In blockbuster move, Blue Jays go all in with addition of Troy Tulowitzki
The trade deadline isn't here yet, but it's hard to imagine any team topping the absolute bomb that the Rockies and Blue Jays dropped on baseball in the late hours of Monday night. As first reported by Fox Sports's Ken Rosenthal, Colorado dealt shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and reliever LaTroy Hawkins to Toronto for shortstop Jose Reyes and three minor leaguers: pitchers Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco. According to CBS Sports's Jon Heyman, the Jays will also be assuming the full financial responsibility for the nearly $100 million that Tulowitzki is still owed over the next six years. The deal ends Tulowitzki's nine-plus seasons with the Rockies, the only team he's ever known, while dramatically altering the playoff race in the American League by moving arguably the majors' best shortstop to the Great White North as the Jays try to end a playoff drought of 22 years.
The end to Tulowitzki's Rockies career came suddenly and unexpectedly. After going hitless in five at-bats against the Cubs, Tulowitzki was pulled from the game in the ninth inning and replaced at shortstop by Daniel Descalso with his team up 8–7. But closer John Axford wasted no time in blowing that lead and the game, giving up a two-out, two-run–walk-off home run to Kris Bryant and handing Tulowitzki a 9–8 loss in his final appearance as a Rockie.
It was an ignominious finale, fitting for yet another forgettable season in Colorado. Currently sitting in last place in the NL West, the Rockies are 42–55 and haven't finished a season above .500 since 2010, when they went 83–79. Colorado has lost 96 or more games in two of the last three seasons, and the team's winning percentage of .433 puts them on pace to lose 92 this year. That dizzying downturn had Tulowitzki's name getting frequently bandied about in trade speculation and led to rumors that the shortstop, frustrated with the franchise's collapse, had asked out of Colorado. Tulowitzki repeatedly denied making any trade demands, telling reporters earlier this month, "My job is to play with the Rockies." Nonetheless, with Colorado in desperate need of a rebuild, it seemed like only a matter of time before the team dealt away its star.
The No. 7 pick in the 2005 draft, the 30-year-old Tulowitzki is a five-time All-Star and a career .299/.372/.514 hitter who has hit 20 or more home runs six times. After a 25-game cup of coffee in 2006, he burst onto the scene as a rookie in '07, clubbing 29 homers, driving in 99 runs, finishing second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and compiling 6.8 Wins Above Replacement to help the Rockies win the pennant. A left quad strain and a right thumb laceration limited him to just 101 games in '08, but he returned the next season to hit a superb .297/.377/.552 and finish fifth in the NL MVP voting. He was even better in '10, hitting .315/.381/.568, though a left wrist fracture cost him roughly six weeks of the season that summer.
Injuries would become a constant and frustrating companion for the rest of Tulowitzki's Rockies career. Though he played 143 games in 2011 and hit a brilliant .302/.372/.544 with 30 homers and 105 RBIs, he suffered through left hip inflammation toward the end of the year. Colorado nonetheless signed him to a 10-year, $157.5 million deal that off-season, but in 2012, he managed just 47 games before hurting his groin in late May, an injury that required surgery in June and cost him the rest of the season. Tulowitzki rebounded from the procedure to play 126 games in '13, hitting .312/.391/.540 (and missing time with a fracture in his ribs), but his hip problems cropped up once again the next year, resulting in another season-ending surgery to repair a tear in his left hip labrum. That put a halt to what was arguably his finest campaign to date: .340/.432/.603 with 21 homers in 375 plate appearances.
This season, Tulowitzki got out to a slow start, hitting just .284/.302/.457 at the end of May, but he's been on a tear since June 1, with a .901 OPS and eight homers in 41 games. On the year, he's hitting .305/.353/.478 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs and a 114 OPS+ in 346 plate appearances—not quite the superstar numbers of his prime, but a strong showing nonetheless for a player coming off major hip surgery.
Tulowitzki isn't just one of the majors' best bats, though. A two-time Gold Glover, he is also one of the league's finest defensive shortstops; by Defensive Runs Saved, he's at +81 for his career and is averaging +10 DRS for every 1,200 innings in the field. Add up his brilliant work at the plate and his excellent results in the field, and you get a player who's been worth 5.3 bWAR or better in six of his seven full seasons. Since he debuted in 2006, he leads all regular shortstops in WAR with 39.6; that total is 13th among all position players in baseball in that span.
There have never been any doubts as to Tulowitzki's ability to hit or field. The biggest concern that surrounds him is whether or not he can stay on the field. Name a baseball malady, and Tulowitzki has probably suffered it: Strains, sprains, tears and fractures are all accounted for in his injury history, as he's hurt just about every body part imaginable. He already has two surgeries to his record, and that's despite a full-bore devotion to healthy eating and physical training. Tulowitzki even has a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in which he sleeps. So far this season, at least, he's stayed healthy, playing in 87 of Colorado's 97 games.
When healthy, though, Tulowitzki is a generational talent, the kind of player who can instantly alter a franchise's future. Paired with fellow elite defender Josh Donaldson at third base, Tulowitzki will make the left side of Toronto's infield a place where ground balls go to die. He'll also add his potent bat to an offense that is already baseball's best. The Blue Jays lead the majors in runs per game (5.28) and OPS+ (114), are second in slugging percentage (.441), are tied for second in on-base percentage (.330) and are third in home runs with 130. To a lineup that already includes Donaldson (145 OPS+), Jose Bautista (141), Russell Martin (126), Edwin Encarnacion (117) and rookie Devon Travis (134), the addition of Tulowitzki must make AL pitchers feel sick.
With Tulowitzki incoming, Reyes is on his way out, ending his brief tenure in Toronto. Acquired from the Marlins after the 2012 season, Reyes was supposed to be a spark atop the Jays' lineup in front of Bautista and Encarnacion, but never found his rhythm due to persistent injuries and his eroding offensive skills. A left ankle sprain cost him 66 games in '13, he was hampered by a left thigh strain and right shoulder soreness last season, and this year, he lost a month to cracked ribs suffered in early April. Those injuries seemed to sap Reyes's bat; he hit .296/.353/.427 for a 113 OPS+ in his first year with Toronto in 419 plate appearances, but slipped to .287/.328/.398 in 655 PA last season. This year, he's at a mere .285/.322/.385 in 311 PA, good for just a 98 OPS+. Defensively, meanwhile, Reyes appears to have lost a step or two, grading out negatively in DRS in all three of his seasons with Toronto.
Making Reyes even less attractive going forward is his contract. Originally signed to a six-year, $106 million deal with Miami before the 2012 season, Reyes has two more guaranteed years left on his deal after this season for a total of $44 million, as well as a $22 million club option for '18 that can be bought out for $4 million. That makes him an unlikely candidate to stick with the rebuilding Rockies and a player who will probably be flipped again before the deadline. Even with Reyes sliding into his decline years, there are a number of teams who could use an upgrade at shortstop, including his old team in New York. But the financial burden of taking on the money left to Reyes makes a deal with the permanently cash-strapped Mets hard to envision.
With Reyes's stay in Colorado likely to be temporary, the main haul for the Rockies is Castro and Hoffman. A 20-year-old righty out of the Dominican Republic, Castro is a big pitcher (6'5") with power stuff who quickly moved through the lower levels of Toronto's system. In two years, Castro went from Dominican Summer League ball to advanced Class A, holding his own in a league in which he was four years younger than the average player. His big strikeout totals (78 in 80 1/3 innings last year) led the Blue Jays to give him a role in their bullpen on Opening Day despite his never having pitched above A-ball, and he even briefly served as the team's closer. But things quickly went sour for Castro, who gave up runs in four of his final five appearances in the bigs and was sent down after giving up two runs in an inning of mop-up work against the Indians on May 3. Now pitching in Triple A, Castro's numbers aren't pretty—nine earned runs in 18 2/3 innings between the bullpen and rotation, though he has struck out 20.
Sitting comfortably in the 93–95 mph range, Castro has an explosive fastball that can reach 97, though he struggles with his command and has yet to develop his secondary pitches. In ranking him as Toronto's ninth-best prospect before the season, Baseball Prospectus's Chris Mellen wrote that Castro's fastball has "a legit chance to be a difference maker," though he notes that "some believe that a late-innings role will be the ultimate outcome."
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As for Hoffman, the 22-year-old is a 2014 draft pick out of East Carolina University who was a prospective No. 1 overall selection until a torn elbow ligament resulted in Tommy John surgery; the Blue Jays selected him nonetheless with the ninth pick. At 6'4" and 185 pounds, the righthanded Hoffman is a prototypical power pitcher, boasting a fastball that sat at 93–96 mph before his elbow injury and also has an above-average changeup and curveball. In their off-season writeup, BP labeled Hoffman a prospective "future front-of-the-rotation power arm for multiple seasons to come." The numbers haven't been there for Hoffman quite yet, though, as he's struck out only 46 batters in 67 2/3 innings, walking 17, in 13 starts across A-ball and Double A, though he has shown good velocity. In a recent scouting report, FanGraphs's Chris King had him measured at 95–98 mph and hitting 99 in a late May start for Class A Dunedin.
The third minor leaguer, Tinoco, is the furthest away of the trio. A 20-year-old native of Venezuela, the righty is currently toiling in Class A Lansing, posting a 3.54 ERA in 81 1/3 innings (15 starts) with 68 strikeouts and 22 walks. At 6'4" and 190 pounds, Tinoco has size and boasts the velocity to go with it; he sits 92–97 mph with his fastball, a pitch that "comes out of his hand easy with very little noticeable effort," as Baseball America notes. Tinoco also has a slider and changeup in his arsenal, though BA reports that both pitches need further development.
It's hard not to be disappointed, however, that the best Colorado could do for Tulowitzki was a pitcher coming off major elbow surgery and a control-challenged 20-year-old whose future is likely in the bullpen. That calculus will change if the Rockies can flip Reyes before the deadline, but on the surface, Castro and Hoffman feels like an awfully small return for the league's best shortstop, even with Toronto taking on Tulowitzki's entire salary. Colorado does at least have some newfound financial flexibility with Tulowitzki's deal off its hands, but not getting a single major league-ready player in the process makes it feel like the Rockies were trading for pennies on the dollar. It's a move that's hard to understand on Colorado's end, and one made all the stranger by the fact that team owner Dick Monfort had reportedly assured Tulowitzki that he would not be traded without being consulted and that he wouldn't be sent somewhere he didn't want to go.
As for Toronto, the addition of Tulowitzki makes its lineup the most feared in baseball, but the team still needs to address a starting rotation that is one of the game's worst (a 4.38 ERA, third highest in the AL) and could also use reinforcements in the bullpen. To that end, the team still has its top two prospects, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris, with Sanchez ticketed for the 'pen and Norris a possible rotation addition later in the season. One or both could also be used in a package for a starter like Cole Hamels, though it's unlikely the Jays have enough in their farm system to pull off a move like that now with both Castro and Hoffman gone.
Tulowitzki thus represents a fascinating gamble for Toronto, which will hope that he provides enough of an upgrade over Reyes at the plate and in the field to offset the team's likely inability to add a top-flight starter before the deadline. However it works out, though, the Blue Jays have clearly announced that they are serious about bringing a World Series to Canada for the first time in two decades. In Tulowitzki, they may have just acquired the man who will do it for them.