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Photo Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Tulowitzki is delusional if he thinks he’ll play everyday shortstop in 2019

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.

  • Sammy the Bull

    1. At the time the Jays made the deal for Tulo, Reyes had become borderline unplayable at SS, and yet because of his stature he was going to play and was ‘above’ being replaced defensively late in games. In other words in order to replace him on the roster you needed to bring in someone with enough cache in the game that Reyes’ superstar friends & teammates would have a difficult time complaining too much about the move.

    2. When they acquired him my view was that Tulo was a clear upgrade over Reyes at the current time, but that his contract would age just as poorly as we were seeing with Reyes. This happened even more quickly than I expected.

    3. It’s unfortunate that Tulo has become a punchline in Toronto, because it overshadows what a star he was for so long. The guy was a gold glove SS who hit like a 1B, and he was good from the jump — there’s a reason he got a guaranteed contract much larger than late-bloomers like Bautista and Donaldson have / will received. Unfortunately Toronto fans never saw that version of Tulo.

    4. My prediction is that we never see Troy take the field again as a Blue Jay. In the off-season the Jays will pay him his $38m to part company, so that (1) they can turn the position over to Lourdes and see if he can do the job; and (2) Tulo can try to hook on with a team at the MLB minimum and see what he has left. His presence just does not make sense on a team that will be giving SS/3B/2B at-bats next year to Gurriel, Diaz, Drury, Vlad, and Russ, with most of the 1B/DH time still allocated to Smoak and Morales (I am assuming that they also move on from Solarte and Travis this winter).

    • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

      Rogers will never agree to swallow 38 million like that. Tulo will be arounf until they exercise his buy out. Just can’t see Rogers acting like the Yankees or Sox.

      • Sammy the Bull

        1. In 2009 they did walk away from the BJ Ryan contract by releasing him with 1.5 years left on his deal, though the numbers were smaller (closer to $15m as opposed to Tulo’s $38m); and

        2. It is easier for Shapiro to make the ask in this case since it was not his regime that acquired the player (and his contract), unlike Riccardi and the Ryan deal.

        • Paul Beestons Grass Surface

          As you said, closer to 15 million than 38. No it won’t happen. It’s Rogers. At best they may say fine but it comes out of next years budget. And thats assuming a healthy enough budget to swallow that. No way Jose. I think, coming from a budget standpoint, that they hope Tulo does not win the starting job next year and he sticks to his word and walks away. But man I think it would be hard to walk away from that kind of money for anyone. But Tulo seems to be the type to stick to his word. If not we will have an expensive left fielder and/or first baseman or back up fb. Who knows either way, time will tell.

  • Jerome

    I think you’re being WAY too quick to anoint Diaz and Gurriel.
    A- Diaz… not that good. At his best he’s a poor man’s Tulo (surprisingly good D, power when he actually connects)
    B- Gurriel (recent hot streak not-withstanding) is no every day SS. What has he shown other than a hot two weeks? Even his minor league numbers… meh.
    C- Bichette in the majors in 2018? hahaha
    hahahah
    hahahahhaa
    You’ll be lucky to get more than 3 months of Vlad.

    Just because you haven’t seen him in a year, don’t forget when on the field Tulo is better than what they’ve been forced to play with this season.

    Diaz is SOLIDLY average at best…

    2018 Blue jays starting SS (at least for maybe … half? the games) should be Tulo.

    • Sammy the Bull

      – I didn’t mention Bo; he hasn’t seen Buffalo yet so I think he will spend most of 2019 there;

      – Why only 3 months of Vlad? By the numbers he could be called up in mid-April and the team will have guaranteed the 7th year of control. You’re thinking we don’t see him until July?

      – In my view the best case scenario for Tulo at this point is his 2016 season — 130 games played, 760 OPS. Diaz is OPS-ing 750 this year, so you are correct, he has done a reasonable impersonation of what Tulo provided in his only full season in Toronto. And this is leaving out that his OPS was down to 680 in 2017.

      – But yes, Gurriel is the guy I really want to see at SS. Next year there is no pretense to contending — it’s all about seeing which of these guys can be a contributor to the next potential Blue Jays playoff team, and Gurriel is certainly an intriguing talent in that regard, and as such I’d much rather see him get the bulk of the time at SS as opposed to Tulo.

