The Ballad of Chavy and Tulo

Yes, he did score in this play. Remind me, did the Rockies win the division in 2010?

While the Giants had a relatively quiet and predictable off-season, our Rocky neighbors to the east had quite an expensive one, extending shortstop Troy Tulowitzski’s contract until 2020, with a team option for 2021, and all it cost was an additional $114 million ($129 million with the option). Small potatoes for a team eager to keep one of its best, most popular players, particularly when that player is incredibly talented, right?

I think it bears repeating just what this contract means. The Rockies surprised everyone (except, perhaps, NL West fans, who knew to be terrified of the Purple) with a spectacular September, going 14-14… wait, maybe it just felt like they were on fire, as they scored 160 runs in September after averaging just 122 in each of the previous months, and scared the shit out of most Giants fans who were rooting for their team to take the Wild Card uncontested. Tulo went absolutely nuclear, batting .303/.366/.754 in September with 15 HR and an OPS+ of 129 (100 is average). His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABip), was just .253, which Sabermetricians would argue meant that he was actually being unlucky, and deserved every bit of success he had, and probably more.

Oh yeah, and he’s a Gold Glove winner and has ranked 5th in WAR by position players each of the last two years. And his walk-up music in 2010 was “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus.

Sounds like somebody you’d like to have on your team until 2021, when Barack Obama’s successor is in office, Justin Bieber turns 27 years old, the Honorable Al Franken is enjoying his 3rd term in the Senate, and Jamie Moyer is beginning his 35th season of Major League baseball at the ripe young age of 58.

Sure, the Rockies’ payroll was only $84.9 million in 2010, which means that by 2015 Tulo will be earning somewhere between 1/4 and 1/5 of the total budget of the team, but he’s worth it, right?

Unfortunately, I can’t help but think of the Oakland A’s, and their own Golden Boy, Eric Chavez. Now, Chavez was a special kind of player. He was a great fielder, a stellar hitter and, like everything that made the A’s good, a product of their farm system. In his second full season, he batted .288/.338/.540 with 32 HR, and went on to win the Gold Glove, his first of six over the next six seasons. That September/October he was on fire, batting .379/.414/.738 with 10 HR and a 159 OPS+ (again, 100 is average), helping the A’s finish 102-60, good enough to finish second behind the 116-46 Mariners. The A’s took the Wild Card and lost to the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs because, well, that’s what they do.

As Chavez continued to put up huge numbers, the A’s began to sweat. The team, which had just $33.8 million in payroll in 2001, had lost Jason Giambi to the Yankees in a ridiculous deal (7 years/$120 million), and feared losing Chavez. It didn’t help matters much to see Alex Rodriguez sign the largest contract in the history of baseball (10 years/$252 million), which meant that A-Rod was now worth almost as much as the entire A’s team combined. Chavez would surely command big money, and soon, and needed to be secured.

I remember when I, a young boy of 16, heard the news that the A’s had signed Chavez through the 2010 season. I was thrilled, because I’d seen so many heroes of mine get shipped to the Evil Empire, cut their hair, and sign contracts with more zeros than a Tim Lincecum/Cliff Lee World Series Game. Chavez was an A, damnit, and would be until I was 23 and had a blog of my own. A’s wizard-like General Manager Billy Beane signed Chavez to a 6 year/$66 million contract extension, ensuring his spot at third for years to come. A sizable investment, sure, especially given the team’s finances, but a worthwhile one, as long as he remained the star that he was.

Except that things didn’t work out that way. Chavez continued to win Gold Gloves through 2006, but saw his power and hitting numbers fall steadily from 2004 on. He never hit 30 home runs again, and only hit above 20 three more times before he seemingly forgot which end of the bat to hold. He was plagued with back and shoulder injuries and spent more time on the disabled list and riding the bench than actually on the field. He played just 154 games between 2007-2010, and batted .233/.290/.399 with 18 HR. Meanwhile, he continued to be paid the most or second-most on the team ($45 million) across that stretch, while his team floundered. Now he is finally off the books (and onto the Yankees, surprise surprise), and the A’s have a much-needed chunk of change back in their war chest to spend on, well, Godzilla, and new relief pitchers to go with their other relief pitchers.

Mind you, Troy Tulowitzki is not Eric Chavez, and the Colorado Rockies are not the Oakland A’s. The small budget of the A’s makes the Rockies look like the super-rich Yomiuri Giants of American baseball, and Tulo arguably has more potential than Chavez ever did. Also, while Tulo has missed playing time for injuries, it would be an overstatement to call him “injury-prone,” as his injuries have been more flukes than anything else. He missed time because of a cut in his hand after a bat shattered in his hand (after he slammed it into the ground), and he fractured his wrist when he was hit by a pitch, but he came roaring back.

My point is that the future is uncertain. If Tulo continues producing like he is, and if salaries continue ballooning at the rate they have been, then Tulo will be a great deal down the stretch. He’ll always be a substantial portion of the team’s budget, but he deserves it. My only concern would be if something happened and the Rockies suddenly found themselves with $20 million of unproductive investment for the next decade, which is the kind of thing that a non-Yankees ball club can’t exactly write off.

The Rockies front office chose to gamble. They chose to guess that a shortstop of Tulo’s character would be worth more than what they’ll be paying him, and that he’ll remain good. Tulowitzki chose to take the money because, well, he’s not crazy. Guaranteed money is guaranteed money, and at least now he doesn’t have to cut the mullet.

So what do you think? Is Tulo worth the money? Should the Giants sign Posey for 10 years/$180 million?

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3 comments to The Ballad of Chavy and Tulo

  • In response to: “Should the Giants sign Posey for 10 years/$180 million?”

    I do not believe ANY club with a decent farm system OUR club should sign ANY position player to ANY sort of double-digit year deal. Not Buster Posey, not Barry Bonds (<3)…as much as it pains me to say it.

    Here's a great (but older) article which shares some nice empirical data regarding a similar question: Long-Term Free Agent Contracts: A Historical Perspective

  • I agree, but I can definitely understand where they’re coming from, especially if they’ve seen player after player slip through their poor fingers. The only thing I can’t understand is that they’re basically assuming that Tulo will be a bargain for $20 million, but do you think that in a few years he’d actually be worth more than that? He’d have to only get better, which is somewhat hard to believe.

    • Interesting take from the Rockies (in response to 22Gigantes.com): Can the budding Giants-Rockies feud reach true rivalry status?

      To be perfectly honest, the huge contract extensions given to Troy Tulowitzki(notes) and Carlos Gonzalez(notes) — as outrageous or intelligent as they may be — were enough for us to get the focus off 2010 and look toward 2011. After all, a significant portion of that disappointment over missing the playoffs was driven by the urgency of perhaps losing one or both of those cornerstones in the not too distant future.

      Dare I say it was San Francisco’s ultimate success, winning a World Series, that motivated Colorado to make those commitments? Once that burden of doubt was removed, everyone took a deep breath and focused their attention to the future.

      A future they hope includes knocking their new rivals off the top of the mountain.

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