Troy Tulowitzki was once one of the great shortstops of the game.
Through nine seasons (2008-2016), Tulowitzki amassed 38.2 fWAR, had a whopping 93 defensive runs saved and only finished below average at the plate in one season: his 2008 debut.
One of those seasons included a 5.2 fWAR-performance in 2014 while only logging 375 plate appearances in 91 games.
In that time, his accolades included five All-Star appearances and two Gold Gloves.
His career trajectory seemed to have him destined for Cooperstown.
Then came the injuries.
Tulo’s 2017 was riddled with various ailments, including problems with his hamstring, groin and ankles. A final ankle injury showed ligament damage and put a cap on a disappointing season, one where he was subpar with the bat, average with the glove and finished with 0.1 fWAR in 260 PA.
Last season was even worse on the health front, as Tulowitzki had surgery to remove bone spurs in both heels in April, never making it onto the field in 2018.
At this point, Tulo hasn’t played at any level since July of 2017. He’s now headed into his age-34 season having lost the past two years to pretty frequent lower-half injuries.
The combination of poor performance and durability issues led the Blue Jays to release Tulowitzki Tuesday, still owing him $38 million over the next two years.
I can’t hear Tulowitzki’s name without immediately thinking of the almost-annual trade rumors stating the Cardinals’ interest in the player earlier this decade.
Looking back, it seems like a good choice to have held off. There’s no real way of knowing if the front office had hesitations given their own research and thoughts on Tulo’s durability, or if it was a case of not wanting to part with prospects at the time. Either way, Tulowitzki’s contract would’ve been yet another that fans would be listing when they talk about the Mike Leakes, Brett Cecils and Greg Hollands of the past few years.
Still, it’s intriguing to think of Tulowitzki wearing the birds on the bat.
Any team can now sign the shortstop for the league minimum. Naturally, then, a lot of fans and bloggers from teams around the league are saying this same thing. It’s basically becoming an issue of fit on a roster.
Tulowitzki’s bat may very well have already been on the decline before injuries hit. His 2015 season at the plate, where he posted 101 wRC+, was extremely different than 2013 and 2014 where those numbers were 141 and a ridiculous 170, respectively.
2016 was a bit improved, but roughly the same, at 104 wRC+.
The thing is, his defense was still excellent.
Tulo was a walking web gem when he was healthy and in his prime. Even then, though, he had 10 DRS in his 2016 season. With a slightly above-average bat and that defense, Tulo was a three-win player.
2017 is hard to judge given the injuries. They were concentrated in the lower half of his body, which is never something you want to see with your plus-defender shortstop. That being said, though, DRS didn’t have him as an outright liability, with 0 in that season. Playing through injuries to the hamstring, groin and ankles and still being a league-average shortstop in your 30s is not bad.
If one has reason to believe his defense was suffering because of those injuries, Tulo could be a pretty great prize for anyone willing to put down the pocket change necessary to put him on the roster.
Moreover, one would think he would be willing to try his hand at third or possibly second to increase appeal. If Tulowitzki adopted a utility role, returned to his plus defense and was anywhere near average at the plate, that would be an excellent signing at the league minimum.
The problem with the Cardinals, of course, is that it’s not easy to find a place for him.
With the addition of Goldschmidt and the subsequent shifting of Carpenter to third, the starting jobs at the corners are taken.
Paul DeJong and his contract extension are entrenched at short for the time being—and he should be, given his great performance in an injury-shortened season. DeJong had 14 DRS and an UZR/150 of 9.3. He’s only getting better with the glove and his offense is sure to improve in 2019.
Kolten Wong’s glove shined in 2018, nearly a three-win player in just 127 games last season.
Really, Tulowitzki would have to come into the season as a bench bat. With Yairo Muñoz, Jedd Gyorko and now Drew Robinson on the 25-man roster, the front office may see the infield bench bats as solidified.
I think it would be a mistake to say so.
Even with the injuries, both Depth Charts and Steamer project Tulowitzki to provide more value than Muñoz. I get that the appeal with Muñoz is his ability to slot in virtually anywhere, but the Cardinals have exciting young bats like Tyler O’Neill who should be drawing those extra outfield starts. If the José Martínez trade rumors come to fruition, there’s room on the bench for that to happen while still accommodating someone like Tulowitzki. With Muñoz still having minor league options, the team doesn’t risk losing a player in the process.
The other factor is, of course, Tulowitzki’s desire for playing time.
He could very well only want to go to a team where he’ll get to start. Teams with more budget constraints and less of a chance of contending in 2019 would probably jump at the opportunity.
Then, though, comes the issue of his desire to play for a contender.
If Tulo wants to win, and doesn’t care about getting 500 to 600 plate appearances, then the Cardinals would be a good fit.
Tulowitzki could very well be into his decline and lacking durability. He could also be a player whose performance has been hampered by injury, ready to bounce back.
The front office is always stressing utilizing low-risk moves to generate value. Having the possibility of a revitalized Troy Tulowitzki—even at 34 years old—for the league minimum is exactly one of those moves.