With the emergence of top prospects, both in the big leagues and minors, the Toronto Blue Jays will need to decide what to do with their incumbent veteran shortstop.
Troy Tulowitzki was a superstar in his prime. Blue Jays fans first knew him as “the guy that should have been picked instead of Ricky Romero“, but beyond that, he was the complete package for the Colorado Rockies for many years.
From 2007 through the first half of 2015 (prior to being traded) he accumulated a 34.6 WAR, and was widely considered one of the best two way shortstops in the game.
When the Blue Jays acquired him, he had five years and $98 million left on his deal from ages 31 to 35. Clearly, they were acquiring not only his most expensive years, but also what were likely going to be his worst as well. It was a short-term move designed to help the team win in 2015 and 2016, which it did, but was not a deal that had much of a chance of providing high value towards the middle and end of it.
Since the trade, Tulowitzki has accumulated a 4.3 WAR in three and a half years. He missed a year and a half during that span due to injury, so that explains some of it, but the last time any of us saw him healthy, it was the first few months of 2017 when he put up a 0.1 WAR and 79 wRC+ with the bat, and a -1.1 UZR rating on defense.
Clearly, after his good season in 2016, he has not been the same player. His performance has cratered, and he has suffered significant injuries.
Another thing happened during his year and a half break from the everyday lineup, and that is the direction of the team. The front office made one more attempt to secure a Wild Card spot in 2018, expecting Tulowitzki to be part of it, but not only did he miss the entire season, but it also became painfully clear by around May that the team was simply not that good. They decided to trade off veterans at the most recent trade deadline, and Tulowitzki now sees himself coming back to a rebuilding roster.
Making matters worse for him, the Blue Jays have a top prospect who will start in Buffalo next season that will likely be the team’s everyday shortstop in 2020 (Bo Bichette). No big deal, you say. Just play Tulowitzki in 2019, and then hope to trade him at the deadline, right?
Not so fast. Aside from other factors which I will mention below, playing Tulowitzki in 2019 will be problematic because the team, whether rightly or wrongly, believes that impressive rookie Lourdes Gurriel Jr can handle the position, at least for the time being.
If the team is rebuilding, and wants to get a look at Gurriel at short at the big league level, then holding on to a veteran shortstop on the decline will do nothing but prevent the team from getting a look at (and trying to improve) Gurriel’s defense.
The team also made a shrewd off-season addition in Aledmys Diaz, who is a below average defensive player at short, but more than adequate to hold it down on a temporary basis if need be, and also has the versatility to cover other infield positions.
The Blue Jays cannot keep all of their current infielders, and possibly demoting or limiting the playing time of younger (and maybe better) options just to get any sort of value out of a bad investment is not going to help anyone.
So, what should the team do with “Tulo”? Here are a few options:
Dump him for nothing
It does not seem like a Rogers thing to do to dump the remaining $38 million owed to Tulowitzki for nothing, so this does not seem all that likely.
General manager Ross Atkins will have a very difficult time trying to find a trading partner that will be willing to absorb even half of the $38 million left on Tulowitzki’s deal, much less give up any sort of value.
There is always a possibility of trading him for an equally bad contract, but Tulowitzki has a no-trade clause. So if he is traded to a team he does not want to play for, then back to square one.
Hope he retires
Tulowitzki has publicly stated that “if someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home”. Hey, now there’s a scenario that benefits the Blue Jays!
I think I can confidently say that Tulowitzki graciously leaving $38 million on the table and going home is not going to happen. Ego is strong, but forgoing that much money seems incredibly unlikely.
Play him at short everyday
This seems like the only real answer, and maybe if he proves to be healthy then he can be traded (with a whole bunch of money eaten up) at the deadline.
The issue with that, as mentioned, is that the team has existing players that would be better served to play the position everyday in 2019. Another issue is that Tulowitzki has not played in a year and a half, so not only is he trying to fight off age related decline, but also has to come back from significant injury. There is no guarantee he will be healthy or good ever again.
Another factor for the team will be that not only is Tulowitzki going to insist on starting at short (and it will likely be a firestorm if he’s not), but he also takes up a valuable 40-man roster spot. While the 40-man roster does not appear to be in any immediate danger as far as losing anyone valuable, freeing up a spot can’t hurt.
This is going to be one of those situations where there does not appear to be any way to end this relationship which helps the team at all, except if you believe Tulowitzki’s ego is strong enough to let nearly $40 million be flushed down the toilet. Yeah, neither do I.
What happens with Tulowitzki over the next few months will be very interesting to watch. Will there be a trade? Will they keep him to possibly mentor Bichette? Do they think he can be productive in 2019? Many scenarios, but no real logical or beneficial answer.
What should the Blue Jays do with Tulowitzki? Share your thoughts below.
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Srikant Kabse is a long time baseball fan, accountant, and writer. He currently resides in New Jersey, but grew up in Scarborough Ontario where his love for the sport and for the Blue Jays began as a child. Aside from baseball, Srikant’s interests include fitness, basketball, and traveling.