Troy Tulowitzki Can Still Make Impact After Being Paid $38M NOT to Play

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2018

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 05:  Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium on July 5, 2017 in the Bronx borough of New York City. The Blue Jays defeated the Yankees 7-6.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Troy Tulowitzki is a five-time All-Star, three-time top-10 MVP finisher and two-time Gold Glove winner whose services are available for the MLB minimum salary.

If you're thinking there's a catch, there is. We'll get into that.

Tulowitzki could make a significant big league impact in 2019. He's your classic small-risk, big-reward gamble, and a contender in search of infield depth should sign him posthaste.

Tulowitzki held a workout Tuesday, and an array of teams were there with eyeballs peeled, per Yahoo Sports' Tim Brown.

How'd he look? Pretty darn good, according to both Brown and Yahoo Sports colleague Jeff Passan:

So why, exactly, is Tulowitzki available for a relative pittance, the same amount fresh-faced minor leaguers earn when they sip their first cups of coffee in the majors?

Because the Toronto Blue Jays are giving him $38 million not to play for them.

Outside the funhouse-mirror world of professional sports finances, that sounds preposterous. But it's true. On Dec. 11, the Jays released Tulowitzki. They'll pay the remaining $38 million they owe him because guaranteed contracts are indeed guaranteed.

Now, any team that takes a flier on him merely has to pony up the minimum while Toronto foots the rest of the bill.

Of course, there's a reason the Blue Jays decided to part ways with Tulo.

They acquired him from the Colorado Rockies in July 2015 to join a lineup that included Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. The goal was a World Series title.

Instead, he hit a scant .239 with a .697 OPS in 41 games for the Jays, who fell in the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals.

The following year, Tulo hit .254 with 24 homers, but he went 2-for-18 with no extra-base hits in Toronto's ALCS loss to the Cleveland Indians.

In 2017, he played in 66 games while battling a litany of injuries, including hamstring and ankle issues. Surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels wiped out his 2018 season.

Then, the release.

TORONTO, ON - JULY 28: Troy Tulowitzki #2 of the Toronto Blue Jays is helped off the field by trainers George Poulis and Mike Frostad after injuring his ankle in the third inning during MLB game action against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Rogers C
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Tulowitzki turned 34 in October. It's possible his recent injuries and underperformance are not a bump in the road but rather the beginning of an irreversible slide toward retirement.

On the other hand, in 2016, Tulowitzki matched his career average with a 34.2 percent hard-contact rate. In 2017, even with all the injuries, it stood at 30.2 percent.

He also posted 10 defensive runs saved at shortstop as recently as 2016 and wasn't a train wreck defensively in 2017, according to the metrics.

The point is, there may be gas sloshing in the tank, especially if he really is healthy. And any club that signs him won't have to pay much to find out.

The New York Yankees were among the teams that attended the workout and could consider Tulowitzki as a fallback if they fail to land superstar Manny Machado in free agency, per WFAN.

With shortstop Didi Gregorius sidelined following Tommy John surgery, it's possible there'd be room for Tulo in the Yanks infield (and certainly their budget) even if they do sign Machado.

The San Francisco Giants also had a heavy presence at the workout, with both executive Farhan Zaidi and manager Bruce Bochy on hand, per Brown.

The Giants are caught between a retool and a rebuild and are seemingly set with shortstop Brandon Crawford. Tulowitzki, however, would consider a change of position, according to MLB.com's Maria Guardado.

As with all possible suitors, the immediate question isn't where Tulowitzki would play but whether he can play at a high level. If he can, and you get him for peanuts, you figure the rest out later.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

Here are the other teams that sent representatives to watch Tulo take infield and batting practice, per Brown and other sources: the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Angels and San Diego Padres.

Some make more sense than others. But why would any club not be curious?

The Blue Jays are cutting the gaudy checks from afar. Tulowitzki was a perennial All-Star at a premium position in the not-too-distant past. He even showed flashes during his injury-marred years north of the border. Now, by recent accounts, he's moving well and feeling good.

"I think I needed to get myself right, mentally and physically," Tulowitzki said, per Brown. "I took a year off to get myself right. I'm looking forward to playing the game I love."

If he can play it even close to the way he used to, he'll be found money—quite literally—for some fortunate franchise.

                

All statistics and contract information courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

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