Have you ever been really, really hungry and had a friend give you a martini with an olive while everyone else in the room sat eating super-sized burgers? Secretly you think, the martini is only to make you tipsy enough to forget you’re hungry and not getting what you need. If not, you’re obviously not a Blue Jays fan. Because, don’t get me wrong- Troy Tulowitzki is a huge addition to the team and instantly improves it. Likewise, LaTroy Hawkins won’t hurt at all. But are they not the martini and olive?
I was amazed yesterday morning, not to find that Troy Tulowitzki had been traded from the wheel-spinning Colorado Rockies that he’d made it clear he was unhappy to be, but to find that Toronto was the recipient. Equally surprising, that the Jays had managed to find someone to take Jose Reyes and his big salary off their hands. It’s exciting. But unless Alex Anthopoulos has some more tricks up his sleeve- as in ones which will bring in more pitching – it seems less than game-changing. All the while, the Royals improved their chances of going back to the World Series by acquiring Johnny Cueto, and Jon Papelbon’s wishes to get out of the hellhole that is Phillies baseball, 2015 edition, just ran him 75 miles down the road rather than north across the border.
That said, I will give credit where it is due and give kudos to the Jays and Alex A. Tulowitzki is, when healthy, the best shortstop in baseball, at the plate and damn near the best with the glove. Jose Reyes is on the sunset slope of his career path.
While Tulo is surprisingly only a year and change younger chronologically than Reyes, he plays much younger, perhaps a function of this being his tenth year in the bigs while Reyes is in his 13th. While some point out that the pair have had similar career batting averages (.299 for TT vs. .291 for Reyes), except for speed-related categories like stolen bases , Reyes has been good but Tulowitzki has been extraordinary. Despite three fewer seasons, TT out homers Reyes 188- 115 and has driven in 55 runs more; his career slugging percentage is a lofty .513 to Reyes ordinary .433.
This year too, Troy has the advantage. He’s been clipping along with a .300 avg, .818 OPS and 12 HR/53 RBI. Reyes is hitting .285 but has only 4 HR, 34 RBI and a .708 OPS. Even throwing in the fact that Reyes has 16 steals and Troy seems done with that part of the game (the last time he stole 16 in a season was 2009 ) one has to concede that the ex-Rocky is much more of a threat at the plate.
Perhaps even more importantly, he’s a better fielder at this point in his career. Anyone who’s seen a few Colorado and Toronto games this year can see that qualitatively but the numbers back it too. Reyes has commit 13 errors in just 69 games at SS this year for a lacklustre .953 fielding percentage; Tulo has only 8 errors in 82 games and a .978 fielding pct. Baseball-reference.com scores Troy as a 4.24 “range factor” at short, compared to 3.78 for Reyes. It’s not a stat that’s an everyday number to me, but know that the higher the number, the better the player is at getting to balls. The all-time record for shortstops is 6.7.
Add in that Tulowitzki is considered 11% above average for OPS , when adjusted to the ballparks he plays in whereas Reyes is a -3% and you can see that the Jays offense should benefit as well as the “D”.
The big question though is ‘is it enough’? Scoring runs hasn’t been that big a problem for Toronto this year. Pitching has been. I did some quick calculations, assuming that both TT and Reyes could stay healthy for remainder of the season (which is a big “if” for both– Troy hasn’t played 140 games in a year since ’11, and Reyes who’s already missed some 30 games with injuries this year has hit that mark only twice in the last 7 seasons) I’m projecting Troy to hit about .305 with 15 more homers (he hits more fly balls than grounders, which is sure to work to his advantage at the Rogers Centre) and around a .575 slugging percentage. Reyes, optimistically, had he stayed, might have hit .280 with 3 HR and a .425 slugging. Even factoring in Reyes advantage on the basepaths and I see the newcomer adding some 20 runs between his greater power and higher average. More importantly, in the field, Troy should get to more balls than Reyes would have, make more outs. He could start 45 DPs, reyes might not exceed 30. Based on this year’s numbers, even factoring in Tulo’s unfamiliarity with artificial turf and even if his fielding percentage drops, he should provide 50 more defensive outs than Reyes would have. Given that the Jays have an appallingly bad record of letting opposing base-runners score (one of only 4 teams who have had over half of the opposing runners come in to score, with a league-worst 58% ) that translates to 29 defensive runs scored.
So the question is: how many extra wins are added in if Tulowitzki can indeed save 29 runs in the field and account for 20 or so more Jays runs? That is indeed a million dollar question, but my guess is this- some , but not enough. Six maybe.
The unspoken wildcard in the whole deal might be ancient LaTroy Hawkins, 42 years young and in his 21st baseball season. he plans to retire after 2015, and likely open up a baseball cap shop since Toronto will be the eleventh hat he’s worn. The smart right-hander has been good this year with Colorado , with a 2-1 record, 2 saves and a 3.63 ERA , plus a solid 5:1 K to BB ratio. From all accounts he’s a good mature presence in the clubhouse and he’ll solidify the middle of the bullpen for the Jays. However, he’s not worked as a closer regularly since 2004 and isn’t expected to do so here. If he replaces Bo Schultz, which seems likely, numerically he won’t add anything but he might function much better in pressure situations.
I like the trade. It makes Toronto better, it makes the Jays chances of making the playoffs better than it was. It makes the Jays better looking ahead to next year. But if they want my applause, there’d better be more moves coming up before Friday’s trade deadline. I think this trade moves Toronto to about 87 wins and a solid second place in the East. A reliable starter would put them over the top, and James Shields (who is under contract for three more years, something Alex A. has said is important to the team), David Price and Mike Leake are among the options open. (By the way, while Joe Blanton and Wandy Rodriguez were designated for assignment by KC and Texas, respectively, I would by no means consider them game changers, let alone season-savers.) Meanwhile, even after giving up some youth to Colorado, the Jays could still stand to offer prospects like Daniel Norris (who’s terrible season in Buffalo might suggest the sooner they get rid of him, the better), Jonathan Harris, 905-born Dalton Pompey (hitting .310 back in the minors this year), highly-touted catcher Max Pentecost and leftie Matt Boyd (remarkable at 9-2, 1.68 between AA and AAA this season despite looking historically-bad in two appearances at Toronto) to offer up. Even Drew Hutchison should be looked at as a token to offer if the chance of getting a “non-rental” pitcher, ie Shields, Leake or Tyson Ross, is on the table.
We were expecting a nice meal, a starting pitcher, and got a good drink – an all-star shortstop- instead. Time for the main course, Mr. Anthopoulos. The fans are hungry.
Thursday Addendum: And so he did!! The trade today delivers the front-line starting pitcher the Jays so badly needed in David Price. While giving up Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Laibourt is a hefty “price” to pay for a pitcher who may only be around for two or three months, it is a solid deal which instantly transforms Toronto into as good a choice to go to the World Series as any AL team. Numerically, Price has a good shot of winning five more starts before end of season compared to Felix Doubront (who was designated for assignment yesterday), but the effect goes well beyond that. Price should assist the other starters by keeping the bullpen a little fresher and certainly delivers the “shot in the arm” as John Gibbons terms it, to the other players in the clubhouse. What’s more, it delivers a pitcher with a decent amount of post-season experience looking to prove himself on a big stage going into free agency.
Toronto is all in this year. Congratulations, Mr. Anthopoulos, you served up a fine dish!