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Bird Watching

Bird Watching: To Tulo or Not To Tulo…?

It seems Cardinal fans are entertaining themselves with dreams of Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado’s franchise shortstop recently named baseball’s “Best Player” by at least one sports writer. He’s young, he plays a premium position in the field, and he can flat out hit. When he manages to stay in the lineup and log a full season’s worth of plate appearances, he’s a 30 HR, 100 RBI, and .300 average hitter; but that seems to be his problem…staying in the lineup.

In seven seasons, Tulowitzki – or “Tulo” – has managed to break the 500 at-bat (AB) barrier just three times, actually falling below 200 ABs twice (181 and 96), and one of those sub-Mendoza totals his most recent season in 2012. The kid just has a tough time staying healthy and on the field.

Of course, most of that wouldn’t be that big of a problem for such a young player – from a strictly cost-effective standpoint – if not for that ridiculous contract the Rockies signed him to a while back. Here’s a quick breakdown of Tulo’s upcoming contract years (courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com):

2013 28 Colorado Rockies $10,000,000
2014 29 Colorado Rockies $16,000,000
2015 30 Colorado Rockies $20,000,000
2016 31 Colorado Rockies $20,000,000
2017 32 Colorado Rockies $20,000,000
2018 33 Colorado Rockies $20,000,000
2019 34 Colorado Rockies $20,000,000
2020 35 Colorado Rockies $14,000,000
2021 36 Colorado Rockies *$15,000,000 $15M Team Option, $4M Buyout
Earliest Free Agent: 2021

Yeah, you read that right… $20 million, per year, for a period of no less than five years from 2015 through 2019. For those wondering, that’s smack dab in the middle of any contract extension the Cardinals might be able to work out with Adam Wainwright at a more than likely $20-$25 million per year AAV (Average Annual Value). The truly studious will remember that the Cardinals will also be paying Holliday and Molina an AAV of $17 million and $14.5 million respectively between 2014 and 2017 (and 2018 for Yadi).

Anyone care to hazard a guess what players like David Freese and Allen Craig will be making at that point? Or what about all those young pitchers getting ready to enter their “show me the money” contract years? And didn’t Mo recently compare Oscar Taveras to Albert Pujols? If AP didn’t see a reason to give DeWitt and Crew a hometown discount, Mr. Taveras certainly won’t either.

Bottom line, the Cardinals better hope they can count on at least two factors within the next five to ten years if they pull off a Tulo trade:

1. Significant and renewable production from farm-grown players to relieve payroll stress at other positions…

2. And at least a little bit of cash from the Rockies to offset that silly AAV they gave Tulo.

Let’s get into the rest of it…

Would Matt Adams, a premium arm, and a second tier player get it done for Tulo? My cohort on the UCB Radio Hour – Jon Doble – brought up the idea of starting trade talks with the Rockies for Tulo with Matt Adams and an arm at the end of last year. His reasoning – that Colorado would value a bat like Adams’ at first base in that ballpark to replace Helton – was intriguing. I also wonder if the idea of a cost-controlled starting pitcher with top of the rotation upside would be even more enticing. It’s no secret that the Rockies have to take out second and third mortgages on the family farm just to convince number two and three starters to pitch in the homer happy Coors Field. Being able to build around an ace essentially held captive in Colorado for years could be just what the Rockies need to return to contention.

The Cardinals seem to be working with a four or five year window. With Holliday potentially signed through 2017, Yadi signed through 2018, five year extension talks with Waino underway, and corner infielders who happen to be middle of the order hitters (Craig and Freese) approaching 30 yet still cost-controlled (free agents in 2017 and 2016)…three to five years of excellence should be expected, even with relatively subtle roster adjustments take place. But, what will Holliday, Yadi, Freese, and Craig look like in 2016 and beyond? Will they continue their level of production? Or will decline be in full swing? Taveras may be at least one answer to what looks to be a suddenly aging team, and the rotation appears to be in good hands with the crop of young guns coming of age, but minor league first basemen, third basemen, catchers, and corner outfielders should be interesting to watch over the next two or three seasons.

This could be the year Allen Craig takes his place among the National League’s elite hitters. The Post-Dispatch and other outlets have already covered this extensively, so I won’t rehash it here, but another year removed from knee surgery and the stress of roaming the outfield on his body now a memory means Craig has nothing standing in his way. Of course, this is also the first season Craig hasn’t had to worry about finding at-bats, experimenting at a new position, or wondering who the organization was going to pick up to man first base ahead of him. He’s healthy, he’s no longer blocked, and with Beltran batting second, the clean-up spot is his. 2013 could be the start of Allen Craig’s professional prime.

Wrap-Up!

That’ll do it for today. It’s a snow day here in the Joplin area, so stay indoors, stay warm, and enjoy Spring Training games from Jupiter!

GO CARDS!!!

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