I thought the first announcement from the Yankees in the New Year would be a deal for Manny Machado even though I want Bryce Harper more and really want both of them. I didn’t think the first announcement would be a deal for Troy Tulowitzki.
I wanted Tulowitzki to be a Yankee … in 2015. After Derek Jeter’s retirement and Didi Gregorius’ embarrassing start to his Yankees tenure, it seemed like Tulowitzki and his enormous contract the Rockies could no longer afford were a perfect fit for a team used to giving out and taking on albatross contracts. But Tulowitzki ended up in Toronto, along with David Price, and seemingly every other player available at the 2015 trade deadline, and the Blue Jays erased an eight-game deficit in 15 days at end of the July and beginning of August.
But that was more than three years ago. Back when the Blue Jays traded for Tulowitzki, he was a 30-year-old, who had just appeared in the All-Star Game and was batting .300/.348/.471. Now, he’s a 34-year-old, who missed all of 2018 and missed 96 games in 2017, playing just 66 of a possible 324 games over the last two years. Health has never been a skill of Tulowitzki’s as he has missed significant time in each of his major league seasons, including his prime years.
Tulowitzki spent most of last offseason rehabbing an ankle injury before bone spurs were discovered in his right foot and then his left foot. He had surgery in the first week of the season and was expected to return in June before missing the entire season. (Jacoby Ellsbury would be proud.) The Yankees watched Tulowitzki work out at both shortstop and second base in December. They must have seen enough from the former Gold Glover to believe he is past the recent ankle and foot injuries to think he could step in and play nearly every day until Didi Gregorius returns sometime in the summer.
The old Yankees fan in me loves the move to sign Tulowitzki despite his long list of career injuries because of the low-risk, high-reward potential. If Tulowitzki is his old self, the Yankees just added a star at the league minimum $555,000. If Tulowitzki sucks, they can release him and only lose out on $555,000. But that’s the old Yankees fan in me.
The new Yankees fan in me worries that if Tulowitzki sucks and they have to release him, that $555,000 will prevent them from a midseason move to help an area of need midseason. The Yankees once again seem set on being under the luxury-tax threshold and every penny matters with Hal Steinbrenner’s new way of doing business. A league minimum contract shouldn’t prevent other business, but a 100-win team in the middle of a pennant race thought it was acceptable to start Shane Robinson in the outfield for the month of August.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 2 when it comes to worrying that the Tulowitzki might somehow ruin the acquisition of an impact player during the season. But I’m a 7 when it comes to worrying that the Yankees are now less interested in signing Manny Machado. A league minimum deal shouldn’t be an obstacle or alternative plan to signing a superstar for his entire prime, but no one can say for sure how the Yankees are going to operate, though recent history suggests the Yankees are going to pass on both Machado and Harper because of tax issues.
The Yankees haven’t done anything to show they are once again worried about going over the threshold. This offseason they have shopped in the bargain bin and on the clearance rack, so far, avoiding any big-money contracts. They re-signed Brett Gardner to a $7.5 million deal and then Brian Cashman cited a “crowded outfield” as to why the team isn’t in on Harper. They brought back CC Sabathia on a one-year, $8 million contract and then traded for James Paxton, only to not come away with Patrick Corbin, the best pitcher available on the free-agent market. Once Corbin went off the board, they turned to J.A. Happ, who was exceptional as a Yankee in the regular season, but is also a 36-year-old fastball-heavy pitcher with declining metrics around his fastball. Now with a chance to add one or possibly two 26-year-old generational talents to their lineup, the Yankees seem to be in no better position than the Dodgers, Phillies or White Sox to come away with a game-changing player this offseason.
Tulowitzki was once a star and maybe there is some of that star left in him. Maybe he is finally healthy and a change of scenery and playing for the team he has wanted to play for in the same infield spot his idol used to play at will revitalize his career. But to think a player who missed 442 of 1,296 games (34 percent) during his age 25-32 seasons and then missed his entire age 33 season is somehow going to stay healthy during his age 34 season is an incredible risk to take. I have a hard time believing the Yankees of all teams, in the middle of a championship window, are going to settle for patching up holes on their roster with reclamation projects.
For now, the addition of Tulowitzki is a move Yankees fans should be happy with. That happiness might not last depending on how the rest of the Yankees offseason goes.