Photo By: UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Rocky Mountain Highs And Lows: Trading With The Colorado Rockies

The MLB Trade Deadline is just three days away and the seismic changes that the deadline brings to the outlooks of franchises’ futures has already begun. This morning I woke up to the stunning news that five-time All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki was traded alongside the ageless LaTroy Hawkins by the Colorado Rockies to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for four-time All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes and three minor league prospects (Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman and Jesus Tinoco).

Both Tulo and Reyes are making over $20 million a year, but it’s the 30-year-old Tulowitzki who is signed thru 2020 while Reyes, at 32, is signed thru 2017.

While teams are wheeling-and-dealing to make their respective ball clubs better, there’s always one team to be weary of trading with, the Colorado Rockies. The thin air of Coors Field has ballooned average major league batters’ stats to those of perennial All-Stars; it is buyer beware when taking a chance on a Colorado Rockie, especially one that has played their entire career in the Mountains.

Tulowitzki, though starting to age, has been known as the best hitting shortstop in the league and a fielder with a cannon of an arm from the hole. But if you delve deeper into his stats you can see that some of his production has been aided. To date, he is a career .299 hitter that averages roughly 20-30 homers a year and anywhere from 80-100 RBIs when healthy.

Over his ten-year career, he has played over 145 games just twice and hasn’t played over 140 games since the 2011 season. In 2012 he appeared in 47, 126 in ’13, 91 a year ago and now 87 games out of the last-place Rockies’ 97 games.

Back to the Coors Field effect. He has hit a star-studded .321 at home with a .394 OBP, making him worth his current $20 million per year contract easily, but if you look at his road numbers he has hit a mere mortal .276 with a .349 OBP, very good for a shortstop but not nearly what he does in the friendly confines of home.

Luckily for Tulo, who slashes .300/12/53/.348/.471 this year, he’s going to Toronto which has turned into a power plant in terms of producing homerun hitters. His splits this season have to be comforting for Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos as he is hitting .301 at home and .299 on the road, but I still wouldn’t bank on Tulowitzki being an annual .300+ hitter in his new home.

Colorado is looking down the barrel of their fifth consecutive losing season meaning they will be willing to ship off players for pieces down the line. Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is another coveted bat. The two-time All-Star is a career .292 hitter and former batting champ, but his splits have been even more pronounced than Tulowitzki’s.

Over his career Gonzalez has hit a blistering .326 at home but a measly .258 on the road. His average this season has slipped to .278, but he still has 20 homers and you guessed it, his splits are more of the same, batting .301 at Coors Field and .256 elsewhere.

Home Sweet Home

Teams have to be careful when trading for or signing former Rockies. That .290/30/100 guy you think you might be getting might actually be a .245/20/70 guy away from Coors.

Lets look at some recent Rockies batters that have moved on to not-so greener pastures. Injuries and age have hurt, but Michael Cuddyer is coming off a .331 batting champion season in 2013 and an injury shortened 49-game campaign last season in which he hit .332. This year with the Mets? He is hitting only .250 and is currently sitting on the DL.

How about a reverse look? 34-year-old Justin Morneau, a former MVP, looked like he was on the backend of his career. From 2011-2013 he strung together averages of .227, .267 and .259 after batting a combined .289 the six seasons previous. He signs a deal with Colorado to start the 2014 season and bang. He wins the NL batting title with a .319 average and has hit .290 in limited action this season.

Back to the bad. From 2006-09, Brad Hawpe hit over 20 homers each season. In 2010 he cooled down and was subsequently traded to Tampa Bay at age 31 after 88 games with Colorado. He would finish the season with nine homers in 103 total games. Hawpe hit four homers the rest of his career and was out of the league after a short stint with the Angels in 2013. His final numbers would total out to a .280 career average with Colorado (.288 average at Coors) and a .193 average in 94 games with other teams.

Over a four-year stint spanning 2005-08, Garrett Atkins mashed 88 homeruns, drove in 419 runs and batted .301. At age 30 in 2010, he signed a contract with the Baltimore Orioles and started in 39 games. After 44 appearances he was released that same season after hitting just one homerun and driving in nine runs with a .214 average. Atkins never again played in the Majors.

Call it a gift, call it a curse. Whatever you call it, Coors Field produces hitters but the longevity of those hitters and credibility of those bats can be called into question.

But there is faith for Blue Jay fans and for fans of teams who want to acquire current Rockie hitters. For every Garrett Atkins, there is a Matt Holliday, who passed the test of being just a Coors Field product with flying colors. Holliday spent five seasons (04-08) with Colorado and saw his splits improve; wiping out the idea that he was just a home-show pony.

Year                Home              Road

2004                .338                 .240

2005                .357                 .256

2006                .373                 .280

2007                .341                 .338

2008                .332                 .308

Tulowitzki has shown the same type of progress in his seasons with over 120 appearances:

Year                Home              Road

2007                .326                 .256

2009                .326                 .267

2010                .339                 .291

2011                .310                 .292

2013                .342                 .281

Carlos Gonzalez’s four seasons with over 110 games played, have been a bit more troublesome and even confusing:

Year                Home              Road

2010                .380                 .289

2011                .331                 .252

2012                .368                 .234

2013                .273                 .332

Colorado GM Jeff Bridich is making it more and more likely that Gonzalez is available in a trade. If you’re a team looking to add an impact bat, do you roll the dice on the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of baseball? Or do you play it safe and look for more of a “sure-thing”. Decisions, decisions.

Photo By: UPI/Gary C. Caskey

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