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Bucco Breakfast: Is It Worth Kicking The Tires On Tulo?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Workouts Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Tulowitzki may not be an All-Star anymore, but he could be a low-risk gamble at a position of need.

For the first time in his professional career, Troy Tulowitzki is without a job. In a somewhat unexpected move, the Toronto Blue Jays released him during the Winter Meetings last week after he missed all of 2018 with a heel injury. While he’s always had an injury problem, this may be the most detrimental to his career. His ceiling is not as high now and his floor is much lower. The trade off is the risk of employing him is significantly lower now, too.

Since his contract with Toronto was guaranteed (like all non-arbitration major league deals), Tulo’s first dip into free agency will be interesting to say the least. Dollar wise, he can not make a nickel more or less than $600,000 with his new club, so secondary factors will determine where he lands. His first choice- the Oakland Athletics- is based on location, but they don’t seem interested right now. If they never call, an opportunity to play every day may become an even more valuable negotiating chip for a potential suitor.

The Pirates are still in the shortstop market, which makes sense since their internal options don’t inspire much confidence. The projection tool Steamer forecasts Kevin Newman to be worth 1.1 WAR (over 524 PAs) in 2019 and Erik Gonzalez at 0.2 WAR (over 262 PAs). While new rumors are currently centering around Freddy Galvis, perhaps Tulowitzki is the better fit.

Tulowitzki already has a connection to the team in Clint Hurdle. The Pirates’ skipper was his first big league manager in Colorado. The two may not have ended their relationship on the best of terms, with Hurdle benching him in 2009 as a last ditch effort to spark a struggling Rockies team and save his job. The relationship may not be perfect, but if there is any hope that bridge is still in tact, it may be time for Hurdle to send a feeler text.

While most of the buzz around Tulowitzki will be because of his “intangibles,” like veteran leadership for the young middle infielders or his big game experience, it undersells his playing abilities. There may be some juice left in the orange. Even after the missed season, Steamer projects Tulo to be arguably the best non-Machado shortstop on the market.

Courtesy of FanGraphs.

It’s worth mentioning Steamer’s 1.3 WAR projection for Tulowitzki is over 330 PAs. If he was to stay healthy, play at that pace and get around 600 PAs, Tulowitzki would be worth a full WAR more. Out of the 38 shortstops who received at least 300 PAs last year, only 17 were worth at least 2 WAR. That would put him near the middle of the pack.

Of course, health has always been a big *if* for Tulowitzki, especially after missing all of 2018. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported on Dec. 11 that he is in his best health “in a long time.” While the report is promising, it isn’t necessarily a guarantee that he is in the right shape to play a full season at one of the most demanding positions.

To be fair, he was holding his own with the glove before his heel injury. In 2016, he ranked in the top 10 among shortstops in defensive runs saved (10, 5th), fielding percentage (.983, 6th) and UZR (10th, 5.2). In 2017, he still graded as a mostly average fielder among his fellow shortstops. Still, he has been open that he may need to explore other positions if he wants to get playing time. With the rest of the Pirates’ starting infield pretty much set, it’s doubtful he will settle for a backup utility role.

I don’t see Tulowitzki being much more than a 2-2.5 WAR player at best, and he seems just as likely to hover around replacement level instead. But at a cost of just $600,000 and a roster spot, there really isn’t a downside to trying to bring him to Pittsburgh. Assuming, of course, that he is in playing shape.

Daily Links:

First, a tip of the cap to Bucs Dugout’s Jason Rollison for connecting the Pirates to Freddy Galvis weeks ago. There’s a post on Galvis from him going live this afternoon, so stay tuned.

This story is from August, but Jay Jaffe looked at Tulowitzki and age 30-something shortstops who returned after missing a whole season. Perhaps my cautious optimism in Tulo is misplaced.

Do you need a last second gift for the baseball fan in your life (or for yourself)? Dreams Fulfilled- a group organizing the celebration of the upcoming Negro Leagues centennial- is running a Kickstarter to make bobbleheads of some all-time great players. Part of the proceeds will go to the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City and the families of the players.