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  • Troy Tulowitzki needed a fresh start, and the Blue Jays gave him one. The former Colorado star can now sign anywhere after Toronto cut ties with the shortstop.
By Jon Tayler
December 11, 2018

LAS VEGAS — Four years ago, Troy Tulowitzki was arguably the best shortstop in the game. The 29-year-old was the face of the Rockies, a four-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner, and though injuries routinely ate up huge chunks of his seasons—he missed the last 71 games of 2014 due to a left hip strain that turned into season-ending surgery in August—few could match his talent on either side of the ball. From his first full season in ’07 through ’14, Tulowitzki hit .300/.375/.524 for a 127 OPS+ and 38.2 bWAR. Those aren’t just star numbers; those are the beginnings of a Hall of Fame résumé.

Fast forward to December 2018, when Tulowitzki—a long-sidelined afterthought after a disastrous deadline trade to the Blue Jays in ‘15—is now without a team. On Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings, Toronto announced it was releasing the former star on the heels of a season completely lost to ankle and heel problems. Despite the two years and $34 million left on the $157.75 million mega-contract he signed with Colorado eight years ago this month, the Blue Jays will wash their hands of the veteran, now 34 years old and 18 months removed from MLB action.

I ran down the decline and fall of Tulowitzki back in August, when he was officially declared done for the season due to heel surgery. It’s a sad tale made all the tougher by knowing the terrific heights from which he plunged. He truly was on a Cooperstown track through 2015, only to see his body fall apart and his offense along with it. Tulowitzki’s release caps a Blue Jays career that won’t be remembered fondly by anyone: He hit just .250/.313/.414 across 238 games over two-plus seasons and didn’t take a single at-bat last year.

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That Toronto gave up on Tulowitzki isn’t surprising. He hasn’t looked healthy or produced since the moment he came to Canada, and there isn’t much reason to assume that would change. The Jays, who lost 89 games last year, have to focus on the future, and Tulowitzki wasn’t going to be a part of that. The only thing keeping him in Toronto was his contract, but it would’ve likely been hard for the team to find a taker for it. Eating the money makes more sense—and, as agent Paul Cohen told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, it’s better too for Tulowitzki, who now gets the offseason to try to find a new team.

Will anyone bother taking that chance, though? There are plenty of cheap and bad teams out there that might be willing to roll the dice on Tulowitzki being healthy and doing enough to get dealt midseason for a prospect. Among those needing a shortstop, the Orioles, Marlins, Pirates, Padres and Tigers stand out. “2019 Mets Opening Day shortstop Troy Tulowitzki” is a prophecy that was written in the stars long ago, but New York has Amed Rosario already in place—for now, anyway. Either way, Tulowitzki’s market probably won’t be robust or lead to more than a one-year deal.

The mighty fall, and we all turn to dust like the Avengers at the end of Infinity War. The path of Tulowitzki’s career is a sobering reminder of just how relentless and brutal the passage of time is, and how none can escape it—and just how quickly, too, it can all come crashing down.

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Two other notes on Tulo. First, the blockbuster that sent him to Colorado—Tulowitkzi and veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins for Jose Reyes and three pitching prospects—ended up being a bomb for both sides. Tulowitzki produced just 4.8 bWAR for the Jays at the cost of nearly $100 million. Reyes, meanwhile, was awful for the Rockies, hitting .259/.291/.368 before getting arrested and ultimately suspended for assaulting his wife that winter. Colorado cut ties midway through 2016, and Reyes re-joined the Mets, where he’s been a thoroughly depressing presence ever since. Nor did the Rockies get much out of the prospects: Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco. Hoffman has a 5.88 ERA in 139 1/3 career major league innings; Castro was dealt to Baltimore; and Tinoco remains in the minors. Only Hawkins had a good go of it, throwing 16 1/3 solid innings for the Jays before retiring after the 2015 season at age 42. A lot of ink was spilled on that trade—including by yours truly—only for it to amount to nothing. Such is baseball sometimes.

Second, Tulowitzki’s release came the same day—mere minutes, in fact—after news broke of the Phillies signing former MVP Andrew McCutchen to a three-year deal. Two of the brightest stars of the last decade, Tulo and Cutch are further linked as being part of the 2005 draft, arguably one of the greatest classes in MLB history. Tulowitzki went No. 7 to Colorado that year; the Pirates tabbed McCutchen with the No. 11 pick. That first round also included Justin Upton (the No. 1 pick), Alex Gordon (No. 2), Ryan Zimmerman (No. 4), Ryan Braun (No. 5), and Jacoby Ellsbury (No. 23) among its future MVPs and All-Stars.

Like all drafts, it had its fair share of busts. Seattle infamously took USC catcher Jeff Clement third instead of Tulowitzki, who said that he expected to be a Mariner up until the eve of the draft. Clement’s career was a blip, but at least he made the majors, which is more than can be said of Wade Townsend, a righty out of Rice University taken eighth by the Rays but who was sunk by endless arm injuries and is now a professional poker player.

Still, there’s something fitting about Tulowitzki and McCutchen both being in the news on the same day, even if it’s for different reasons. As one’s career moves forward, the other’s hits a crossroads. Hopefully this isn’t the end for Tulo.

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