Troy Tulowitzki is Damaged Goods, but Still a Worthwhile Signing for Yankees

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman made it clear that, in the wake of the elbow surgery Didi Gregorius underwent, the shortstop position in the Bronx needed a temporary and serviceable fix. New York grabbed a once-elite infielder at the veteran’s minimum, and Yankees fans are still upset and confused.

Troy Tulowitzki isn’t Manny Machado, and reportedly, the signing of “Tulo” does not put the Yankees out of the running for the superstar infielder. But he is a potentially valuable signing for the very cheap price tag that accompanies him, with or without Machado.

After being limited to just 66 games in 2017, the 34-year-old missed the entirety of the 2018 season and was released by the Toronto Blue Jays this offseason. The former National League Gold Glove winner underwent surgery to correct bone spurs in both heels at the start of the season and was not healthy enough to get back on the field.

Tulowitzki had two years and $38 million remaining on the contract the Blue Jays absorbed after trading for the five-time All-Star in 2015, when the Colorado Rockies sent the shortstop over the northern border.

Troy Tulowitzki is the perfect no-risk, potentially high-reward signing for the @Yankees, regardless of a possible Manny Machado acquisition.Click To Tweet

Toronto GM Ross Atkins reportedly met with Tulowitzki’s agent at the Winter Meetings to discuss the shortstop’s future with the team, and later in the week, he pulled the trigger on the release of the oft-injured righty. Toronto is on the hook for all of the remaining money on his contract.

New York, however, sits in a pretty position. In signing Tulowitzki to a one-year contract at the veteran’s minimum, the Yankees are giving him $555,000 — which is essentially pocket change for that franchise — for his services. But what is the purpose in signing a guy who can’t play, or at least didn’t play all last season? Tulowitzki had been exercising at his alma mater, Long Beach State, and in December was scouted by 11 teams in a public workout at the California university.

Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports called him “light on his feet” and described a lively, healthy shortstop with all the tools of a major-league lineup anchor. With Gregorius on the shelf, and no better internal options, a guy who was once the best player at this position should be sufficient.

To reiterate from the top of the piece, this is a savvy signing whether Cashman can lock Machado down or not. Though Machado is dead-set on playing shortstop, he has actually performed much better defensively at third base. To trot out an infield of Machado, Tulowitzki, Gleyber Torres, and the transitioning Miguel Andujar at first base would be significantly better than Andujar at third, Machado at short, and Luke Voit at first with Torres at second.

Besides, Machado would likely have to shift to third base when Gregorius returns to the lineup, which is expected to happen prior to the mid-season All-Star break. In that scenario, a Machado/Gregorius/Torres/Andujar infield, with Tulowitzki off the bench as a platoon option thanks to his right-handed bat differing from Gregorius’ left-handedness, would be a killer offensive infield, without even mentioning Voit, who absolutely raked with the Yankees down the stretch last season (.333 average, 14 home runs, and 1.095 OPS in 33 games).

If the Yankees can’t lock down Machado, then Tulowitzki would still be a worthwhile addition to the infield defense, thanks to his career 93 Defensive Runs Saved. Even as recently as 2016, his last full season, Tulo was worth 10 DRS, which was good for fifth among shortstops in Major League Baseball that season. The Yankees will need him to be an above-average defensive player if they don’t get Machado, because Andujar (-25 DRS last season), Torres (-7.7 Ultimate Zone Rating), and Voit (-7 DRS) are all below-average on defense.

The Steamer600 model projects Tulowitzki to be exactly what the Yankees signed him for: a reliable bargain in a position of great need. The projections are given as though every player in baseball had precisely 600 at-bats over the season, and Tulo’s mark is good for 2.3 FanGraphs WAR, the same as Jean Segura and Marcus Semien, and a better number than Elvis Andrus and Dansby Swanson.

Offensively, Tulowitzki won’t be asked to do a whole lot of heavy lifting and will start the season in the bottom of the order, with or without Machado in the equation. In a lineup that features Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez, as well as the dangerous Andjuar and Torres among others, Tulo will not be required to hit 32 bombs and drive in 95 runs like he did in 2009 with Colorado.

Instead, the Steamer model has him hitting .255 with 11 home runs over 330 plate appearances. Compare that to the backup middle-infielders the Yankees had last season (Adeiny Hechavarria, Neil Walker, Tyler Wade), and Tulowitzki projects to be a far more valuable presence on offense as well as defense.

2019 Troy Tulowitzki (projected).25511981.3$555,000
2018 Adeiny Hechavarria.1942510.0$5,900,000 (mostly paid by TBR)
2018 Neil Walker.2191181-0.1$4,000,000
2018 Tyler Wade.167129-0.1$551,300

To put a cherry on top of it all, Tulowitzki has made his affinity for the New York Yankees clear before. His childhood idol Derek Jeter is the reason he plays shortstop and wears uniform number 2. In 2014, while on the disabled list, Tulowitzki caught a Yankees game just to watch the future Hall of Famer play. He clearly wants to play in pinstripes and will give it his all to compete for the team.

There are questions as to whether he is fit to play in 2019, or should just hang them up. Having sat out a whole season, those thoughts are valid. Troy Tulowitzki is damaged goods, but a wonderfully underrated bargain for a Yankees squad that has as good of a World Series chance as any team in the sport.

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