This whole offseason, the Yankees have needed to add to their infield depth. In addition to needing a full-time replacement for the injured Didi Gregorius, the bench options on the Yankees’ roster were quite uninspiring. The Bombers finally addressed this issue late Tuesday night, taking a flyer on 34-year-old shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. He is far from the All-Star he once was, but signing him for the league minimum, somewhere around $600,000, is an extremely low-risk, potentially high reward move.
It’s important to understand that the Yankees don’t see Tulowitzki as a viable starting shortstop. If he becomes one again, then great! But for the minimum dollar they’re paying him and the persistent rumors that they’re still in on Manny Machado, it seems that the Yankees only expect Tulowitzki to contribute as a bench player in 2019.
In that respect, the Yankees basically made a business decision to pay the injury-prone but higher-upside Tulowitzki a relatively insignificant $600,000 rather than to invest anywhere from $2-$5 million on other, safe but stale infield options like Josh Harrison, Adeiny Hechavarria, Asdrubal Cabrera or Wilmer Flores. Comparing Tulowitzki to those players paints an advantageous picture for the Yankees, even if he’s the oldest and most injury-prone player on the list.
Tulowitzki slashed .250/.313/.414 with 36 home runs over three years in Toronto, which is pretty solid for a bench player. The problem in Toronto was that he was getting paid like the best shortstop in the game, which he clearly was not. But if the Yankees can get production like that for a mere $600,000, they’d take that in a heartbeat. He is also one of the best-fielding shortstops of all time. Even in his later years, while slowed by injuries, Tulowitzki graded out as a better defender than all of the other aforementioned infielders but Hechavarria. When he’s healthy, Tulowitzki still brings something to the table with the bat and in the field.
But what about the other options the Yankees could’ve signed? While they are more reliable than the injury-prone Tulowitzki, they aren’t as exciting of options. We can separate the rest of those players into two categories – defense-first, or offense-first. Harrison and Hechavarria don’t offer much with the bat, but are standout defenders. On the other hand, Cabrera and Flores are still effective batters, but are really poor fielders. With Tulowitzki, the Yankees may have acquired the best all-around player of the bunch. He’s the only one of those players who can still hit and field, when healthy.
And with that, we run into the biggest caveat with Tulowitzki. He may be a 5-time All-Star, 2-time Gold Glover and 2-time Silver Slugger, but those were many years and many injuries ago. He has a laundry list of injuries even worse than Jacoby Ellsbury’s. If you can think of a body part, Tulowitzki has likely injured it. Quadriceps, hand, wrist, groin, rib, hip, shoulder, thumb, ankle and heel injuries have sidelined Tulowitzki for a total of 820 games in his 13-year career. That adds up to the equivalent of five whole seasons spent on the disabled list, including all of the 2018 season. The Yankees already have one mid-30s, overpaid, injured mess in Ellsbury, so why add another in Tulowitzki?
The difference between Ellsbury and Tulowitzki is that the latter is making $20 million less than Ellsbury to be a bench player. If Tulowitzki is toast, the Yankees can very easily cut ties with him. There really is no risk in bringing him in for spring training and possibly giving him the bench spot that went to Neil Walker last year.
In years past, the Yankees would have made a move like this and done nothing else, making an unreliable but recognizable veteran the starter and ignoring all the risk (see Brian Roberts, Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki). However, this one feels different. Unlike most other times when the team got burned by moves like this, Tulowitzki has no guarantees whatsoever on his contract. If he can still play, he will make the team. If he can’t, he’ll be gone before long.
The Yankees aren’t getting the player who was once the best shortstop in the game with the 2019 version of Troy Tulowitzki, but they aren’t paying for that, either. The Yankees feel like Tulowitzki can contribute in a backup role and help fill the hole left by Didi Gregorius’s injury. It remains to be seen if he can do that, but the Yankees can’t go wrong by giving Tulo one more shot in the big leagues.