Could the Yankees acquire Troy Tulowitzki? If so, should they?

Wednesday, from FOX’s Ken Rosenthal:

For the first time, the Colorado Rockies sound willing to trade shortstop Troy Tulowitzki and/or outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.

The Rockies are telling clubs they are keeping their “eyes and ears open” for potential deals involving both players, according to major-league sources.

Tulo’s name has been the subject of trade speculation and rumors for years, with the Yankees often linked. Until now, perhaps the peak of such discussions occurred when the Rockies’ shortstop attended a game at Yankee Stadium while visiting a doctor in New York this past summer. With Tulo now apparently on the block, the debate over his future is going to heat up yet again. Of course the Yankees, or any team for that matter, would love to have a shortstop of his ilk on its roster. Yet, his cost and health concerns complicate his departure from Colorado.

Since 2008, Tulowtzki has missed 295 games while on the disabled list. 203 of those games have been in the last there seasons. In 2012, he had groin surgery forcing him out of 113 games. A year later, he was shelved for 26 games with a rib fracture after diving for a ground ball. This season, he had hip surgery which made him absent for 64 games. These numbers aren’t even counting the various day-to-day maladies Tulowitzki has dealt with. Scared off, yet?

Tulowitzki, 30, is under contract through 2020 for a guaranteed $118M. That’s a lot of money for a guy who’s struggled to stay on the field. And while 30 isn’t ancient, it’s not like we should expect his health to get any better. The groin and hip surgeries weren’t the result of a freak injury — they indicate that his body is breaking down. It’s easy to foresee more of that in the next six seasons of his deal.

Remarkably, Tulowitzki has accumulated 10.5 fWAR in the past two seasons despite missing so many games. That’s more than any other shortstop in the past two years, despite all of his time out. He’s the best at his position in the game — no questions asked. He’ll likely be the best shortstop in 2015 too, at least talent-wise. Steamer projects a 138 wRC+ and 5.8 fWAR in 138 games next season, which if came to fruition, would be a massive upgrade from last season’s batch at the position. I’m talking about an eight-win swing — Derek Jeter, Brendan Ryan, Stephen Drew, and Dean Anna were two-wins below replacement level in 2014. That’s obviously on the extremely optimistic side, given that the Yankees will probably run out better alternatives (or get better performances from someone like Drew) this year even without Tulowitzki.

Another thought is this: would it be so bad if the Yankees got 3 or 4 wins out of Tulowitzki in 100 games or so, with the other 60ish games being played by, at worst, a replacement level shortstop? Combined, that still makes for one of the better shortstops in baseball. Obviously, the timing of the missed games would be crucial, especially if it was toward the end of the season ruling out any postseason participation.

Ultimately, money should not be what prevents the Yankees from acquiring Tulowitzki, especially after reading this buried within a minor league free agency article from Fangraph’s Kiley McDaniel:

A Yankees source told me they could break even financially with a $500 million payroll expenditure (including luxury tax)…

That’s a story in itself, but what I’m getting at is this: the Yankees could easily absorb all of Tulowitzki’s contract. That should be enough for the Rockies, right? They get out of the contract and can rebuild. Back to Rosenthal’s report:

One rival official said the Rockies are willing to move Tulowitzki and Gonzalez but only for returns that would reflect their contributions when healthy. In other words, no discount for injury.

If that’s the case, good luck Colorado. Unless they are willing to eat a reasonable portion of his salary, Tulowitzki won’t be moved if they’re stubborn with that stance. At some point, if they’re serious about moving him, they will probably accept salary relief. Maybe they’ll get some low-level, high-risk, but high-upside prospects too, but they won’t be obtaining anything special if they expect to dump his salary.

Indeed, the injuries are a major concern, but if complete salary relief does become an option, why not make the trade? For another organization, taking on Tulo’s contract only to see him miss significant time due to injury could be a multi-year setback, given the opportunity cost. If McDaniel’s source is correct, there isn’t much of an argument against the Yankees taking on the entire contract if the chance arises. The only thing setting back the Yankees is running out inferior players when a better one is obtainable, which very well could be the case here. I know, the Yankees don’t have unlimited financial resources, but it’s not like they’re at the edge of a cliff.

Despite the team’s apparent financial flexibility, such a move for Tulowitzki doesn’t jive with Hal Steinbrenner’s stance on the luxury tax. He still wants to get under the threshold at some point in the near future, and adding Tulo would only make that task more difficult. Tulowitzki in pinstripes is a fun thought, and really not all that outlandish, but it seems unlikely given ownership’s direction. I’m really looking forward to Stephen Drew holding down the position in 2015.

Contract and injury data via Baseball Prospectus.

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