Rebuilding Rockies need to trade Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez

FNTSY: Fernandez Dominant, Matz to DL



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The Rockies are not going to win the World Series this year.

I don't think this is breaking news or even breaking hearts in Denver. In year one of the first new front office the Rockies have had under current ownership, there's been a surprising amount of inaction. Rebuilding often shows signs of construction, but the little-known new GM, Jeff Bridich, isn't really new. He's been a part of the Rockies front office for a decade, focused on player development after joining from MLB's Labor division, which has become a minor league system for front offices.

Bridich's focus on player development isn't unusual. It's the same background A.J. Preller of the Padres and Terry Ryan of the Twins came from, to use two ends of the spectrum. What's unusual is that rebuilding teams with a player development focus tend to focus on development. Seems simple, right? There's not much evidence of that in Colorado, but there's always been a hit-or-miss aspect to player development there.

In sheer numbers, Brdich should have a lot to work with. The Rockies had three first-round picks in 2015 and a pair in 2014. (Want to feel old? One of the team's picks was Tyler Nevin, the son of former no. 1 pick, Phil Nevin!) The team was a bit less pitcher-heavy than they had been, but it's the 2005 no. 1 that's been more of a focus lately. All those picks aren't enough and they certainly aren't going to get to the major leagues fast, leaving them with one other route to rebuilding.

It's time to trade Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

Tulowitzki might end up the best Rockies player in history, overtaking Todd Helton, but he could help the franchise more by restocking the farm system in a deal. He remains one of the best shortstops in the game, though his trade value has been diminished by a perception that he is too old and too injury prone to bring big value given his large contract. This perception is largely overblown, though not entirely untrue.

A pair of injuries, including a hip surgery, limited "Tulo" over the past few seasons, but with all his problems, he's both come back well and had injuries where there's a predictable return path. Players like Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez have come back from the type of hip surgery Tulowitzki had without any real issue.

Tulo is still just 30 and while his remaining five year, near $100 million contract is high, it's not at a level where it's restrictive for any contender. Nate Silver once calculated that the marginal value of a win for a contender went up significantly in the range where a team might make the playoffs. This season, that will be in the 85- to 90-win range and could mean a value of $8 million or more per win.

For six of the last seven years, Tulowitzki has been a 4.5 to 5.1 WAR player. At 1.8 WAR so far this season, it would be a conservative estimate that he could deliver the same results in the second half of the season, given a better team around him and the energy boost a player gets going to a contender. Let's call it two wins to make it easy, pushing a theoretical 85-win team to 87. What does that mean for some possible trade destinations?

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Clay Davenport calculates Playoff Odds by simulating the season one million times. It's an incredibly detailed and accurate method. Currently the Chicago Cubs are projected to win 87 games, while the Pittsburgh Pirates are project to win 90. Two wins would still have them just behind and playing in PNC Park in the Wild Card game, but it would give the rest of the team a chance.

The difference to a contender is even more stark in the tight AL East. The entire division is projected to win anywhere from 79 to 84 games. A two-game swing could push a team from last to third or from third to first. A team like the Yankees, projected to win 84 games, could get some breathing space.

I asked several scouts, personnel guys, and two GMs what they believed would be a reasonable return for Tulowitzki. The consensus was the return itself wouldn't be significant unless the Rockies also ate some salary. "If they just trade the contract, you could get a couple solid prospects," said one NL personnel chief. "Say a pitcher that you could plug into the '16 rotation and another B-level hitter. A team like the Yankees or Jays could do that without blinking." Those two contenders led most of the discussions, though teams like the Angels, Mets and Cubs were all considered smart landing spots.

If the Rockies also include cash, the prospect return expected could make it tougher to get a deal done. "If they want to get three or four guys back, you'd have to put half the value in and then you're just cutting down the options," said an AL GM. "The Cubs have the prospects, but [Tulowitzki]'s not that much better than the guy they have, so why give up some of the guys they've built. The Yankees don't have four guys you'd want, but you could pick two good ones."

Most believed the best value for Tulowitzki would be found in the biggest market. "The Mets need a bat and have some pitching. I'd ask for a prospect and [Zack] Wheeler, plus some cash," said an NL scout who was formerly in player personnel. "The Rockies would get a two-starter for next year and beyond and they could wait for it."

The case for Carlos Gonzalez is tougher. Gonzalez has never approached his 5.7 WAR campaign of 2010 and over the past two injury-marred seasons, he's been a negative value player. This season also hasn't been kind, playing just above replacement level for a very high salary.

"Gonzalez is one of those guys where you can dream on him still. He's produced, then he's been down, but someone can convince himself that he'll have one more great season or go on one of those Carlos Beltran late-career runs," a scout told me. "Problem is, you can dream all day and that contract is going to stop almost every owner in the game."

Gonzalez has two years left on his deal at $37 million, plus about half of his current $16 million for '15. It would be hard to get value back on that money unless a team went on a World Series run, which is why the scouts and front office types all focused on that.

"The Royals just lost Alex Gordon and they were just in the Series," said an AL GM. "Easy place to put him and they could afford the deal. He'd do well in that atmosphere, I think, and you could move him around the outfield which gives Dayton [Moore, Royals GM] some flexibility he'd lose with the salary add."

Two baseball people I spoke with suggested the Rockies would get a couple prospects in this deal. One scout suggested an interesting trade. "Bubba Starling has been a bust for the Rockies so far," he explained. "Hometown kid, signed away from football, but the talent's still there. If he could get to Coors, the bat could play a bit maybe. Add in a pitcher like Kyle Zimmer who's like Wheeler except coming off shoulder surgery and that deal sells." Another name mentioned as a possible return is Chase Vallot, a high-upside catcher, just the type of player the Rockies don't have, but could see his plus-power amplified at altitude.

Instead of two star players at over $35 million, the Rockies could add as many as six solid prospects and save at least $50 million over the next two seasons. While there's no indication Colorado is ready to make deals like this happen, it makes too much sense not to explore.

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