With only six games remaining in the 2012 season, there doesn't seem to be much point in Tulowitzki suiting up and taking his position at shortstop for the rest of the year.
Yet, according to the Denver Post's Troy Renck, he intends to play during the final week of the season. The presumption is that Tulowitzki wants to see if he can play with full effort, but he says the Rockies want him to give it a try before the offseason begins.
"As an organization, they have stressed how important it is to get back out there going into the offseason," Tulowitzski told Renck in a Sept. 16 article. "I understand that. But it would only be fair that they can put a player out there who's 100 percent."
Perhaps this is reading into that quote too much, but there seems to be some inherent conflict in that statement. Are the Rockies pushing Tulowitzki to take the field even if he doesn't feel ready? Does the team feel that some of this is mental and Tulowitzki is being too tentative in his rehab?
The Rockies certainly have a financial reason to want Tulowitzki on the field. Colorado will pay him $144 million over the next nine seasons, $155 million if they pick up his $15 million option for 2021.
At full strength, Tulowitzki is a superstar player. There's not another shortstop in MLB that can give a team 30 home runs and 100 RBI, hit .300 with an OPS over .850 and provide an elite glove at the most important defensive position on the field.
The Rockies made an excellent move for their organization by locking him up to a long-term contract, especially at the 10-year length that seems to be the standard for superstar talent in the current market.
Yet Colorado is slogging through a last-place season during which it could lose nearly 100 games. Granted, Tulowitzki's absence has played a role in that. But he alone wouldn't make up the 20-game deficit that would put the Rockies in playoff contention.
Abysmal pitching has been Colorado's downfall this season. Their 5.23 team ERA is last in MLB, as is their opponents' batting average of .291. Manager Jim Tracy has resorted to unconventional tactics like going to a four-man rotation and limiting his starters to 75 pitches before bringing in relievers that are arguably more effective.
But with young hitters like Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario, Tyler Colvin and Jordan Pacheco on hand, do the Rockies already have enough offense?
With Josh Rutledge filling in adequately at shortstop and prospect Trevor Story perhaps three years from the majors, does Colorado have the luxury of trying to trade Tulowitzki to add more pitching to the organization?
According to Renck, there are no indications that such a possibility is even being discussed within the front office. But if the Rockies were to put Tulowitzki on the trade block, general manager Dan O'Dowd might have to hire another assistant to help take all the calls from fellow GMs looking to make a deal.
The Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals all immediately come to mind as teams that would surely relish the opportunity to add a shortstop of Tulowitzki's caliber to their roster. The San Francisco Giants and Milwaukee Brewers might be interested as well.
The $144 million still owed Tulowitzki could be too rich for a team like the Mets and the Rockies might not want to trade their superstar within the NL West. But getting that kind of talent under team control for the next nine seasons at a price of $15.8 million per year is a move at least one-third of the teams in MLB would likely make.
Did we mention Tulowitzki will be only 28 years old next season?
Trading Tulowitzki wouldn't be without risk for the Rockies, of course. Even if they received the best of the best in pitching prospects from a potential trade partner (and that's presuming a team could come up with a package the Rockies deem suitable), minor league talent doesn't always develop as hoped.
While Rutledge has hit well this season, compiling an .825 OPS, he's not nearly the defender Tulowitzki is, according to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. Story looks like he's capable of growing into a big league shortstop, but he just finished a season in Single-A Asheville. It will be a while before he's ready for the majors.
Meanwhile, Tulowitzki is a sure thing—unless he isn't healthy. But after a full offseason of rehab and recovery, there's no reason to think he won't be ready for spring training next year.
If the Rockies were to trade Tulowitzki, where does it go from there? Should the team trade Gonzalez as well? Fowler would appeal to any team looking for a center fielder. Michael Cuddyer could be a nice addition to any playoff contender. What's to stop the team from going into full-on rebuilding mode?
Trading Tulowitzki doesn't have to open that door, however. There's plenty of young talent to build around. A talented core is in place. But a Tulowitzki deal could supplement that nucleus with young pitching, the commodity a team can never have enough of.
The Rockies shouldn't just dump Tulowitzki. They don't have to trade him, and shouldn't unless a team meets their price.
But it would be in Colorado's best interests to see what sort of offer other clubs might make for their star player. You just never know what a team might be willing to give up for one of the few—perhaps the only—great all-around shortstops. It could be a franchise-changing move.
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