Putting the Blue Jays’ Troy Tulowitzki Era Into Context

As the Blue Jays and Troy Tulowitzki part ways, it’s time to put what the oft-injured shortstop means in context to the Blue Jays’ past and its future.

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Without Troy Tulowitzki, I am not writing this right now.

Seems pretty obvious on the face of it, the news that the Blue Jays cut Troy Tulowitzki and granted him free agency means an article like this needs to be written.

I don’t mean it in that context, though. I mean without Troy Tulowitzki, I am not writing anything right now.

I was a struggling blogger with a reader count in the low 10s when while working a midnight-8am shift at Sobeys on July 28, 2015, news broke that Toronto acquired Tulowitzki and LaTroy Hawkins from Colorado for Jose Reyes, Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco. I abandoned the shelves and holed up in the bathroom reading everything about how Toronto was going for it this time. When I got home, I wrote the blog post about the trade that got me picked up by MLB blogs, eventually leading to my stint at the then-surging Jays Journal, becoming one of the original writers on JftC and picking up a podcast deal.

So yeah, thanks for that, Troy.

However, my story isn’t dissimilar from many fans in this modern era of Blue Jays history when it comes to reigniting passions for the club. The Troy Tulowitzki deal marked a distinct pivot in Toronto’s approach. No longer content to finish third like so many seasons before hand, the Blue Jays for that period of time became the big dog at the deadline. They were everything that fans envied in the Red Sox and Yankees for so long. They had gotten the big mid-season acquisition. Acquiring David Price two days later was the big all-in move, but Tulowitzki set the table for that.

For the rest of 2015, Tulowitzki delivered too. At least defensively. While the bat was never to the level it was in Coors Field, Tulowitzki offered more power, a better glove and a better arm than Reyes, and that was enough.

He hit .239 with five home runs in 41 games after the trade, but fans will remember in Game 3, down 2-0 to Texas in the ALDS, how Tulo changed the storyline. His bases-loaded walk gave Toronto a lead, his three-run home run, one of only two hits in the series, sealed it. Toronto moved on in the end. One year later, he burned Texas again, with a two-run opening salvo off Yu Darvish in Game 2 that highlighted a 6-for-13 series. Tulo was made for the playoffs. It was too bad he was also made of porcelain.

Tulowitzki idolized two shortstops growing up in California. However, while he wore Derek Jeter‘s number and lambasted Rockies management for denying him the chance to spend his career with one team like Jeter did, it became clear in the latter two years in Toronto he would take after the other idol shortstop, Nomar Garciaparra. Injuries that were problems in Colorado, became catastrophes in Canada. His ankles buckled, ligaments strained on an innocent looking play running to first base. Then the heel spur surgery that cost him all of 2018. Like Garciaparra, it looked like a potential Hall of Fame career in his 20s was becoming undone as his body crossed into its 30s.

When the trade was initially made, MLB.com writer Gregor Chisholm noted that it was a deal made with both the present and future in mind. However, the injuries made it clear that Toronto’s future was not going to have Troy Tulowitzki involved for the full extent of the deal. With the Blue Jays aiming for a youth movement, there was no point in holding onto a 34-year-old shortstop, and Tulo himself bolded shortstop, especially with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. ready for a full season at the position. It was time for him to go.

When the Blue Jays announced that Tulowitzki had been released, reaction was more mixed that it likely should have been. Some nodded solemnly, knowing that the situation had become untenable and Tulowitzki would be best served going elsewhere. Other bristled and scolded Russ Atkins for wasting money, tossing out a playoff hero and continuing to tear down Alex Anthopoulos’ team. These takes are foolish, and the notion that free agents will not want to come to Toronto because of it is absurd. In fact, this is the kind of move that players really appreciate, and one that the Blue Jays have been able to show to players for years. From releasing Wade LeBlanc so he could move to MLB, to dealing Joe Smith close to home to be with his ailing mother, Toronto has shown it is willing to put player’s desires into their equation when making roster moves. In promoting longtime farmhands like Murphy Smith and Jon Berti, they show the club respects the professionals in its organization. Tulowitzki’s agent, Paul Cohen, even thanked Shapiro and Atkins through Ken Rosenthal, for making the move now and giving Tulo a chance to find another opportunity to play. There is only one person whose reputation is damaged by this maneuver, and it’s Tulowitzki.

Considering how adamant Tulowitzki was about remaining at shortstop, flipping that stance one day after release either speaks of being disingenuous, or being dealt a harsh wake-up call about his position in the game. Either way, Tulowitzki stands as a man who his quick to bristle at disrespect from authority, as taking the entire $38M he is owed may be a more caustic rebuttal than his tirade against the organization that traded him. Given all the characters in the Blue Jays dugout during those playoff runs, Tulowitzki was never mentioned as a vocal leader, either. He gave the appearance of a man who let his play do the talking. But when he couldn’t play the way he wanted, he had nothing to say. Which is why it was easier to cut him loose than Russell Martin.

In the end, as Soutar said earlier in the piece, the trade was a success for the Blue Jays and fans would do it a million times over. The price to confirm the first playoff berth in over 20 years was heavy. Almost $70M for 3.5 years of inaction and an auspicious end that will even make Jose Bautista shake his head. Still, for the part he played in the rebirth of Blue Jays baseball, Troy Tulowitzki, injuries and all, has left his mark on the franchise’s history. For that, we thank him. But it is time for everyone involved to move on towards the future.

Photo credit: Keith Allison – flickr CC

 


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A.J. Andrews

Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since she could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs , her independent Tailpipe Sports blog and Jays Journal prior to joining JFTC. The 30 year old has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. She brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program. She will talk about all sports, most Nintendo games, and trans issues for way too long if you give her an opening.