Troy Tulowitzki represents a unique and unexpected opportunity for a number of contenders this winter.
The former All-Star was released by the Toronto Blue Jays during the Winter Meetings, a surprising move despite the fact that Tulowitzki has not played since the middle of 2017 and was still owed $38 million over the next three years, including $20 million in the upcoming season.
After missing the entire 2018 season due to injuries to and surgery on both heels, Tulo is reportedly ready to play again. Still, Toronto was apparently ready to move on after getting just 238 games of .250/.313/.414 production over 3.5 years.
With the Jays on the hook for the rest of that money minus whatever he gets on his new contract, the opportunity is there for a contender — and at 34, Tulowitzki likely won’t sign with anyone who isn’t competing for a World Series title — to sign him for the league minimum in hopes that he can stay healthy enough to be a good depth piece or veteran bench bat.
According to multiple reports, the Brewers were one of those teams that have showed interest in the man Ryan Braun beat out for the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year award.
Jeff Passan listed the Brewers as one of a dozen teams that were at Tulowitzki’s workout on Tuesday, a mix of high-profile perennial contenders like the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs, and rebuilding clubs like the Padres and Tigers who would likely hope to flip him at the trade deadline. Robert Murray of The Athletic reports the Brewers sent a three-person contingent to Long Beach to check him out. There’s been doubt — including publicly from Toronto’s front office — that Tulo’s body can still handle playing shortstop, but Murray’s sources came away from the session impressed:
...During the workout, Tulowitzki looked very good, moving with relative ease throughout the infield said the source. A rival scout remarked that it was the best Tulowitzki had looked in years.
“Body looks great,” another source said. “Obviously, he has to overcome the injury history. But if he’s healthy, he can help.”
The Brewers’ interest in Tulowitzki would likely be as a stopgap at second base while they buy time for Keston Hiura to master Triple-A pitching (or, cynically, clear the Super Two deadline). It’s a position he’s never played as a professional, but is apparently open to considering if it means landing with a contender and helping that team win.
If — and let’s be clear, it is a big if — Tulowitzki were able to stay healthy enough to provide anything close to his old self, it’d be a steal at the league minimum, especially for a team like the Brewers that may not be interested in giving up the years or annual salary needed to land some of the other second base options on the free agent market. Even Tulowitzki’s production in his last full season — .254/.318/.443 in 131 games in 2016, including 24 home runs and 21 doubles — would be a bargain at that price.
Tulo is also unlikely to sign for anything other than one year as he looks to gain another multi-year deal after proving he can stay on the field. It’s those factors that make him an interesting option for the Brewers, who would prefer not to get tied down to a multi-year deal for someone who would be unlikely to help outside of second base after this year.
Even if he doesn’t get hurt, Tulowitzki is no guarantee to produce with the bat after a year and a half away from the field. But in that case, by the time the Brewers have a large enough sample to make an educated guess on what he has left, Hiura could be ready to take over and the Brewers could cut their losses while only being out the league minimum.
Considering it’s national signing day in college football, it’s probably fitting that landing Tulowitzki may come down to a classic recruiting pitch, considering every team will likely be offering the same thing in terms of a contract — it’s simply up to David Stearns and the Brewers to make the best sales pitch.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference