Troy Tulowitzki may have high expectations for himself in the 2019, but Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is tempering his predictions.
Tulowitzki, the 34-year-old shortstop who has not played a major-league game since July 28, 2017, because of multiple injuries, said in August he intends to play next season, he intends to play shortstop and “if someone’s better than me, then I’ll pack my bags and go home.”
That is the attitude Atkins wants him to have. But does he think it is likely the 12-year league veteran will play regularly and at the standard the Jays require from an everyday big-league shortstop?
“He will have to overachieve to play shortstop at an above-average level with above-average offensive performance for 140 games,” Atkins told the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America on Wednesday. “That would be unlikely, based on what has occurred in the last two-and-a-half years. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to do it but, candidly, I don’t think that’s likely.”
Atkins has stayed in touch with Tulowitzki over the course of the off-season; they texted as recently as a couple of days ago. There have been conversations between the Jays and the player’s agent, with a meeting planned between the two parties while Atkins is in Tulowitzki’s home base of Las Vegas for the annual winter meetings, which begin on Sunday.
Getting healthy is the priority for Tulowitzki. Atkins said he shortstop is recovering well after surgery on both his heels in early April. He has regained his full range of motion and strength, and is currently practising and playing with his college team, Cal State Long Beach.
The Jays will wait until spring training to decide if Tulowitzki is up to being an everyday guy or a part-time player, Atkins said, not willing to label the shortstop just yet.
Does Atkins foresee an issue if Tulowitzki does not meet the expectations of a regular? “We’ll see,” he said. “At this point, we’re just focused on what we can control.”
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. would likely be playing shortstop for the Jays if the season kicked off tomorrow, Atkins said, with Richard Urena as another possibility.
Other tidbits from Wednesday’s session:
- Pitching remains a priority for Atkins heading into the winter meetings. He said the focus is on starting pitching, adding a free agent is more realistic than acquiring a pitcher with a couple of years of control remaining. Toronto’s depth still lies in the infield at the major-league, Triple-A and Double-A levels, he said.
- The Jays “have been” close to a significant trade or a significant free-agent signing, Atkins said, though nothing has panned out to date.
- News broke last week that the Blue Jays were discussing trading veteran catcher Russell Martin and Atkins did little to dispel that notion. “I think that any team that is looking for catching would have interest in Russ. The market for catching is certainly there and Russ has a great track record,” Atkins said. Martin and Tulowitzki are owed a combined $40 million (U.S.) next season and Atkins admitted the players would likely be more attractive to clubs if Toronto was willing to eat some of that money.
- Atkins said he didn’t want to discuss any free agents by name, but continued to have kind words for J.A. Happ: “I think the world of J.A. and he would be a great fit. Would love to have him back here on some level.” The general manager isn’t playing into the Vladimir Guerrero Jr. promotion hype. When asked who would be his opening-day third baseman and his third baseman on May 1, he responded: “I think if we started tomorrow it would be Brandon Drury, to both of your questions.”
- The end-of-season awards, as selected by the Toronto chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America: Justin Smoak, player of the year; J.A. Happ, pitcher of the year; Ryan Borucki, rookie; Luke Maile, most improved player; and former manager John Gibbons, John Cerutti (good guy) award.