TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos doubled down early Tuesday morning by pulling off a blockbuster trade with the Rockies for All-Star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, but make no mistake, the move was as much about the future as it was a run at the postseason.
Tulowitzki is under club control through the 2021 season, and he is now part of a long-term core that includes third baseman Josh Donaldson and catcher Russell Martin. None of those three players can be eligible for free agency until at least after the 2018 season, and all could be around long after the contracts of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion eventually expire.
This is the type of trade that typically happens during the offseason, and that's when these two teams first started talking. But it wasn't until months later that all of the pieces came together in the latest surprise blockbuster by a GM who has never shied away from making a big move.
The Blue Jays also received veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins in exchange for shortstop Jose Reyes and three right-handed pitching prospects: Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco.
All three hurlers are legitimate prospects and would have been in the top half of Pipeline's ranking of Toronto's Top 30 Prospects list, which was updated Tuesday. Their rankings within the Rockies' system are as follows: Hoffman (No. 4), Castro (No. 10) and Tinoco (No. 18).
"This is a long-term acquisition," Anthopoulos said during a news conference held not long after the trade was announced. "We think we got better now, and we would have taken Troy Tulowitzki in the offseason, [but] we just couldn't get the deal done. This wasn't a July move, this happened to be the time we could get him.
"I just think we got better, for the short and for the long term. Ideally, you don't shop in the rental market; that doesn't mean we'll rule it out, we're open to it, but our preference is always for guys who are under control and will be here for a while."
Tulowitzki is in the fifth season of a 10-year deal that will pay him $157.75 million over the duration of the contract. He's making $20 million this season and will continue to be paid at that rate until 2020, when his salary drops to $14 million. Tulowitzki also receives a $2 million payment for being traded and will now have full no-trade right as per a stipulation in his contract.
That's a major financial commitment for Toronto, but this is also an organization that has only Martin signed to a guaranteed deal after the 2016 season. Donaldson remains arbitration-eligible through 2018, which means the club has long-term security with three of its core pieces.
The long-term outlook shouldn't be ignored, because this is a franchise that will have a lot of uncertainty over the next 12 months. Left-hander Mark Buehrle, who has a $19 million salary, can be a free agent at the end of the season and right-hander R.A. Dickey's contract has a $12 million club option for 2016. Even more pressing is the fact that Bautista and Encarnacion could hit the open market at the end of next season.
With so many contracts up in the air, the presence of Tulowitzki alongside Martin and Donaldson provides some necessary clarity. It also improves the current product on the field for a team that intends on making a run to the postseason. The Blue Jays are in second place in the American League East, seven games behind the Yankees, and are three games back in the AL Wild Card standings.
"In fairness to our club, if there are opportunities to get the best at a respective position, any position on the diamond, we're going to explore those things," Anthopoulos said. "I think the reason we looked at that was because there was talk of Tulowitzki being available, and normally those guys aren't available.
"I can't name players on other teams, but take some other positions where there's the best in the league, I know they're not available. I'm not going to call or ask, but I think it was well-documented that there were scenarios where Tulowitzki could be made available, and that's why we pursued it. We felt it was a rare chance that the best at his position was available."
Toronto had the best offense in the Major Leagues before this trade, and it just got even better. There was still a lot of value in the bat of Reyes, but Tulowitzki's ability to hit for a high average with a lot of power is an undeniable upgrade. In 87 games for the Rockies this season, the five-time All-Star is hitting .300 with 12 homers, 53 RBIs and an .818 OPS.
The biggest difference for the current season, though, will be Tulowitzki's ability with the glove. He won Gold Gloves in both 2010 and '11, and while he might not be still playing defense at quite that high a level, the native of California has solid range and is the type of steady shortstop who will make all of the routine plays.
The same couldn't be said about Reyes, who struggled not only with a lack of mobility this year but also had some ill-timed miscues on grounders that should have been second nature. As the Blue Jays continue to search for pitching help prior to Friday's Deadline, acquiring Tulowitzki provides support to whatever the staff ends up looking like in three days.
"He has been a Gold Glove winner, obviously an MVP candidate from an offensive standpoint," Anthopoulos said. "We don't know him personally, but we did a lot of work on him. And everything you hear about him is that he plays to win, he's very committed to his career, takes care of himself, tremendous teammate.
"I think very similar to some of the guys that we have in the clubhouse. I think that's by design from our standpoint to acquire those types of guys. Martin, Donaldson, Bautista, Tulowitzki, all these guys. They're established guys, they care about their teammates, they care about winning, they care about their careers and baseball is one of their highest priorities."