The Colorado Rockies are known for loyalty. In some instances, they are thought to be loyal to a fault. In other instances we celebrate that loyalty. This aligns with how loyalty in sports is viewed more generally these days. On the one hand you have the increasing trendiness of being objective and intellectual as a 21st century sports fan. It is in style to identify with management and look at how we would build the team, manage those assets, and make good business decisions.
On the other hand we celebrate the careers of Mariano Rivera, Todd Helton, and Chipper Jones as we marvel at the fact that they spent their entire careers with one team. In those conversations there is a tendency to lament the fact that players like that just don’t come around anymore, or even to declare loyalty in professional sports to be dead.
That is the push and pull, at least in part, of the trade rumors that involve franchise shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Here we have a first round pick who has played a key role on two playoff teams, a homegrown talent who has embraced all of the challenges that come with being a franchise player. You have a rare player in Tulowitzki, and still those in the front office face a heap of criticism for insisting that they will remain loyal and not trade him.
Rockies fans constantly struggle with feeling like their franchise is overlooked and not taken seriously; Tulowitzki is one of the 10 best players in the entire league, plays a premium position, and he wants to stay in Colorado. And yet there will be a group this off-season who will declare the Rockies’ front office foolish if they don’t trade their franchise player to the St. Louis Cardinals for a presumed haul of young talent. These feelings emerge mostly thanks to a couple assertions about Tulo: he is injury-prone and he is overpaid.
Has it been frustrating how many games Tulowitzki has lost to injury? Of course it has. But if you look at his total games from each season, the injury-prone label might be a bit overstated:
2007 – 155
2008 – 101
2009 – 151
2010 – 122
2011 – 143
2012 – 47
2013 – 126
It is maddening how much time he misses, but it’s not as extreme as perceived and it’s certainly not so bad that the Rockies are foolish to hope that he can stay healthy for a full season in the future. I think the “Tulo is always hurt” narrative has pushed a little bit in the direction that some people believe the team has no choice but to trade him and get value for him. But if you’re asking me if I’d rather gamble on a package of young, unproven players, or hope to get 130 games a season from a very proven player in Tulowitzki, I’ll take Tulo.
Then there is the notion that he is overpaid. As a reminder, Tulowitzki’s six year, $118 million deal puts him in rarefied air in terms of the money he makes. It’s a huge contract and the Rockies will have some challenges to work with it in coming years. Here’s the thing: I still think it is reasonable, in the crazy figures that get thrown around professional sports, to pay Tulowitzki that much. I certainly do not think he’s overpaid.
When I say that the Rockies appreciate what they have in Tulowitzki, I do not mean that in terms of public relations or the need to have a face of the franchise. I mean that in terms of what a damn good baseball player he is.
What follows is a list of Major League shortstops, from 1901-2013, who have put up at least 150 home runs, 500 RBI, and a .850 OPS in their first eight big league seasons (courtesy of Baseball Reference’s play index).
He is on any number of short lists like the one above, all while playing elite and jaw-dropping defense. Players like that just don’t come around that often. Shortstops like that are even more rare.
We might hear about the rumored packages of players that the Rockies are not accepting for Tulowitzki in the coming weeks. If we do, it is important to remember that there are reasonable and even tangible arguments to keep Tulo. Whether you want to argue in terms of that concept of loyalty that is so rare these days or in terms of cool, objective baseball business, you can make a really strong case that the only option the Rockies have is to keep Tulowitzki.
I believe that this front office, one that is frequently criticized, appreciates what they have in Tulowitzki. And even though they get a lot of things wrong, they’ve got it right when it comes to their franchise player.