Inside the Blockbuster Trade That Stunned Troy Tulowitzki, Baseball World

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterAugust 12, 2015

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NEW YORK — Troy Tulowitzki looks just fine in blue.

He looks comfortable. He looks happy. He looks like he really was just what the Toronto Blue Jays needed.

Two weeks on, the trade that rocked this baseball summer looks like the best thing that could have happened to him, the best thing that could have happened to the Blue Jays—maybe even the best thing that could have happened to the Colorado Rockies.

"The positive about him being traded is we don't have to answer questions every day about whether he'll be traded," Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado said Tuesday.

Two weeks on, the Tulowitzki deal makes so much sense that you wonder why it didn't happen earlier, so much sense that you wonder why it was such a big shock in the first place.

"I think at the end of the day, the switch was good," Tulowitzki said the other day.

Two weeks on, Tulowitzki seems fine with the idea that the trade happened. But two weeks on, he's still not at all fine with how it happened.

"It bothered me at first," he said. "And it still bothers me."

With the help of many who were involved on both sides, Bleacher Report set out to find out how the deal came together, learning it almost never happened at all.

In fact, on what turned out to be Tulowitzki's final day with the Rockies, Colorado general manager Jeff Bridich called manager Walt Weiss and told him he wasn't close to any deals. That same day, on a conference call with his top advisors, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos listened to a lively debate on whether the Jays should pass on Tulowitzki and focus all their resources on adding pitching instead.

"When I got off the conference call, I thought we weren't going to do the deal," Anthopoulos said.

Within hours, the deal was done.

Anthopoulos loved Tulowitzki since watching him at Long Beach State. He asked Bridich about him last winter and again in dozens of phone calls and text messages since then. He agreed that pitching was a bigger immediate need, but trading for Tulowitzki would make the Blue Jays better now and in the future.

He just had to convince Bridich to get a deal done. And that meant he had to agree to part with Jeff Hoffman.

Hoffman was Toronto's first-round draft pick in 2014, a hard-throwing right-hander from East Carolina who has come back strong from Tommy John surgery. The Blue Jays didn't want to give him up.

"We'd gone back and forth with proposals a million times," Anthopoulos said. "Every proposal they made had [Hoffman] in it. Every proposal that we made didn't include him."

Other teams wanted Hoffman, too. The Blue Jays needed at least one starting pitcher and maybe two, and some of Anthopoulos' advisors worried that giving up Hoffman could cost them a chance at David Price or Johnny Cueto or any number of other pitchers Anthopoulos was pursuing.

Anthopoulos understood the concern, but in the end, he felt the risk was worth it. Because Tulowitzki was signed through 2020, this was a deal that could make the Blue Jays winners for years to come, not just in 2015.

Around the time Tulowitzki and the Rockies were taking the field that night at Wrigley, Anthopoulos called Bridich and made a proposal with Hoffman in it.

"Then things started to move," he said.

As the trade talks heated up, Tulowitzki was playing his final game as a Rockie.
As the trade talks heated up, Tulowitzki was playing his final game as a Rockie.Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

Tulowitzki, who went 0-for-5 in a 9-8 Rockies loss to the Cubs, had no idea the movement had even begun.

By the letter of his contract, the Rockies had no obligation to tell him or to ask for his permission. When he signed his 10-year, $157.75 million contract in November 2010, the organization was determined not to give out any more no-trade clauses, still feeling stung (and hamstrung) by no-trade deals given to Larry Walker and Todd Helton.

For four years, it hardly mattered whether the clause existed or not. Tulowitzki and Dick Monfort had a close relationship, and the owner had no interest in trading a player who had become the face of his franchise.

Tulowitzki would come to believe that he had an understanding with Monfort, a gentlemen's agreement of sorts, that the Rockies would keep him informed and even give him input into any possible trade.

While Tulowitzki would talk with teammates about the possibility he would get traded, he never worried about being surprised by a trade—because of that understanding.

Then, on that night at Wrigley, he was more than surprised. He was stunned, "blindsided," as he put it in a conversation with Denver reporters the day after the trade.

Bridich maintains that he had several conversations with Paul Cohen, Tulowitzki's agent, and that he "kept him in the loop." But the general manager also maintains that the way things went down on July 27, the day of the trade, made full disclosure impossible.

Everything just happened too fast.

