When veteran infielder Troy Tulowitzki held a workout for nearly a dozen interested teams in Southern California last month, he conveyed his desire to remain at shortstop, his natural position, and play for a championship contender in 2019.
Much to Tulowitzki’s delight, the Yankees checked off both boxes. But he’s well aware the starting role at short could potentially belong to Manny Machado, if the superstar free agent ultimately chooses to wear pinstripes. He’s well aware this all could be just a temporary assignment.
“I signed up to be a Yankee because I want to play with the best players. So if Manny is one of those guys, I think that would be awesome [and would] make the team that much stronger,” Tulowitzki said in a conference call on Monday. “But those are questions Brian [Cashman] can answer better than me. I definitely signed up for this to help us win. Whatever happens, happens. I’ll be ready to play when spring training comes.”
Tulowitzki, 34, who signed a one-year league-minimum ($550,000) deal with the Yankees last Friday, missed the entire 2018 season following surgeries to remove bone spurs in both of his heels. As a result, the Toronto Blue Jays released Tulowitzki in mid-December, even though they’re still forced to pay the $38 million remaining on his contract. A five-time All-Star who was viewed as one of baseball’s premier shortstops, Tulowitzki has appeared in only 66 games since the start of 2017.
“With what I’ve been through, a lot of people have written me off and said that at times maybe I’m done, or what could’ve been of my career because it was headed in such a good direction,” said Tulowitzki, who’s played in over 130 regular season games just once since 2012. “But for me, all this has really made me stronger. It’s made me appreciate the game more than ever.
“I put in a lot of work to get myself into this, to have this opportunity. So there’s no doubt about it, there’s a chip on my shoulder. But I would say my whole career I played that way and been that type of personality.”
Despite Tulowitzki’s injury history, the Yankees believe he’s worth a flier at such a discounted rate. In fact, Cashman told reporters on Friday the club is prepared for Tulowitzki to be the Opening Day shortstop while Didi Gregorius rehabs from offseason Tommy John surgery.
“We have really reacted in a positive way to have that type of dialogue with Troy and to commit to giving him that opportunity to be our everyday shortstop,” the Yankees’ general manager said. “We feel like there’s a lot of upside here, a lot of potential upside here.”
Although the Yankees don’t have a firm timeline on Gregorius’ return (he’s expected to rejoin the club sometime this summer), Tulowitzki isn’t thinking that far ahead. And he’s also not worried about an infield logjam that may feature Machado, Gregorius, and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Miguel Andujar.
“A lot can happen in that time,” Tulowitzki said. “Obviously, I want Didi to be back on the field. He’s a heck of a player. I respect him. I played against him on many occasions. But at the same time, I’ve got a job to do and that’s to play shortstop and help us win games.
“When that time comes, we’ll deal with that but for right now, I’m concentrating on taking the field and helping us win games. There’s no sense talking about that right now.”
Tulowitzki’s deal with the Yankees includes a full no-trade clause. So, if Gregorius returns or Machado signs and Tulowitzki dismisses the idea of playing a different position, the Yankees could cut him and allow him to play elsewhere.