The Rockies have come to terms with SS Troy Tulowitzki, who, at just 26, is already one of the best players in the league at his position. The deal was a massive 10-year/$163M contract, which is essentially a 6-year/$119M extension of new money. While it makes perfect sense to lock up a young superstar during his prime, this deal will come back to haunt the Rockies. And it’s something they’ve done to themselves in the past.
Looking through the eyes of Tulo, the deal is great. He loves Denver, and signing on as the future of the franchise in a city he loves is a no-brainer. Players that remain with one team for the duration of their career are becoming rare, and this deal could see Tulo in purple pinstripes for the rest of his playing days. But even though he received an obscene amount of money, he left millions on the table by not looking at contracts outside of Colorado. By having the club pick up that $15M option, then adding $119M onto it, Tulo rightfully jumped at the opportunity. But, if he were to have posted these numbers over the next four seasons and entered free agency at 30, and solidified himself as the game’s premiere shortstop, someone like the Yankees or Red Sox would easily have shelled out $200M.
And because he simply did not play out the remainder of his deal and see what was available on the open market in 2014 when his contract comes off the books, he has potentially turned down World Series opportunities by not signing with a contender, or a team with deep pockets, without a future shortstop.
I totally understand the move on the Rockies’ part. Someone like Troy Tulowitzki has to be locked up. Not just for his on-field performance, but also as a block to team such as the Yankees or Red Sox with large budgets that would immediately snatch him up if given the opportunity. While they did lock him up four seasons early, think of it this way–had they waited until his final season, they run the risk of Tulo eyeing those $200M offers from big-budget teams. Most of the greatest teams in sports build their team from the foundation-up, often by means of drafting or by locking up their young talent. It’s a similar tactic that the Twins played with C Joe Mauer in giving a solid hitter an early extension at a position where duration is limited. While Mauer had only one season left under club control, he still received a 8-year/$189M contract, which pulls him away from even thinking about testing the free agent waters. Especially if the Rockies still want their fans to continue to show up to games, they’ll have to show some indication of their will to win. The team doesn’t project to spend more than $85M for the next few seasons, so any money they can use to add to their budget will be needed. In contrast to Mauer’s deal though, Tulo’s 6-year/$119M at a position where he’s likely to hold his own and play out the life of the contract, it seems like a bargain.
The Rockies, however, have once again shot themselves in the foot. Does anyone remember LHP Mike Hampton’s 8-year/$123.8M deal? Or 1B Todd Helton’s 9-year/$141.5M deal? Or LHP Denny Neagle’s 5-year/$51M deal? All three, as you can see, signed ludicrous contracts with the Rockies, and both have been plagued by injuries. Hampton was quickly moved out of Colorado, while Helton earned his $16.6M last season by hitting 15 homers with 86 RBIs with a .325 average. Not bad numbers, but not $16.6M-worth of numbers. In 2012, he’ll make $23M, likely posting similar numbers. And don’t think that Tulo is the exception–he’s missed significant time in two of his four seasons. And Neagle’s career was derailed after two poor seasons in Colorado.
For a franchise that spends just $80M annually ($85M last season, $77M the year before), having one-quarter of your budget locked up in one player is moronic, no matter who the player is. Tulowitzki’s contract extension adds 6-years/$119M onto the end of his current deal, which, including a 2014 option, was to pay him $38.75M. Therefore, starting in 2015, when Tulowitzki will be 30, the Rockies will give him nearly $20M a year.
Don’t get me wrong–Tulo is a fantastic player. A born leader, Tulo is in the top-three of his position. He’s got an outstanding glove, great range, can steal bases, hits for high average, incredible plate discipline, a strong and accurate arm, and a power bat at a position where few exist. He’s your prototypical shortstop turned up a notch.
In fact, Tulo may have done more damage than good. The Rockies’ problem with Helton’s massive contract was that their budget was tied up in one player, and acquiring any other big-name players was now impossible. It is now nearly impossible for the Rockies to lock up RHP Ubaldo Jimenez and OF Carlos Gonzalez in 2014, and both will likely either be dealt or walk for free. The deal they’ve just issued to Tulo has now handcuffed them, as they’ve given him guaranteed money four years earlier, while he remained under team control. Rather than waiting until 2014 to figure out where to spend their money, the Rockies went all-in on a player who has already missed significant time in two of four seasons, and has already begun to draw comparisons to Hampton and Helton.
Tulo’s deal is likely to come up golden in the short team while he remains young and relatively healthy. But over the long term, having $20M+ locked up on one player for a decade is bad news. After all, it took the Rockies nearly a decade to recover from the massive contracts it issued earlier, and they were very lucky to have made the playoffs with Helton’s contract still on the books.
What the Rockies should’ve done was to wait another year or two to get a better indication of their shortstop’s future and his worth to the team. From there, they could’ve offered him an extension if they still felt he was deserving. If your player is still under team control for another four seasons, you’d think that such a move would be a no-brainer. It baffles me that the Rockies haven’t learned anything from two prior albatross contracts.
At the end of the day, I think everyone will be criticizing the Rockies for shelling out big bucks earlier than they had to. Had this deal happened two or three years from now, they’d be congratulated for making a solid move. If you can get past the tremendous risk that the Rockies are making, however–something the Rockies have done–then this deal looks like a winner for both sides. If the team did not give him a no-trade clause, that option remains open if they feel the need to rebuild and need to trade him as an asset. As long as he remains healthy, Tulo will be worth the amount of money that the Rockies are investing in him. If he doesn’t play well or continues to land on the DL, though, this is a deal that’s going to be talked about for the next decade.