The Chicago Cubs’ front office has been very clear about addressing team needs this offseason, including adding bullpen arms and infield depth.
On Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays announced they were releasing 34-year-old veteran shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. Given that Tulowitzki missed the entire 2018 season with bone spurs in both hands and was likely to be more of a utility player than a regular starter in Toronto, the Jays were comfortable in eating the remaining $38 million on his contract.
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Because Toronto must cover the financials, any team is now free to sign Tulowitzki to the league minimum, which should be very intriguing to the Cubs.
Can he stay healthy?
It goes without saying that “Tulo” comes with a riddled injury history. The former All-Star has played in more than 130 games just once since 2011, and the lack of health paired with his increasing age have led to a somewhat diminished approach at the plate.
That said, Tulowitzki could be the perfect low-risk, high reward gamble for Chicago given their middle infield needs and the ability to sign the veteran for the league minimum.
In 2016, Tulowitzki hit 24 home runs and slugged .443, both higher totals than Russell achieved in his breakout season that same year. In fact, Tulo also posted a higher wRC+ (104) than Russell (95), according to FanGraphs.
Tulowitzki hit at least 20 homers in six of the seven seasons in which he played at least 120 games, but he also hit just seven round-trippers in another injury-plagued campaign in 2017. In other words, the Cubs would be gambling that the bone spurs are no longer hampering Tulowitzki and endangering his power stroke. Getting him back onto a grass field, rather than a turf playing surface, won’t hurt anything, either.
Luckily, Tulowitzki has more appeal than adding some pop in the Chicago lineup.
The bat has slowed down, but the defense is there
While he was arguably the very best defensive shortstop in the game in the early stages of his career, Tulowitzki is still a plus defender. From 2013-2016, he posted at least five defensive runs saved in every season, according to FanGraphs.
Despite his age, Tulowitzki still has tremendous range and a strong throwing arm. He posted 10 DRS at shortstop in 2016, so he would hardly be a drastic step down from Russell’s defensive prowess.
Singing Tulowitzki to play shortstop would also mean keeping Javier Baez at second base, where he has produced the most defensive runs saved for the Cubs. Tulowitzki would also provide that sense of veteran leadership that has been addressed lately by Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein.
What is there to lose?
The best case for signing Tulowitzki is, of course, the price tag. If he can replicate anything close to his 2016 season in Toronto, the Cubs will have pulled off arguably the heist of the season, not to mention significantly enhancing their World Series prospects.
And if Tulo can’t stay healthy? Well, then the Cubs return to platooning Ben Zobrist and Ian Happ at second, which looks to be the current outlook anyway – that is until Russell finishes serving his suspension.
Not to mention – and unlike Bryce Harper or any other free-agent middle infielders – it would only cost a drop in the bucket.