Yankees’ fans probably first took notice of Troy Tulowitzki back in June 2007, when he went 5-12 in the Rockies’ three game sweep of the Bronx Bombers. Even as all eyes in that series were taking notice of Tulowitzki, the young shortstop was still fixated on his counterpart in pinstripes. According to Tulowitzki, who wears number two to honor Derek Jeter and used to hang a pitcher of the future Hall of Famer in his locker, the specter of playing the Yankees was a key motivation for making the ballclub out of spring training that season. Before the series, the Rockies’ rookie even bought bottles of Jeter’s cologne, Driven, for all of his teammates, and went so far as to ask for an autograph from the Yankees’ shortstop.
He’s a winner, you know what I mean? Growing up, I always saw the Yankees in the World Series. He was always the guy coming up with the clutch hit. He just seemed like a good leader out there, and a very good player at that.” – Troy Tulowitzki, The New York Times, June 21, 2007
Since he was selected seventh overall in the 2005 draft, Tulowitzki has inspired expectations of greatness. After an impressive rookie campaign in 2007, which was capped by a very strong final two months amid a furious pennant race, it seemed as if all of those predictions were coming to fruition. As a result, the Rockies decided to lock Tulowitzki up to a six year/$31 million deal after the season. Unfortunately, an injury in 2008 set the promising young star back in his development, but by the second half of 2009 (.344/.421/.622), he was back on track to the stardom everyone had been expecting.
In case anyone had forgotten his promise, Tulowitzki put on another second half show in 2010, including a historic September in which he hit 16 HRs and knocked in 40 runs as the Rockies tried in vain to catch the Giants and Padres. Once again, the Rockies responded to their shortstop’s continued emergence with another large contract extension. According to published reports, the new deal will pay Tulowitzki an additional $134 million from 2014 to 2020. When combined with the years remaining on his previous deal, the annual value will end up a shade below $16 million.
Incredibly, some have already characterized the deal as bad for both sides, and even questioned Tulowitzki’s fortitude for not trying to break the bank in free agency after the 2014 season. Although it is true that the 25-year old shortstop likely would have earned a significant amount more by waiting for free agency, it seems absurd to question his decision to not only ensure his family’s financial security for generations to come, but also make it possible to remain in a city that he seemingly enjoys.
From the Rockies standpoint, they are betting that Tulowitzki’s 2009 and 2010 performances are only the beginning of his path toward stardom. It isn’t a stretch to imagine the shortstop as being among the best players in the game by 2014, so preemptively signing him to a new deal could wind up saving the team millions of dollar per season over what they would have had to bid in free agency.
It’s only natural to compare the value of Tulowitzki’s new contract to the amount being sought by Jeter, but the comparison really isn’t fair. For starters, the Rockies’ shortstop was not a free agent, and therefore lacked the leverage that Jeter has now. Secondly, Jeter’s stature in the organization has led his agent to argue that the Yankee legend contributes equity to the team’s brand, something that doesn’t quite exist in Colorado. So, although Tulowitzki’s value on the field should far surpass Jeter’s going forward, it is much too simple to compare each player’s salary on that basis alone.
Tulowitzki’s connection with Jeter makes the juxtaposition of each player’s current situation all the more interesting. With all of the reports about the Yankees looking to hold the line on three additional years for Jeter, don’t doubt for a second that the Rockies desire for an extension wasn’t at least in part due to the expectation that the pinstripers would be a major player for Tulowitzki in free agency. And, even if the thought never occurred to the Rockies, you can bet it has crossed the minds of many Yankees fans who envisioned the talented Tulowitzki as an heir apparent to Jeter. With the signing of this extension, however, that dream has been dashed.
When his10-year deal expires in 2020, Tulowitzki will be a ripe old 36, just as his idol is right now. It remains to be seen how he will measure up to Jeter over the course of his career, but come that time, we could have another dicey negotiation on our hands. Perhaps, if Jeter has time in between crafting his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, he’ll be able to provide Tulowitzki with some advice on how to handle the situation. In the meantime, Jeter is the one who could probably use some words of wisdom. Does anyone have Cal Ripken’s phone number?