In a recent radio appearance on Sportsnet 590 The Fan’s Lead Off show (audio link available, with geographic restrictions), current Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos discussed one of the signature moves from his tenure as the Blue Jays’ general manager — namely, the blockbuster trade that brought Troy Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins from the Rockies to the Jays in July 2015, with Jose Reyes and three well-regarded pitching prospects going to Colorado.
Anthopoulos said initial talks with the Rockies began during the 2014-15 offseason, as “we had concerns with Jose Reyes’ defense at the end of 2014.” Reyes was coming off a rough year of glovework, posting a minus -3.3 UZR/150 and minus-14 Defensive Runs Saved over 1243 2/3 innings as Toronto’s shortstop. As per those two metrics, Reyes had been a subpar defender for multiple seasons, though Anthopoulos said the decline in the shortstop’s range was becoming a particular issue for the Jays.
By comparison, Tulowitzki was a much more accomplished defender, in the eyes of both the advanced metrics and in terms of hardware (two Gold Gloves and three Fielding Bible Awards between 2007-11). The +4.2 UZR/150 and +2 DRS that Tulowitzki posted in 2015 made him a major upgrade over Reyes — as Anthopoulos noted, Tulowitzki didn’t make a single error as a Blue Jay during the 2015 regular season and postseason.
After a loss to the Phillies on July 28, 2015, the day of the Tulowitzki deal, Toronto had only a 50-51 record and sat eight games out of first place in the AL East. Anthopoulos still felt confident that his club could break out, however: “We lost a ton of games just because we were not playing good defense, and all the pieces were there to have a great team.”
Anthopoulos cited Tulowitzki and Ben Revere (picked up in a less-heralded deadline day deal with the Phillies) as major elements to the defensive turnaround, and of course the Jays’ other headline-grabbing trade to land David Price from the Tigers also helped on the run-prevention front. The rest was history — after that July 28 loss to Philadelphia, the Blue Jays went on a 43-18 tear over the rest of the regular season to clinch the team’s first AL East title and playoff berth since 1993.
“For me, the key was just shoring up the defense across the board,” Anthopoulos said. “From Tulo, to getting Ben Revere in left and not having Chris Colabello and [Danny] Valencia on the corners in the outfield when [Jose] Bautista was out DHing. Just becoming a better defensive club, that really made the whole team get to where we should have been the entire year, when you’re looking at runs scored [and] runs against.”
While things obviously worked out for Toronto, losing Reyes was no small issue to his former teammates. “It’s not like the clubhouse was elated…we knew they would be jarred” Anthopoulos said, adding that Reyes’ “work ethic was fantastic” and that the shortstop was “so well-liked without our clubhouse.”
Still, some version of Reyes-for-Tulowitzki was a constant within the Jays’ talks with the Rockies, as Anthopoulos said “we were adamant that Reyes had to be part of the deal going back.” Beyond the practical element of filling each team’s need at shortstop, including Reyes in the trade helped offset some of the added financial costs Toronto faced in taking on Tulowitzki’s contract. Tulowitzki was owed a minimum of $98MM from 2016-20, while Reyes earned $48MM through the 2017 season — two seasons of salary and then a $4MM buyout of his $22MM club option for 2018. As it happened, Reyes forfeited roughly $7.09MM of that salary due to a suspension under the domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy, and he was released by Colorado in June 2016.
For more on the Tulowitzki trade, Jeff Todd recently took a longer-term view of the transaction as part of MLBTR’s YouTube video series, making the case that it was something of a win-win deal for both the Blue Jays and Rockies, even though “both were left a little bit shy of what they really expected to get.”