, to be sure, but the cost would be the organization's best young pitchers.

Pitching is something the Red Sox haven't had enough of in recent years, and the results speak for themselves. And rest assured, the Red Sox can see what good pitching has done for teams like the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's, Tampa Bay Rays, Cincinnati Reds and Washington Nationals as well as any of us can.

If the Red Sox develop a truly great pitching staff, it really won't matter who's manning short on a daily basis. A trade for Tulo is a deal that they're better off not making.


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