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Cardinals have the upper hand in Tulowitzki negotiations

I admit it. I really like the idea of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in a Cardinals uniform.

But, as outlandish as that idea seemed months ago, the landscape has shifted dramatically. So I hope the Redbirds realize they hold the cards in this deal and they don't overpay in terms of talent to get a deal done.

At the trade deadline the Rockies could have driven a hard bargain. Time was of the essence and there weren't many other options on the table. The Cardinals were trying to win not just in the future -- but also in the very immediate present. They stuck to their demands and held on to their star player. Now the Rockies have lost much of their leverage.

That immediate pressure has come and gone. Now the Cardinals can kick the tires on a potential trade for about a half dozen shortstops and pursue two or three others on the free agent market. Or they could stand pat with a team that went to the World Series last season and address the shortstop position at some point in the future. As a Cardinals fan, I am not going to cry if this team comes to spring training with Pete Kozma at shortstop -- and Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Shelby Miller still on the roster. But I might shed a tear or two if the Redbirds permanently deplete their young pitching stockpile, creating one hole to fill another.

Since the trade deadline the owner of the Rockies publicly declared that Tulowitzki and left fielder Carlos Gonzalez WILL NOT be traded. It was a curious position to take because it rarely turns out well when Major League Baseball folks speak in absolutes. And I think this time isn't the exception.

By saying Tulo would NOT be traded, no matter what, the Rockies have put themselves in a position of weakness. There's really only one reason a team would want to get rid of its most popular and one of its most productive players. And that's because they can't afford his contract. The Rockies had a $73.9 million payroll last year and Tulowitzki is going to jump from $10 million to $16 million in 2014. Gonzalez goes from $7.5 to $10.5 next season. I'm not very good at math. But it seems to me that two people on Colorado's 25-man roster take up more than 1/3 of the money. Throw in Michael Cuddyer's $10.5 million for 2014 and the Rockies owe nearly half of their budget to three guys.

The Rockies may not WANT to trade Tulo. But it sure looks to me like they can't afford him unless they up their payroll dramatically. 

So, what it really adds up to is that these contracts make this potential deal less about what kind of prospects the Rockies can get for Tulowitzki and more about who will take his contract off the team's budget balance sheet.

Sure, anyone would take a guy who is arguably the best shortstop in baseball if they just have to assume his contract, right? The Rockies can dump him on anyone, couldn't they? Well, not so fast. Tulowitzki has a full no trade clause. So you're not going to send him to small market team that is unlikely to win and you're not going to send him anyplace he doesn't want to play. Instead of having 25 options of where they might send Tulowitzki, realistically the Rockies have about five.

The Dodgers would love to have Tulowitzki and move Hanley Ramirez to third base. And they apparently have an unlimited amount of money to throw at every player they can find. But does Colorado want to watch its franchise player come to Coors field several times a year wearing the uniform of a division rival? So much for the Dodgers.

The Giants seem to be set at shortstop. The Angels are tapped out financially thanks to stupid deals for Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton -- plus the've completely depleted the franchise of prospects via stupid trades. The Mets need a shortstop. But reports said they're interested in damaged goods free agent Jhonny Peralta because they can't afford to pursue Stephen Drew. Looks like Tulo is out of their price range.

I've read reports that the Cardinals might have to offer a package of Shelby Miller, Allen Craig, Trevor Rosenthal and the kitchen sink to get Tulo or one of the Texas Rangers shortstops. If they let that happen, the Cardinals are out of their minds. The front office has spent five years trying to create an internal talent pipeline. So you can't just give it all away in one move.

When weighing the scales of a trade, there's more than just talent that figures in the balance. And, thanks to the Rockies giving Tulowitzki an outrageous contract. The guy was under contract for four more seasons in 2010 when the Rockies gave him a $100-million-plus extension. 

Some other reasons that the Rockies should be grateful just to have the Cardinals take Tulowitzki's contract off their hands:

• He has a clause in his deal that says he is only allowed to be traded once over the course of the deal. So whomever gets him is stuck paying off that deal no matter what. No flipping him someplace else.
• He has a $2 million bonus in the deal that he gets if he's traded on top of the guaranteed $134 million already on the books.
• Incentives in the deal could pay him $6 million more in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons if Tulowitzki wins a certain number of MVP, Gold Glove or Silver Slugger Awards and All-Star selections.
One close look at that deal makes it clear the Cardinals would be giving more than fair compensation by delivering a potential ace and a slugging first baseman to Colorado PLUS paying off that pooch of a contract in exchange for Tulowitzki's talents.