“Perplexing.” That’s one of the words Dan O’Dowd used to describe the Blue Jays decision to buy Troy Tulowitzki out of his contract yesterday. Two interesting things about that observation : one, O’Dowd had some insight into “Tulo” and what he can do. He was the General Manager of Colorado through 2014, seeing him play in his prime. Two, that observation was made in a video on the Blue Jays official website! And good reader, when the baseball team’s official promotional site can’t figure out what the heck the GM (Ross Atkins) is doing, it’s time for a clean sweep at front office. Atkins and his boss, Mark Shapiro, who came in at the same time as Atkins, from the same Cleveland organization need to go, faster than a wonky-ankled infielder.
For those not following the news, the team decided to release outright one-time superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Given his injury problems of late (surgery on both feet last year kept him out of the lineup for the whole season) that might at first glance make sense. What doesn’t make sense is that he was still under contract for a whopping $38 million through 2020 (with a buyout included in there) and as the team admits they “are on the hook for that full amount.” Thus they have paid Troy $38 million to go and twiddle his thumbs for the next two years. Should another team decide to pick him up and put him on their roster (as O’Dowd predicts ten teams will attempt to do), they will only have to pick up about $500 thousand of the total… toronto would then be paying him in the range of $37M or more to play… for a rival! Great.
Atkins refers to the 5-time All Star Tulo as “professional and respectful.” Teammate Marcus Stroman, never one to mince words, declared Troy an “unreal clubhouse presence…one of the best baseball minds I’ve ever encountered” and stated his career would be far from over. O’Dowd, who still keeps in contact with his former star, says TT appears to be in great health and is working out to be in game shape by spring. Yet Atkins still declares paying him to go away “the best interest of the organization.” Perplexing to say the least. Downright dumb to say the most.
Now, there are a couple of caveats Atkins has seemed quick to point out this fall. The Jays, coming out of the 2018 season, had a logjam of middle infielders, too many to have them all on the team. Since then he “non-tendered” Yangervis Solarte, making him a free agent, and traded Aldemys Diaz for a non-descript minor leaguer. With Tulo now gone, the Jays could actually be in the position to be shorthanded in April if even one remaining infielder (either major league or budding-superstar, aka Vladimir Guerrero Jr,or Bo Bichette) should get injured. As well, Tulowitzki, just turned 34, is not all that likely to return to his peak, MVP-caliber play. A career .290 hitter with an .856 OPS and Gold Glove-winning defence, has been on the downslope since his mammoth 2014 year with the Rockies. that year he hit .340, had an OPSof a head-turning 1.035 and managing to hit into only 4 double plays all year. His WAR that year was 5.5 according to Baseball-reference. In 2017, in the half season he played with Toronto, he hit just .249, ground into 10 DPs and had a microscopic WAR of 0.1. Anybody who sees him contending for a batting title or driving in over 100 runs, like he did in 2011, is delusional.
That said, if healthy, he can still play baseball. There’s little doubt to that. As Stroman says, he’s a great mature clubhouse presence that would be invaluable on a roster of young kids. He doesn’t buckle under pressure either. After a so-so initiation to Toronto in the latter months of the ’15 season, he came through in the playoffs with a pivotal homer in game 3 of the ALDS and ended up with 11 RBI in 11 games. Ousted manager John Gibbons, in his going-away comments suggested the Jays would have not only not beaten Texas in the 2015 ALDS, but wouldn’t have even made the playoffs without the trade for Troy. Not hard to argue with, since Gibby was right there and Tulowitzki replaced Jose Reyes, who by that point was a huge negative on the field, with a virtual “iron glove” and an attitude. Reyes last year, by the way, hit .189 for the Mets and had a negative WAR, for the third time in the last four years. Probably makes him mad enough to go and beat his wife… which leads to his domestic violence suspension, but that’s a tangent for another day. Point is, Tulo’s Toronto days haven’t been all for naught.
As it stands, the Jays are projecting to begin the year with Lourdes Gurriel as the shortstop and Richard Urena, rapidly becoming a “veteran utility man” as the backup there and at second. Kendrys Morales will be the DH for the third year. Gurriel was promising last year , so no problem with that. But if healthy- and all indications suggest he will be – Tulowitzki is a better hitter than Urena or Morales. If you’re going to pay him anyway, why not have him as the backup infielder/DH , ready to go in case of injury? He’d add some value to the team, to the clubhouse and while it might be annoying to pay around $18M to have a player do that (and about the same in 2020), it’s not as annoying as paying him $18M to do nothing at all. Something is better than nothing. Perplexing indeed.
With the added announcement of a tentative deal for JA Happ and the Yankees, despite Toronto attempting to re-sign him and despite Atkins’ admission that starting pitching is weak to bad right now with the Jays, with their seeming indifference to star Canadian pitcher James Paxton being traded by Seattle when he would have liked to pitch in Canada, the one thing not perplexing is whether or not Toronto’s current administration is up to the task of making a winning, or at least contending team. They’re not. Toronto fans deserve better.
The Jays apparent concept that they shouldn’t even try to win in 2019, despite having two of the best prospects in the game readying to appear, is all too symptomatic of the malaise of MLB these days. We’ve seen too many teams in the last two years either deliberately “tank”- lose to save money or else get good draft picks – or at least make a conscious decision to not try to contend. It all ties into the reason attendance last year was down by over a million in Toronto and was under 70 million overall in MLB for the first time since 2003. The 69.6M fans through the gate was well below the 73.8M in 2015. But with ticket prices that continue to rise, making a night out for a family, once hotdogs and a beer for Dad, colas for the kids are worked in, equivalent to a second hand car loan, and teams which flat out refuse to try to provide a winner for the fans, where is the incentive to go out to the old ballgame in many cities? Fix those things, Rob Manfred, before throwing a pitch clock on the dugout wall or trying to ban “the shift.”