Inside the shocking trade of Troy Tulowitzki

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

There was always an agreement between Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort and his star shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, spoken out loud so as to be abundantly clear: If the Rockies were to trade Tulowitzki, they were going to ask for his blessing first. Then came the blockbuster deal that sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays late Monday night, and Tulowitzki, according to sources inside the Rockies' clubhouse, found out not via a phone call but when teary-eyed manager Walt Weiss yanked him from their game in the ninth inning.

The story of how Tulowitzki was treated, relayed by people aggrieved with his departure and how the Rockies broke their word to the longtime face of their franchise, is actually a fitting end to a multiyear trade-him-or-don’t saga that wound up with Tulowitzki fetching his passport and heading to Canada along with LaTroy Hawkins for shortstop Jose Reyes and a trio of right-handed pitching prospects: Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco.

Fearful Tulowitzki requesting a trade publicly would make the Rockies look weak, the team asked him to play good soldier, which he obliged, according to club sources. The organization’s dysfunction, from the power struggles between former co-GMs Dan O’Dowd and Bill Geivett to a hands-on owner in Monfort whose public comments about players often rubbed them the wrong way, was all too evident, not just to Tulowitzki but the team’s young core of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, D.J. Lemahieu and Corey Dickerson.

Troy Tulowitzki is joining a potent Blue Jays offense. (Getty Images)
Troy Tulowitzki is joining a potent Blue Jays offense. (Getty Images)

The stunned silence of players early Tuesday morning, when word of the trade came down, spoke to the disappointment of losing Tulowitzki. As the Rockies stashed him in Weiss’ office to keep him from addressing a deal that early Tuesday remained unconfirmed by either team, the truth of Tulowitzki’s exit filtered into the clubhouse and left the players even more gobsmacked, according to sources.

Colorado seemed to oblige Tulowitzki’s preference not to go to the New York Mets, though in hindsight that was probably more an inability for GM Jeff Bridich and Mets GM Sandy Alderson to find the framework of a workable deal. One with Toronto came together quickly, sources said, particularly when the Blue Jays were willing to include Hoffman and Castro, both of whom can reach 100 mph with their fastballs.

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The Blue Jays’ risk is evident: Not only are they taking on the full haul of Tulowitzki’s contract through 2020 — about $52 million more than Reyes’ deal that ends in 2017 — but they're trusting he’ll be able to stay healthy on the taxing turf of Rogers Centre.

If he can, the upshot is that the scariest offense in baseball by a long shot got even better. Tulowitzki, 30, remains the premier shortstop in baseball, and after a miserable start, he’s hitting .300/.348/.471, even with a current 0-for-20 stretch on his ledger. He joins Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Russell Martin, Devon Travis and Chris Colabello in an offense that has scored 72 runs — nearly two-thirds of a run per game — more than any other team.

While the trade for Tulowitzki would seem to portend a deal that includes a player from that offense to get the Blue Jays a desperately needed starting pitcher, that’s not in the plans, sources said. They’ll once again tap into their deep reservoir of prospects to acquire one. At 50-50 despite a plus-95 run differential, the best in the American League, the Blue Jays’ pitching this season has torpedoed its fortunes. Three games back of the second wild card, Toronto believes that with rotation and bullpen fortification, it can make a legitimate playoff run in a down AL.

Tulowitzki’s place on the Blue Jays makes sense. Martin is the only other player on the roster signed past 2016. Starter Mark Buehrle’s $20 million salary comes off the books after this season, and Bautista, Encarnacion and R.A. Dickey are free agents after next season, presuming the Blue Jays pick up club options on all three. Despite trading a significant amount of young talent in recent years — Noah Syndergaard, Travis d’Arnaud, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani and Kendall Graveman, among others — the Blue Jays remain stocked with enough high-upside kids to rationalize more moves. Starter Marcus Stroman will return from a torn ACL next year, and Daniel Norris could rejoin him in the rotation, with Aaron Sanchez either resuming his place as a starter or turning into a lockdown reliever.

What Tulowitzki leaves behind is a franchise that after more than 20 years of existence still struggles with the basic question of how to win in Denver’s thin air. Bridich’s answer appears to be power arms, a strategy that hasn’t exactly proven easy to execute, with the struggles of top draft pick Jon Gray and top prospect Eddie Butler.

The emergence of Trevor Story — a natural shortstop whom scouts think could end up at second base — gives Bridich a backup plan should he flip Reyes, a possibility multiple executives raised early Tuesday. There was no other deal in place when the Blue Jays and Rockies agreed to the framework of the trade.

Toronto was simply happy to add another impact player to a lineup full of them, and Colorado was content to ship off a player who hit 188 home runs for them and made five All-Star teams. Their loyalty went only as deep as the value coming back their way, and when in the Rockies’ minds it tilted in their direction, they said yes.

As Rockies players said to one another, Monfort could have flown into Chicago, informed Tulowitzki in person, told him this was a deal they couldn’t pass up. That didn’t happen, and it’s the sort of thing that sears itself into the minds of the young and impressionable, the sort of players around whom Colorado wants to build a winner.

Off Tulowitzki went, out the clubhouse’s back door, fittingly enough. The Rockies had done him just like that, backdoored him and floored him, 10 years gone just like that, a reminder that spoken agreements are only as good as the people doing the speaking. In the end, the Rockies felt like they owed Tulowitzki nothing, and that’s business, brutal and unforgiving and, more than anything when it comes to the Rockies, typical. 

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