When the Colorado Rockies signed Troy Tulowitzki through 2020, it seemed like a marriage built to last. It was a franchise player—and a franchise talent—agreeing to stick it out with the only club he'd ever played for...'til retirement do them part.
"I'm really lucky," Tulowitzki told ESPN.com after inking the deal, which guaranteed him $157.75 million over 10 years, in 2010. "I can't wait to be here my entire career."
One thing he won't be is on the field again in 2014.
Tulowitzki was leading the National League in batting average (.340), OBP (.432) and SLG (.603) and has been the cornerstone of an otherwise disappointing Rockies team. Now, they'll have to muddle through without him.
"I'm looking forward to getting back and playing the game I love," Tulowitzki told Harding after news of the surgery broke. "I will do everything I can to perform at a high level for the rest of my career."
The burning question: Will the rest of that career be spent in Colorado?
If the Rockies are honest with themselves, the answer should be no.
When Tulo plays, he's clearly one of the best hitters in the game. The rub, though, is the "when he plays" bit.
Tulowitzki hasn't suited up for 150 games in a season since 2009, and in 2012 he managed just 47 contests before going down with a groin injury that required surgery. Last year, he was sidelined with a broken rib.
So we apply the dreaded "injury prone" label. Sometimes it's slapped on unfairly. For Tulowitzki, with each DL stint and trip under the knife, it looks more and more justified.
Fine. But how does that get us to the Rockies parting ways with their 29-year-old star and his massive contract?
First off, Tulo has expressed disappointment with the Rockies' struggles and hinted—in pretty strong language, as hints go—that he wouldn't mind a change of scenery.
His message at the trade deadline, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, was: "I love it in Colorado. I'd like to be here. But if things [don't improve], and you can [trade] me to a winning situation, I'm OK with it."
Granted, a lot of guys on losing teams say they're open to a move. And Tulowitzki hardly issued a trade demand.
But combine his less-than-complete happiness with the Rockies' less-than-complete confidence in his ability to stay healthy and you've got the makings of...well, nothing good.
Imagine, for a moment, Tulowitzki working his way back from this most recent ailment then injuring himself again next year. How long before management, the fans and everyone else let their skepticism about his durability harden into outright dismissal?
Of course, none of this matters unless another team wants to make a deal. Certainly the Rockies would need a decent return, and any offseason trade partner would have to be willing to eat a healthy chunk of money.
Tulo's injury history—combined, perhaps, with his extreme road splits this season, which indicate a mile-high Coors Field bump—might scare away potential suitors.
Before the deadline, Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran made the case for Tulowitzki staying put:
Teams inquire about Tulowitzki regularly, of course, but the combination of the money left on his contract, that impending 30th birthday and his troubling injury history could keep suitors from offering the franchise-altering package it would take to pry the game’s best shortstop away from one of the game’s worst teams.
It could be argued, then, that every successive injury tightens the bonds that have shackled Tulowitzki to the Rockies.
Maybe. But if Tulo recovers from his latest malady and shows signs of his old self, it's not hard to imagine deep-pocketed clubs taking a long, hard look.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees, baseball's two biggest spenders, may each be shopping for a shortstop—the Dodgers to replace free-agent-to-be Hanley Ramirez (himself injury prone) and the Yankees to fill their impending Jeter-sized hole.
It's all speculation at this point, naturally. And despite Tulo's fragility, surely many Rockies fans would hate to see him go.
Still, four years ago this looked like a marriage built to last. Now, the possibility of an amicable split is at least worth considering.