TORONTO — Troy Tulowitzki had no plans to be anything but a starting shortstop upon his return from injury. The Toronto Blue Jays felt it was unlikely he’d be able to play regularly at an above-average level.
On Tuesday, the Blue Jays made the final move by giving the veteran infielder his release.
“Through many conversations with Troy and his representative Paul Cohen, and with consideration to what is in the best interest of both sides, we made the decision to release Troy today,” general manager Ross Atkins said in a statement.
The unexpected development came in the middle of this week’s annual winter meetings at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino Resort in Las Vegas.
A serious ankle injury and surgery to both heels kept Tulowitzki out of the lineup for the last season and a half. He has been working out with college players of late and Atkins said last week that Tulowitzki was recovering well but his return date was uncertain.
It’s not a cheap cut. Tulowitzki has two years and US$34 million remaining on his contract along with a $4-million buyout on a $15-million club option for 2021.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., is the favourite to land the starting shortstop position for 2019 with Richard Urena the likely backup. Prospect Bo Bichette is coming off a solid year at double-A and could be the team’s shortstop of the future.
Atkins was quite blunt last week when asked about the likelihood of Tulowitzki being able to play regularly at the standard the Blue Jays would need.
“Candidly, and I think Troy would agree with me, that that is not likely,” Atkins said at a meeting of the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “He will have to overachieve to play shortstop at an above-average level with above-average offensive performance for 140 games. That would be unlikely based on what has occurred in the last two and a half years.
“But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to do it. But candidly, I don’t think that’s likely.”
At the time, Atkins added that all of the team’s reports on Tulowitzki’s progress were positive, but that it was too early to say what he might be capable of in a big-league setting.
Tulowitzki was acquired in a July 2015 trade with Colorado by then-GM Alex Anthopoulos, who made a number of trade deadline moves that propelled Toronto’s return to the playoffs for the first time in 22 years.
The Rockies also sent LaTroy Hawkins to the Blue Jays in the deal with Jose Reyes, Jesus Tinoco, Miguel Castro and Jeff Hoffman going to Colorado.
Tulowitzki was an upgrade on the aging Reyes at shortstop and gave the Blue Jays a clubhouse leader with post-season experience.
He also helped the Blue Jays return to the American League Championship Series a year later, batting .462 with five RBIs in Toronto’s three-game sweep of Texas in the AL Division Series.
Tulowitzki posted rather pedestrian numbers in the first half of the 2017 season before an ankle injury in a late July game ended his year. He sustained ligament damage after rolling his ankle while trying to beat out an infield single.
The five-time all-star had bone spurs removed from his heels in the following off-season and didn’t play a game in 2018 as the Blue Jays missed the post-season for the second straight year.
In a media availability at Rogers Centre last August, Tulowitzki made it quite clear that he had no interest in being a part-time player or taking on another position.
“I just said I’m a shortstop. If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home,” he said.
With his release, Tulowitzki becomes a free agent. Over 12 seasons with Toronto and Colorado, he has a career batting average of .290 with 224 home runs and 779 runs batted in.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press