It’s been seven years since Troy Tulowitzki made it through a season without a trip to the disabled list. During his last Major League game on July 28th of last year, he hobbled off the field, assisted by the Blue Jays medical staff. 2019 will be Tulo’s age-34 season.
Despite the universe indicating the exact opposite, he believes he can play every day for the Blue Jays next year. In fact, Tulowitzki thinks he could be even better defensively after bone spurs hampered his play in 2017 and completely derailed his 2018 campaign.
Tulowitzki is delusional if he thinks he can play shortstop every day for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019.
His resiliency is respectable. His unwavering optimism is admirable. Yet, Tulowitzki’s unabashed evaluation of his diminished baseball skills may prove to be his ultimate downfall.
I imagine at some point, MLB players come to the realization they aren’t everyday players anymore. Blue Jays fans witnessed that first-hand during Jose Bautista’s slow descent from stardom last season. Yet, fate gave him another opportunity with the Braves and Mets this season. Tulowitzki isn’t so lucky.
There’s three, yes, three years remaining on his contract and the Blue Jays are on the hook for $38 million guaranteed. It would be one thing if there was only one year left on his deal, but there are two years remaining with a $15 million club option for 2021 with a $4 million buyout.
The man has been put through the ringer and not everyone who endured what he has since last July would remain this hopeful. The fact that he held court with reporters a few times, despite being on the disabled list the entire season is noble. Even though he hasn’t played a single game, he still has a presence on the Blue Jays roster. He still exhibits leadership qualities without even taking the field.
Yet, there’s being hopeful and there’s being realistic. “Realistic” and “Tulowitzki” aren’t two words I would use in the same sentence.
Tulo’s pre-game comments shed some light into his mindset and forecast with the Blue Jays, but perception and reality don’t line up for the veteran shortstop. He still views himself as an everyday shortstop in the year 2019. The reality is that vision is nowhere close to happening for Tulowitzki.
The days of starting shortstops in their mid-to-late 30’s – let alone in a part-time capacity – are long gone. This year, there are no qualified shortstops who are 34 years of age or older. The closest qualifier is Jose Reyes and he has over 200 plate appearances for the God-awful Mets, so it barely counts.
Everything is working against Tulowitzki in this scenario: his age, his health and the shortstop depth on the Blue Jays’ roster. It’s not as though they don’t have able bodies to fill the position. After Aledmys Diaz and Lourdes Gurriel, Tulo at best slots third in the SS depth chart. With Bo Bichette making his way up the ranks, it may not be long before even he eclipses Tulowitzki on the list of viable shortstop options for the Blue Jays.
No matter how the Blue Jays’ relationship with Tulowitzki comes to a close, it’s bound to end ugly. The $38 million price tag and three-year term play a huge factor in how this will all play out. Judging by his comments, Tulo expects to contribute in an everyday capacity next year. There are no signs he’ll be able to do that. He isn’t even willing to change positions, which also puts the Blue Jays in a precarious position. This has the potential of a very ugly breakup.
When Tulo told reporters “If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home”, that sounds like someone who’s prepared to walk away from $38 million dollars if he’s healthy and doesn’t receive regular playing time. I didn’t interpret that as Tulo saying he would sit at home and collect a paycheque, but if he’s willing to forfeit close to $40 million because he’s forced into a diminished role, all the power to him.
His competitiveness is an honourable trait, but isn’t it a little arrogant to outright refuse a position change or an alternative role on the roster? Tulo turns 34 in October, he’s been gone for a year-and-a-half and there are two other fully-capable and much younger shortstops ahead of him on the depth chart. We’ve seen Russell Martin gracefully step aside and let Danny Jansen take the reins as the new catcher for the Jays. Why can’t Tulo do that for Diaz, Gurriel or potentially Bichette?
On the off-chance that he changes his mind, the Blue Jays could surely find a place for Tulowitzki somewhere on the roster. It’s not as though this team is expected to contend in the next few years anyway. Having an albatross of a contract like Tulo’s wouldn’t hamstring the Jays from doing whatever they need to do over the next three years.
His bat really only plays at the shortstop position, but in the event that a spot opens up at first base, that seems like the only other logical spot on the diamond for Tulo. But if he’s adamant about playing everyday shortstop, that’s a problem for the Blue Jays.
Call it crazy, but this could be Tulo’s way of strong-arming the Jays into pushing him out of Toronto anyway. The prospects of his playing time don’t look bright next year. He says he’ll be ready for Spring Training next year, but that was the story entering 2018, too.
We all know how that turned out.