As we find ourselves closer and closer to spring training with an unusually underdeveloped free agent market, the 2018 Blue Jays roster is nonetheless beginning to come into focus. The Blue Jays have yet to make a big-name acquisition, thus far focusing on depth players like Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz. These moves were likely motivated by the troubling amount of time that Blue Jays players missed to injury last season, which was a large contributing factor in the team’s overall poor performance. The front office probably does not want to fall into the same hole should such injuries happen again. In the case of some players, however, the effects of these depth signings will likely be felt even if they don’t get hurt. One of these players is Troy Tulowitzki.
Troy Tulowitzki played nothing like the Tulo of old during the 2017 season. After producing a line of .249/.300/.378 over 260 plate appearances, it isn’t absurd to believe that the 33-year-old’s productive playing days are over. With three years and $58 million left owed to a player who only managed to accumulate 0.3 WARP over a half-season last year, the Blue Jays have found themselves in an unenviable position regarding Tulowitzki’s contract.
Tulowitzki seemed even more injury-prone last season than he has notoriously been throughout his career. After missing a month early in the season due to hamstring troubles, the shortstop was shut down for the final two months of the season with ligament damage in his right ankle after an unfortunate encounter with the first-base bag. This was an unsettling amount of time missed for Tulowitzki, who only appeared in 66 games in 2017 after managing to play in 259 games over his previous two campaigns.
Blaming Tulowitzki’s poor performance on his injuries could be seen as a cop-out, but the ankle injury did seem to be the nail in the coffin for him. After a poor start to the season that preceded his hamstring injury, Tulowitzki returned in late May to similarly disappointing results. In late June, Jonah Keri outlined the differences in Tulowitzki’s 2016 swing in comparison with his 2017 iteration. His swing seemed to be less focused and involved more moving parts, which might have been a result of the hamstring injury.
However, it seemed like Tulowitzki was beginning to build momentum towards a better season before his season-ending DL stint. From the arbitrary date of June 23rd (incidentally, right after the Keri article was published) through the rest of his season, Tulowitzki hit .266/.304/.431 in 115 plate appearances, only a slightly below league average rate. While this doesn’t mean that Tulowitzki will continue to hit at this rate when he returns in 2018, it shows that he was making strides towards a better season before going down with the unfortunate ankle injury in July.
There definitely needs to be some protection for Tulowitzki should he go down again. Going further, if the Blue Jays are to take more proactive measures, building more rest into his schedule will likely result in Tulowitzki staying on the field longer. The Jays needed to rely on Tulowitzki and Devon Travis last season given that the sub-replacement level Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney were their primary backups, and this reliance may have led to more opportunities for injury. Now, however, the backup role will fall to Diaz and Solarte: the latter worth an acceptable 1.2 WARP in 2017, the former only a season removed from his 4.0-WARP rookie year. This could end up being the biggest benefit of the Diaz and Solarte acquisitions, as both will able to step in for Tulowitzki and Travis when necessary without as significant of a production drop-off.
Back in September, John Gibbons said outright that the Blue Jays are committing to Troy Tulowitzki in 2018. This is a logical move, as there likely isn’t a trade the Blue Jays could make with the veteran that would make the team better. Something that is encouraging, then, is that the Blue Jays are doing what they can to put Tulowitzki in a position to succeed in 2018. Our own Dave Church wrote about how the Blue Jays can get the most out of Tulowitzki back in September, and they are an addition or two away from taking all of the steps that Dave outlined.
Returning from his ankle injury with better supporting depth up the middle of the infield, Troy Tulowitzki may be poised for a bounce-back campaign in 2018. While expecting the Rockies-era superstar production to return is a fool’s errand, a two-to-three WARP version of the shortstop is hardly out of reach. If he can prove that 2017 was an unlucky and abnormal season, Tulowitzki could make a profound impact on a Blue Jays team trying to sneak into the playoffs in 2018.
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