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That was the likely reaction of Rockies fans everywhere to the report that the team would listen to trade offers during the offseason for its two best players. If that sounds contradictory or illogical, well, that’s Rockies baseball.
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Owner Dick Monfort has spent the past few years insisting that Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez (and their huge contracts) would remain with the team in perpetuity even though their presence on the roster, if not always on the field, hasn’t contributed much to the team’s ability to get past .500, let alone into playoff contention.
But now that the team has a new GM, Jeff Bridich, it’s at least giving off a sign that it knows major changes must be on the table this winter. If that includes shipping out some popular players, so be it. We love CarGo, and we love Tulo, but more than anything, we want to win.
Of course, this being the Rockies, news of their apparent enlightenment was accompanied by some head-scratching. That’s because the move that preceded the possible-trade report—the team’s $15.3 million qualifying offer to Michael Cuddyer—isn’t easily understood. Cuddyer is an excellent hitter and veteran leader who will command considerable free-agent attention, particularly from contenders. He’ll also be 36 on Opening Day and missed more than 100 games last year with injuries. Cuddyer can either sign the qualifying offer and play one year at that salary, or turn it down, become a free agent, and sign wherever he can get the best deal. If that happens, the Rockies would get a compensatory draft pick. Given his age and recent injury history, it’s unclear whether Cuddyer can do better elsewhere—because he hasn’t played more than 130 games in his three years in Denver, he might be best suited to be a full-time DH in the AL—and he might be able to match or exceed that amount of money over two or three years instead of just one.
If he accepts the offer, the Rockies would be “stuck” with him in right field, which is CarGo’s position. Gonzalez can also play center field, but his own recent injuries make that unlikely, and it’s those injuries that make moving him or Tulo that much tougher. Major League Baseball’s annual winter meetings in early December are often where blockbuster deals unfold, but anyone who trades for CarGo or Tulo before seeing them perform in Spring Training won’t know exactly what they’re getting. So any trades that happen before then would probably mean the Rockies are getting a sub-optimal return for two guys who—when healthy—are among the best players in baseball. And regardless of when these hypothetical swaps happen, the Rockies might also be forced to eat some of the remaining salary ($53 million over three years for CarGo, $114 million over six for Tulo), which has never been an appetizing prospect for the cost-conscious Monfort brothers.
But appetizing prospects, and plenty of them, are exactly what the Rockies need right now. The Cuddyer offer may prove to be little more than a financial chess move that will land the team some compensation if he leaves. (Would-be free agents have almost always declined qualifying offers during the two years the system has been in place.) But if that’s the case, why even mention the possibility of trading Tulo and CarGo? The mere act of acknowledging this is the first sign in recent memory that someone in the Rockies’ front office finally seems to realize the need for monumental changes. That in itself is cause for a genuine, if momentary, celebration.