  • TomK421

    Well I mean…. sure. If he’s physically able to be an everyday SS the job is his. When he’s healthy he’s great. But if he can’t do it he won’t be.

  • Jerome

    If you want to win an argument with me, please never quote OPS. It’s a broken bad math stat that tells you nothing. It should be stricken from the vocabulary of baseball!!! It’s only redeeming quality is it can be easily calculated but if you remember back to 5th grade, you may remember a thing called a “common denominator”. OBP and SLG do not have this. Do not add them together and expect me to respect your point.

  • CashGameND

    in my opinion the only real issue with Tulo starting at SS will be whenever they think bo is ready early in 2019 or 2020.

    Donaldson won’t be back by the looks of things (all indications are they’ll do anything to trade him this week, if not, they’ll not bother giving him a QO after this season). So that leaves a hole at 3rd.

    And I could see them possibly trading Travis in the offseason (do you really want to 2 injury prone guys starting up the middle of your infield? taking reps from gurriel) And Travis actually has good value after finally playing a healthy season & playing well in the 2nd half. And the fact the jays can move on from Travis, they can’t really trade Tulo & won’t want to just pay him 40m to walk away 2 years early

    Vladdy will be the starting 3B in april, so thats 1 less spot for Gurriel to get reps as well.

  • Manny b

    I think everyone is missing the crux of Tulo’s argument, including Ian.

    “If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home”,

    That’s someone having supreme confidence in themselves. You can call it delusional, overly optimistic, etc, and I would agree with you. But that’s his opinion and he’s entitled to it. He goes out of his way to praise other players and to welcome competition. He goes to on to say he will be mocked for his views and he’ll use that as motivation.

    How is any of this arrogance?

    Tulo is not saying he deserves to be the shortstop because of money, reputation, etc. He believes he’s the best shortstop because of his abilities. Period. And he’d rather retire than change positions.

    Ian, I don’t see how you inferred from Tulo’s comments the opinions of the article.

    What am I missing?

  • Nice Guy Eddie

    1. Tulo is not going to walk away from $38 million if he doesn’t win the shortstop job. That would be the easiest decision for the team to make in the history of decisions. If they could get rid of his contract by giving the shortstop job to someone else, they’d tell him that today. Even if Tulo was crazy enough to do so, the PA would go nuts.

    2. Whoever thinks Rogers is going to block his release has no clue. Rogers didn’t hire Shapiro so they could micro-manage his decisions. And the reason to release him is because he isn’t going to play again and he takes up a spot on the 40-man roster. They will have to pay Tulo $38 million either way, so they are not going to tell Shapiro that he has to keep ‘Dead Parrot Tulo’ on the 40-man roster and lose the roster spot pointlessly.

    • Manny b

      I agree with #1. I also agree with #2 to a certain extent.

      But why would any FO release Tulo before he takes the field next spring? The 40th spot on the roster is not worth $38M.

      • Nice Guy Eddie

        Because Tulowitzki isn’t worth anything. I agree that the roster spot on the 40 man isn’t worth $38 million. But Tulowitzki takes up the spot, takes the $38 million and will provide nothing at all. At his very best, he’ll play for a short time over someone else who is now a better player both defensively and offensively. But MUCH more likely, he doesn’t play at all, takes the $38 million and the roster spot. They have to deal with what’s most likely because they’re playing with live ammunition, not looking in hindsight two years from now. Anyone could see in 2015 that he was a terrible contract given his injury and DL history and should have made decisions based on that. Now, they have to make smart decisions for the future. The LEAST likely future, is one where Tulo returns to being a healthy, above average player. By far the LEAST likely.

  • Steve-O

    Hang on. It’s a bit of a stretch to simply state that Diaz and Gurriel are both automatically above Tulo on the SS depth chart in 2019. Tulo’s hitting has certainly diminished, but his defense is still very good. If he is truly healthy at the start of the 2019 season, why wouldn’t he be the everyday SS?

    Bichette could eventually supplant him, but if the Vladdy saga has taught us anything, we’re talking 2020 before that happens. And a transition season where Tulo hands over the reigns to Bichette (much like I think the Jays will handle the catching duties to Jansen while having Martin as a backup/mentor) sounds pretty appealing to me.

    I think reports of Tulo’s demise are greatly exaggerated. All-World Tulo isn’t coming back, but current version Decent Tulo may still be the team’s best SS.