Rockies jump gun with Tulo's new deal

According to the Denver Post, Troy Tulowitzki has a massive new deal that keeps him under contract through 2020(!).

Which is notable because (among other reasons) Tulowitzki already had a deal that tied him to the Rockies through 2014.

Jeff Passan thinks it's a lousy deal for everybody. Tulowitzki, because he can't choose who he wants to play for after 2014 (or, indeed, for a long while after 2014). Further:

    If this deal is bad for Tulowitzki, it’s ill-conceived and unconscionable for a Rockies team that knows what long-term, big-money contracts do to franchises with middling budgets: cripple them. And even if Tulowitzki is the anti-Mike Hampton(notes), and even if he can stay healthy like Todd Helton(notes) couldn’t, and even if he is the do-everything, all-world, good-guy shortstop, heir to Derek Jeter(notes), he still leaves the Rockies in a compromised position: with limited money to spend on the other pieces and parts that would comprise an annual contender.

    The Rockies operate with a payroll of around $80 million. Last year, it was $5 million more, the year before $3 million less. Tulowitzki’s contract extension adds six years and $119 million onto the end of his current deal, which, including a 2014 option, was to pay him $38.75 million. So, starting in 2015, when Tulowitzki will be 30, the Rockies will give him nearly $20 million a year.

    “If there’s a guy to spend a quarter of your payroll on, he’s it,” said a GM of a low-revenue team, “but you just don’t spend a quarter of your payroll on anyone. Period.”

Passan's making an assumption that I can't make.

2015 is five years away. I think it's fairly safe to assume that the Rockies will not have an $80 million payroll in 2015. As Passan notes, it was $85 million this season. As long as the Rockies remain competitive, we should expect their payroll to trend upward as revenues (and salaries) do the same. Actually, it should be more than mildly surprising if the Rockies' payroll doesn't top $100 million in 2015.

For the sake of comparison, let's look at the Twins. Their payroll this season was close to $100 million, and next year they'll begin paying Joe Mauer $23 million annually through 2018. Have you heard many baseball wondering how the Twins will remain competitive while devoting roughly a fifth of their payroll to just one player?

I haven't. The overwhelming consensus was that the Twins had to keep Mauer, whatever the cost (and he, like Tulowitzki, probably could have gotten even more if he'd waited for free agency).

So I'm not convinced that the math is a real problem.

There might be one, though. Passan:

    So as the Rockies celebrate Tulowitzki’s new deal, they do so knowing that Ubaldo Jimenez is now likely to leave after the 2014 season. And that Carlos Gonzalez, a Scott Boras client, is certain to do so. And that rather than waiting until 2014 to figure out where to spend their money, the team went all-in on a player who has missed significant time in two of his four seasons because of injuries.

There's absolutely no telling if Jimenez will still be a great pitcher, four years from now. Gonzalez, though he's had just one great season, is a better bet. But the Rockies probably figure a superstar Boras client is going somewhere else, regardless.

If you're going to throw a truckload of cash at one of these guys, Tulowitzki is probably the one. Still, the timing does seem odd. Before this new deal, the Rockies had already locked him up through 2014. If they'd waited until a year from now, or two years from now, would the price have been significantly higher for a super-extension?

Today, the two most valuable commodities in the majors are probably Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria, both of them young, both of them outstanding both offensively and defensively. Longoria's locked up through his Age 30 season, for another $42 million. Tulowitzki's locked up through his Age 35 season, for another $158 million.

Apples and oranges, mostly. We all know that Longoria's contract is exceptionally team-friendly (though it didn't look quite so extreme when Longoria agreed to the deal, while still in the minor leagues). We might not see its likes again.

Still, the Rockies are assuming an enormous amount of risk here. As long as Tulowitzki's healthy, he'll probably be worth his salary for most of the next decade. If he's playing well and the Rockies weren't foolish enough to give him a strong no-trade clause, they can always trade him if it's time to rebuild. If he's not playing well, though? As Passan notes, the Rockies were exceptionally fortunate to reach the playoffs while carrying Todd Helton's salary. They might not be so fortunate again.

Clearly, Rockies management believes they've seen enough to know enough. There's actually a pretty good chance that they're right about him. It's just not clear what gathering information for another year or two would have cost them.