Troy Tulowitzki is a five-time All-Star, and has two Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers to his name. He was a runner up for the Rookie of the Year vote in 2007 (losing to some guy named Ryan Braun), and was arguably the face of the Colorado Rockies during his ten-year duration with the team.
Then he was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays and it has been a bumpy road for him since.
Tulowitzki has dealt with recurring injuries, and most recently missed the entire 2018 season due to bone spurs in both his heels. Though, according to Jeff Passan, he is currently in the best health he’s been in for ages, the Jays still unexpectedly released him on Tuesday afternoon, making him a free agent.
It just so happens that the Detroit Tigers are on the hunt for a shortstop, and Tulowitzki pretty quickly becomes an interesting target. There will be those who point to his recent spate of injuries as a reason to avoid him, and certainly they make a valid point. But don’t forget that the Tigers lost Jose Iglesias to shin issues that cost him the whole 2014 season, and he bounced back in 2015 to become an All-Star.
Let’s take a deeper look at the positives and negatives of signing Tulo.
Without question, Tulowitzki has had monstrous success as a shortstop in his career. While it’s hard to use certain assessments on active players, Tulowitzki ranks 26th of all time according to the JAWS list of shortstops. JAWS assesses the case for players entry into the Hall of Fame based on their peak WAR [Ed.: That we’re even talking about him in this stratosphere says enough, I think]. Tulowitzki’s JAWS rating is 42.2. To put it into perspective, beloved Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell is 11th of all time and has a 57.8 rating, while former Tigers first base coach Omar Vizquel is ranked 42nd with a rating of 36.2. All of this is just a fancy way to say: at his best, Tulowitzki is a very good shortstop.
Defensively, he was likely at his absolute best in his rookie season, when he had a DRS of +31 and a UZR of +15.1, but Tulowitzki has remained consistently reliable in the infield, and in his last full season in 2016 still managed a +10 DRS and +5.2 UZR. His injury shorted 2017 campaign is hard to judge because he certainly wasn’t playing with the same freedom of pain-free motion he had previously enjoyed.
From an offensive point of view Tulowitzki has has some incredible success, though much of it came during his time with the Rockies, when he was hitting over .300 for four seasons, and averaged .299/.371/.513 over ten years. When he moved to Toronto, he averaged .250/.313/.414 over three years. While it’s more likely that a team biting on Tulowitzki now could expect the latter results, he has certainly demonstrated some incredible power at the plate during his career, and a change of scenery might do great things to re-invigorate his bat.
In his last active season, Tulowitzki hit .249/.300/.378 over 66 games, with a wRC+ of only 79. Steamer projections suggest he’ll be at 99 in 2019. Though there is always, as mentioned, the chance for an incredible bounceback, it’s far more likely that these are the results one could expect offensively from him going forward.
His lackluster 2017 defense appears to be an anomaly, and it’s likely he’ll fare better on that front in 2019, though by how much is uncertain. However it seems a fair bet he wouldn’t be a defensive liability, which is better than many of the free agent targets the Tigers have available currently.
His injury history, of course, is the biggest strike against him, and the leading cause of concern if the Tigers decide to take a chance on the 34-year-old. Aside from the 2018 bone spurs, he missed much of the 2017 season as well with a wide array of issues, from a hamstring injury, to a groin issue, to an ankle sprain that put him on the 60-day disabled list. The Tigers are not strangers to players battling frequent injuries — just look at Daniel Norris — but if they’re going to bite on signing a big-name free agent like Tulowitzki, they’d be doing it knowing there’s a risk of him being a frequent visitor to the DL.
Then there’s a question of how much it would cost for the Tigers to sign him, and if it would even be feasible on their self-restricted budget. Had Tulowitzki continued with the Jays, he would have been paid $20 million for 2019. Given his injury history and the Jays willingness to eat $38 million (for 2019, $14 million in 2020, and the $4 million 2021 buyout), it’s unlikely he can expect to make anything close to that, but even an average free agent salary might be more than the Tigers are willing to shell out.
Still, it would be fun to see Tulowitzki out on the Comerica infield, especially if he can remain healthy.