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The Rockies traded Troy Tulowitzki for what?

The Blue Jays bolstered an already imposing lineup. The Rockies panicked, and the only way out is by winning.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rockies acquired three prospects in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki. None of the three prospects will ever help the Rockies win as much as Tulowitzki did. They acquired a veteran All-Star shortstop. He will not be remembered as fondly as Tulowitzki, instead serving as a daily reminder that Tulowitzki is gone. The Rockies will save over $50 million in the deal. They will not spend the money on anyone as talented as Tulowitzki.

If that all seems cynical and mopey, well, it should. All of the above is all likely to come true. That isn't to say that the Rockies shouldn't have made the trade, that they should have held on to Tulowitzki forever and ever, through sickness and health, rejecting any and every deal offered. There is a marked sense of financial freedom that comes from getting out of his deal. The Rockies were a last-place team with Tulowitzki; they can be a last-place team without him, except they'll have more money to spend and more interesting young pitchers. The first paragraph can all come true and the trade can still be rational.

Rational isn't what fans do well, though. All that Rockies fans know is that their franchise player, the greatest player in the history of the 23-year history of the organization, the guy whose face is on every other giveaway and would be for decades more, is gone. In his place are ... well, they're not here yet, but be patient. They should be here soon -- Ha! Ha! -- just you wait.


Any second now. They're coming out underneath the big sign that reads "YOUNG ROCKIES PITCHERS" and they'll be here soon.


Aaaaany second now.

Did we mention that the Rockies got less-heralded prospects for Tulowitzki than they did for Ubaldo Jimenez? They turned the best homegrown pitcher in franchise history into two pitching prospects, which they turned into a season of Brett Anderson. It's not like it wasn't an exciting package at the time -- Alex White had his sinker of death, and Drew Pomeranz looked to be a near-certain contributor, which he's turned out to be -- but that's what happens to most prospect packages. Prospects all a writhing pile of hedge toads, queen snakes, and gully cats, and it takes skill and luck to stick your hand in there and come out with something valuable without getting attacked.

The Rockies haven't seemed like a franchise overflowing with skill and luck, lately.

Again with the emotion. This is all written from the perspective of a Tulowitzki fanboy, someone who is still trapped in the mudroom of the Kübler-Ross model. There has to be a rational case for trading Tulowitzki, right? Explore that first, then come back with the weepy tales of regret.

The rational case for trading Troy Tulowitzki right now

He was going to be a 10-and-5 player after this season -- 10 years in the league, five with the same team -- which would have given him an automatic no-trade clause. That would have murdered the Rockies' leverage.

He was owed $108 million through 2020, and the last few years have suggested his knee bone was connected to his thigh bone in all the wrong ways.

Jeff Hoffman, the prize of the deal, was a top-10 pick last year and comes highly touted. The other two young pitchers in the deal are highly thought of, as well. The Rockies have never been able to develop pitching consistently because of their unusual situation, so their strategy appears to be accumulating raffle tickets. It's better than some of the other strategies the Rockies have employed over the last decade, at least.

Did we mention the money and the years? And the injuries? Well, that brings up an unwelcome comp every time.

Source: FanGraphs -- Nomar Garciaparra, Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki's peak wasn't as high. Maybe his valleys won't be as low. But fans don't give extra thanks-for-trying bonuses on top of their season ticket invoice when they get to watch a broken 33-year-old fan favorite. The fan favorite would be a nice touch, sure, but his history with the team would be taken for granted the second he started stinking, especially if the team is losing around him. Fans are a fickle bunch, and it's not like they would have the alternate history of the Jeff Hoffman Era to measure it against.

There's money to keep Nolan Arenado now and build around him. He might be even better than Tulowitzki ever was, which is hard to imagine.

Jose Reyes has been almost as valuable as Tulowitzki in his career, really. He's two years older, but also much cheaper. Don't think of him as Jon Lovitz joining the NewsRadio cast. Think of him as ... no, he's probably Jon Lovitz joining the NewsRadio cast, but in a much more palatable sense.

So, sure, there were reasons to deal Tulowitzki. There were rational, sensible reasons. This package from the Blue Jays made sense, perhaps, compared to the other offers. Instead of simply eating $60 million dollars, the Rockies figured they would get another veteran to even the money out and hope he plays well enough in Coors Field to market in the offseason. There are worse strategies.

The emotional case for keeping Tulowitzki

My word, I think we're all forgetting just how hard it is to find players like Tulowitzki.

Ten years and five All-Star Games. Gold Gloves, annual MVP votes, and a pennant. A long-term commitment that made the fans squeal with delight, reassuring them that their favorite player was going to stick around.

The Rockies gave that up for one top-50 prospect, a pair of second-tier arms, and another expensive veteran. It's hard to believe that there weren't better offers over the last three seasons, but they painted themselves into a corner and had to take something/anything that would give them prospects and salary relief.

They're not just giving up a 30-year-old player, though. They're giving up the chance of having another franchise legend to slot next to Todd Helton in the pantheon of Rockies greats. They're wresting comfort out of the hands of their fans, taking their security blanket and promising to come back with an even nicer quilt later.

Ask an Orioles fan what kind of package that would have made it acceptable to deal Cal Ripken in 1995. Ask Padres fans what Tony Gwynn trade would make them go back in time and make them pull the trigger themselves. If you think it's inappropriate to compare Tulowitzki to Ripken and Gwynn, you're probably right. But you're also probably underestimating just how beloved he is in Denver.

That comp up there, then, is how the Rockies make it out of this looking like geniuses. The Red Sox traded Nomar Garciaparra, much to the displeasure of very vocal fans. And then the Red Sox won. The fans got their Nomah jerseys and they got to drink the championship champagne, too. No one bemoans the deal that shipped Garciaparra out of town, and no one would bemoan it today if he were just wrapping up a Hall of Fame career. Winning is the ultimate opiate. It's stronger than whatever endorphins a single player can provide.

There's a chance, then. The Rockies can come out of this with three solid-to-great pitchers, they can lock up the new face of the franchise, and they can win. That's the magic potion that erases all the pain and rebuilds the trust that's been slowly disintegrating over the last decade.

It's just more likely that one prospects fizzles, another prospect gets shuffled to another team, another prospect kinda sorta helps and maybe makes an All-Star team that one time, and Reyes doesn't do anything that makes the fans forget. It's the likeliest outcomes that make this deal seem like a risk from the Rockies perspective. It's easy to make fun of teams that worry about their #brands, but familiarity and comfort do count for something. Giving it up is probably a bigger risk than settling into the groove on the couch and waiting for the good things to come to the team.

The Rockies used to have Troy Tulowitzki. Now they have three pitching prospects. They've had three pitching prospects before. They'll never have Tulowitzki again. It'll take a whole lot of winning to make that palatable over the next few years, and winning isn't something the Rockies figured out how to do with Tulowitzki. If the fans seem uneasy, well, can you blame them?


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