Veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is looking like one of the most compelling free agents of the 2018-19 offseason.
In large measure that's because, by releasing him, the Blue Jays put themselves on the line for the $38 million left on his contract. That, in turn, means any team can sign Tulo by forking over the minimum salary. Yes, he's going into his age-34 campaign, and he missed all of last season with heel problems. Tulowitzki, though, as recently as 2017 put up an OPS+ of 102 with a WAR of 3.4. He received MVP votes as recently as 2014. That MVP-ish ceiling of Tulowitzki's prime years in tandem with the negligible cost involved have yielded heated interest.
Speaking of which, here's a dispatch from Yahoo's Tim Brown dispatch about Tulo's recent workout:
He remains long and lean, about as willowy as they ever made a shortstop who could also hit you 30 home runs, who could also win you a Gold Glove. The fungoes sent him right and left and brought him in and sent him away, and Tulo was again light on his feet, the ankle surgeries of last spring having finally and mercifully ended the pain and brought back the life. He told scouts he'd worked so hard to recover, he'd committed so fully to bring it all back, and he'd gestured to the field, as if to say, "Hold on, I'll show you."
Brown goes on to report that at least 11 teams -- the Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, and Giants among them -- had a rep at Tulowitzki's workout. By all accounts, they surely came away impressed. It bears repeating that the risks -- he's in his mid-30s and has a fairly substantial injury history -- are more than offset by the modest investment required to sign Tulowitzki. That explains why you've got, you know, a dozen or so teams attending the workout of a player in his mid-30s with a fairly substantial injury history.
Likely, Tulowitzki is going to wind up as someone's low-risk, high-reward shortstop or third baseman. Obviously, you don't want to pencil in Tulo as your starting shortstop in 2019 and bank on 150 games from him. You need depth behind him or even alongside him in a job-sharing arrangement. In that way, he makes sense for a number of teams.
He's a fit with the Yankees should they miss out on Manny Machado, as Tulo could theoretically pin down shortstop until Didi Gregorius returns from Tommy John surgery. With the Cubs, he'd give Chicago a shortstop until Addison Russell returns from his domestic violence suspension (or perhaps beyond that if they decide to move on from Russell). The low cost also means Tulowitzki fits in nicely with the Cubs' reported budget constraints. Those, of course, are just two of the many clubs with eyes for the five-time All-Star.
The matter of course is how Tulo will fare at such a late baseball age and after missing all of the 2018 campaign. As well, he hasn't played in at least 140 games since 2011, and he hasn't produced at a truly high level, even on a rate-basis, since 2014. The glove still looks good, at least based on 2017 numbers and his reputation as a standout fielder.
Over at FanGraphs, the Steamer projection system forecasts Tulowitzki in 2019 for a slash line of .255/.314/.420 with 11 home runs in 81 games. That comes to a weighted on-base average (wOBA) of .317. To put that in context, last season the average MLB shortstop had a wOBA of .312, so Tulo is projected to slightly top that with, presumably, plus defense. You'll note that he's projected to play just half a season, and that's to be expected given what happened last year. The reality, though, is that Tulo still profiles as a useful hitter by positional standards, and he's got the potential to beat that forecast. How much of a workload he can handle is the big unknown among a near-full complement of unknowns.
At this price, though, you certainly take a chance on that. To the extent that Tulowitzki provides value over and above that paltry investment will be one of the storylines of the 2019 season. It may also be a storyline with major playoff implications.