TORONTO — Now that Troy Tulowitzki has officially thrown in the towel on his 2018 season, the conversation turns to the future.
What, exactly, can the battered and broken former superstar offer the Toronto Blue Jays as he approaches his 34th birthday in October?
We know the production isn’t going to come close to matching the bank deposits Tulowitzki will be making over the next two years, as he’s still owed a whopping $38 million guaranteed through the end of the 2020 season.
After having an entire season washed away by surgery in the first week of April to remove debilitating bone spurs from both feet, if Tulowitzki somehow makes it onto the 2019 opening day roster it will have been 20 months since he played in a competitive game.
Tulowitzki’s plan is to be ready for spring training next February.
But with the Jays’ competitive window now closed and the reins being handed to the kids, it’s impossible to see a way Tulowitzki fits.
GM Ross Atkins doesn’t really have an answer, either.
“It’s hard to say,” Atkins said. “Obviously, he’s got an incredible track record and he’s got an incredible presence on the field on a couple of teams and has a presence in the clubhouse — but he has to play. Until he plays, we really can’t answer that. Once we see him playing in games and playing at a high level, then we can start to factor in what that means.”
Tulowitzki envisions being the starting shortstop, and he won’t entertain the idea of playing anywhere else.
Tulowitzki staying at shortstop has been a career-long question.
Each and every time, he’s proven to be right, piling up 38.2 fWAR at the position and paving the way for a number of non-prototypical body types to shine at shortstop.
But this time might be different, if only because Father Time is still undefeated.
“I just said I’m a shortstop,” Tulowitzki said firmly when asked if he’d be open to playing other positions if the club approached him with the idea. “If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home. I do think I bring a lot more than what you guys see out there, too, and that’s part of baseball. There’s stuff behind the scenes that go on. There’s things I try to help teammates with. I think I do bring a veteran leadership. Those things shouldn’t go unnoticed.”
With the beating his lower body has taken over the past 13 months alone, it’s hard to envision a way his already-diminished range could return to the point where he’d be considered an asset defensively.
When you combine that with his cratering offensive production, it doesn’t paint a pretty picture.
Atkins, however, believes that he’s still a shortstop.
“Yeah, I mean, if he’s playing,” Atkins said. “If he just gets back 90 per cent of his agility — because of his arm strength, because of his arm accuracy, because of his intelligence, because of preparation — there’s no doubt in my mind he could play shortstop.
“I think so much of his value is there. He’s not a .900 OPS anymore. He’s been in the low-to-mid .700s the last couple of years when he’s healthy, so a lot of his value is at shortstop.”
At this point, one thing seems certain: Tulowitzki is not open to the Russell Martin end-of-career template, playing multiple positions and remaking himself into a utility player.
Whether it’s Aledmys Diaz, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., or Bo Bichette, the Jays have made it a priority to build middle infield depth, and some of that is starting to bubble up to the major-league level.
The reason Tulowitzki won’t be packing his bags and going home is the $38 million he’s scheduled to make over the next two years.
After earning $20 million to rehab in Dunedin this year, Tulowitzki will make another $20 million in 2019.
In 2020, the salary drops to $14 million, before the Jays hand him a $4 million buyout in order to get out of the final year of the deal, which is worth $15 million.
If Tulowitzki retires or goes home, the Jays are off the hook.
That’s not going to happen, despite the threats.
It’s more likely that Tulowitzki’s going to spend his final days in a Jays’ uniform as a highly paid reminder of the 2015 postseason run and what it took to get there.