Anthopoulos and Bridich had long agreed that any Tulowitzki deal would include Jose Reyes, a shortstop who had about $50 million remaining on a contract that runs through 2017. They discussed multiple combinations around those two, eventually agreeing that the Blue Jays would get LaTroy Hawkins to help their bullpen, and the Rockies would get minor league pitchers Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco, along with Hoffman.

All this time, no details of the talks had leaked out. None would, until Bridich made another call to Wrigley Field and sent word to Weiss to pull Tulowitzki from the game.

Anthopoulos had his own concerns. The Blue Jays had come to view Reyes as a huge liability on defense, but they loved him as a person. They wanted him to hear about the trade from them, face to face.

One problem: The Blue Jays were off that night, and Reyes was asleep in his apartment not far from the Rogers Centre. Worse yet, he didn't have his phone with him.

They finally got in touch with him around midnight, by calling his wife. He walked over to the ballpark, saw Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons waiting for him and had an idea of what was happening.

"They showed me a lot of respect," Reyes said. "They treated me right."

In the manager's office at Wrigley, Tulowitzki wasn't thinking the same thing.

"It was kind of surreal," he said. "It was not how I imagined it would go down."

He spent 45 minutes talking with Weiss, whom he had known since he was drafted by the Rockies in 2005. He spoke by phone with Bridich, Monfort and Anthopoulos, but he later left the ballpark without speaking with reporters.

The next day, before leaving to join his new team in Toronto, Tulowitzki told reporters that the trade had "blindsided" him.

Bridich and Monfort spoke to reporters in Denver, with the owner getting emotional and the GM calmly explaining that any slight toward Tulowitzki was unintended but unavoidable.

"It wasn't an ideal situation," Bridich said this week. "If it could have happened at home, where we could have honored him and he could have said goodbye to the fans, yeah, but that's not how it worked. You get back to the reality of the business.

"Timelines aren't always perfect."

Bridich said there was never any consideration that he and/or Monfort would fly to Chicago to deliver the news in person, and there was no chance of holding up the deal so that Tulowitzki could be brought into the process before it was done. Things moved fast, and once an agreement was reached, Tulowitzki had to be pulled from the game because no one wanted to risk him getting hurt.

The next day, with Reyes traded and Tulowitzki still on the way to Toronto, the Blue Jays lost 3-2 to the Philadelphia Phillies with Ryan Goins playing shortstop.

"We looked flat," Anthopoulos said. "We looked dead. It was like the hangover from having lost Reyes."

Jul 29, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Toronto Blue Jays new shortstop Troy Tulowitzki speaks to the media during a news conference to discuss his trade from the Colorado Rockies at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

If there were any regrets, they went away quickly. The Blue Jays won Tulowitzki's Toronto debut 8-2, with the new shortstop contributing two doubles, a home run and a big play on defense.

They would win again the next day, and the day after. Even after giving up Hoffman in the Tulowitzki deal, Anthopoulos had enough prospects remaining to make deals for Price, outfielder Ben Revere and reliever Mark Lowe.

After a three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium last weekend, the Blue Jays were 11-0 with Tulowitzki in the lineup (a record they ran to 12-0 with a win over the Oakland Athletics on Tuesday night). Gibbons made Tulowitzki the leadoff hitter, bunching Tulo, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion atop a power-packed lineup. Tulowitzki had scored 12 runs in his 11 starts.

Those who knew him from his Rockies days were not surprised.

"There's a competitive fire in Troy that will be reignited by playing on the East Coast," said Dan O'Dowd, the former Rockies GM.

"I know how he's wired," Weiss agreed. "I know how much he's loving being in a pennant race now. I think he'll rise to the occasion."

His friends in Colorado are pulling for him to do well. They suddenly find themselves paying attention to the Blue Jays. Tulowitzki keeps track of them, too. Whatever his feelings about the way the trade went down, he left a lot of friends behind in the Rockies clubhouse.

In time, there's a chance that any hard feelings will fade, especially if Tulowitzki's initial success in Toronto holds up.

Someday, he'll go back to Colorado for an interleague game or a Rockies reunion.

"Everybody knows Troy has been a great ambassador for the game," Bridich said. "And a great ambassador for the Rockies."

He was there for 10 years, from his debut at age 21 through a World Series at age 23 and five All-Star appearances.

Then, on one memorable night at Wrigley Field, it all ended so abruptly.

"Change is uncomfortable," Bridich said.

But sometimes, change is for the best.

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a National Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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