Blue Jays Do Well In Acquiring Troy Tulowitzki
(Title photo credit to SD Dirk, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/)
Wow. There is no other expression that describes the move the Blue Jays made early Tuesday morning than surprise. It was spectacular and came totally out of nowhere. Alex Anthopoulos has a peculiar tendency to find ways to acquire elite players and he did it again. Troy Tulowitzki, one of the best players in baseball and the best shortstop in baseball, is Toronto-bound. The Blue Jays acquired him and useful 42-year-old right-handed reliever LaTroy Hawkins, in exchange for shortstop Jose Reyes, and pitching prospects Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco.
This is a great trade for the Blue Jays in terms of 2015; there’s no other way around it. Alex Anthopoulos and Co. were interested in adding to their 2015 squad, and they do so here significantly without needing to add to the payroll. By way of their depth charts and the Steamer ZiPS projection systems, Fangraphs believes that Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins present a single win upgrade rest-of-season for the Blue Jays. Everyone was hoping the front office would add a starting pitcher, but Tulo provides an edge equivalent to that of replacing Felix Doubront or Marco Estrada with a starting pitcher like Jeff Samardzija.
The “a run scored is worth the same as a run allowed” phrase is getting a lot of run in the analysis of this trade and while it isn’t fully accurate (the run differential to Pythagorean expectation conversion is not linear; a team that scores 5 runs per game and allows 4.5 will not be able to add wins as efficiently as a team that scores 4 runs and allows 3.5. It will cost the former team two additional runs to add each marginal win, so being a pitching-oriented team can make wins cheaper), it’s generally correct and is a better philosophy to use than the “good teams are balanced” approach. An upgrade is an upgrade, and the Blue Jays are getting as large of one as they could have expected at the deadline in Tulowitzki.
Something else to keep in mind is that this deal does little to preclude further transactions, particularly pitching ones. It’s not fair to question why Alex Anthopoulos made this move instead of one for pitching, because this trade is cash-neutral and there is still plenty of time left before Friday’s deadline. From a 2015 perspective, this is a great move. From a 2016 perspective, the same can probably be said without reservation.
But how does this trade shake down from a total value perspective? In the age of huge contracts and a restriction-laden CBA, transactions need to be evaluated in this manner. Tulowitzki is guaranteed $100MM over five years after 2015, while Reyes is due $48MM over the next two seasons. Essentially, the Blue Jays are extending Reyes’s contract by three seasons and making him a much better player. Dan Szymborski tweeted (before the full details of trade were known) that his ZiPS system evaluates Reyes’s contract as being worth -$20MM of expected surplus value, while Tulo’s contract sits at +$40MM. This seems about right at first glance, and is backed up by this simple value breakdown I created based on the assumptions made in my recent article on starting pitching possibilities.
The contract value differential derived here is $70MM (this chart changed since first publication after an inaccuracy was detected). The assumptions made are flexible enough (you can change how you believe Tulo or Reyes will age, for example) that slightly different conclusions can be reached. I think we can downgrade Tulowitzki’s value slightly in the later years based on his extensive injury history. Reyes has an injury history too, but doesn’t have the same contract length, so his current healthy status means more. It’s fair to say that the contracts are around $60MM apart in terms of surplus value expected.
There are many other components involved than just the shortstops, and they are what make the deal closer. LaTroy Hawkins probably only upgrades the Blue Jays by a tenth of a win rest-of-season; he’s useful to the club, but not a huge factor in terms of evaluating the trade.
Of course, the question becomes, “are the prospects the Blue Jays gave up worth $60 million?” It depends on what you think of the prospects. Prospect evaluation can be subjective and it’s certainly possible that Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco are that valuable. Based on their consensus prospect ranks and the performance of past top prospects, using work done by Point of Pittsburgh writers Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli, I came to the conclusion in the previous starting pitching acquisition article that the sum of the values of Hoffman, Castro and Tinoco was around $25MM. That reflected how Jeff Hoffman rated on recent midseason top prospect lists, and how I perceived Castro and Tinoco to be valued.
If the trio of prospects is worth $25MM, the Blue Jays would project to win this trade by about $35MM. However, Jeff Hoffman is a very polarizing prospect. Some evaluators (including Baseball Prospectus, who ranked him 18th on their midseason list), believe Hoffman is an elite prospect. Others look at his inconsistent stuff and middling strikeout totals, and see a prospect with too many question marks to be ranked so high. If Jeff Hoffman were a top 20 prospect, this trade would get much closer. The numbers I’m using rate a 11th-25th ranked pitching prospect as being worth $30MM. If you believe he would have been the #1 pick in last year’s draft if healthy, and that his stuff has returned to the point that he projects to be a top-of-rotation pitcher in the near future, than Jeff Hoffman is worth even more than that.
We have a much better idea of the possible realistic outcomes of major leaguers, since they have a more relevant track record. Evaluating prospects is difficult and Jeff Hoffman has both a very wide range of career outcomes, and a wide range of possible places to rank him as a prospect currently. The Rockies clearly believe Jeff Hoffman (and Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco) is worth swapping the contracts of Reyes and Tulo, that’s why they are making this trade.
The industry consensus rests with the Blue Jays winning this trade, because the industry as a whole believes that Jeff Hoffman isn’t an elite prospect. From an objective perspective, that is probably the right way to look at this trade. The Blue Jays added to their team for 2015, and upgraded their shortstop situation for years to come. They paid a price that seems tolerable and doesn’t prevent them from making further moves. I like this trade and am excited by its implications, but it’s not as if the Rockies got cheated. They needed to start moving in this direction as an organization, philosophically. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, continue to move down a path that is right for them.