The Oakland A’s second base position is the most crucial question of their offseason, and it took a couple new twists on Tuesday.
Last season the A’s employed Jed Lowrie at the position, and he turned in a career-year and made the All-Star team before becoming a free agent. Bringing him back was a possibility at the right price, but the club is now “close to moving on from (Lowrie) and heading in a different direction,” according to Ben Ross of NBCS. If he’s out of the picture, then the remaining options are top prospect Franklin Barreto, or an external addition (such as D.J. LeMahieu).
At the same time, Troy Tulowitzki was released by the Blue Jays on Tuesday and is now a free agent as well. The 34-year-old was once a superstar shortstop who made five All-Star teams with Colorado, but he also missed a lot of time to injuries along the way. Most recently, he sat out all of 2018 due to bone spurs in his heels. Toronto cut bait with $38 million left on his contract, which they will now eat regardless of who picks him up.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Via Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle:
Troy Tulowitzki’s agent, Paul Cohen, tells me Tulowitzki would love to play in the Bay Area, is willing to change positions and would like to play for a winning team. Could be a real possibility for A’s at 2B at a mere $600,000.
Tulowitzki is a Bay Area native, and there is currently only one winning team here. Those criteria clearly favor Oakland, and if he’ll switch to 2B then he fits on the roster too. For more details on the local connection and the buzz around the Winter Meetings, check out Slusser’s full writeup. She also notes that he is “fully healthy after surgery (for the bone spurs).”
So, is this a match? Let’s take a closer look.
Tulowitzki began his career as an elite prospect, going No. 7 overall in the draft and then ranking as high as No. 15 on Baseball America’s national Top 100 list. He made good on that hype, debuting in the bigs just over a year after his selection and then receiving MVP votes two years after his draft. He later enjoyed a mammoth six-year peak with the Rockies from 2009-14, averaging 5 WAR per season based on excellent production on both sides of the ball.
Tulowitzki, 2009-14: .309/.385/.553, 139 wRC+, 143 HR, 10.7% BB, 15.1% Ks
However, he also missed 292 contests over that span, averaging just 113 games played per year and cracking 130 just twice. His offensive numbers fell down to league-average in 2015 and then even worse in ‘17, and during that time he was traded to Toronto. And then, of course, he lost a full season to injury last summer. On the bright side, his defense mostly stayed strong and that still carried him to 3 WAR as recently as 2016, but the overall decline has been sharp.
All that said, the A’s are going to have to rely on buy-low bounce-back types somewhere on their roster. There are too many holes to fill all of them with sure things, so eventually they’ll need to take a chance on a bargain. We already expected that route for the rotation, but why not second base as well if a big name like Tulo comes up for the taking?
Of course, the risk is two-fold here. On the medical side, Oakland would have to make sure they’re comfortable with his health. And then they’d have to decide if they think there is still upside remaining, since he hasn’t been a good hitter since 2016 or a great one since 2014. Does he have anything left in the tank?
The one thing that would not be a risk would be the price. Since the Jays are already paying him a ton, his new team can have him for the minimum. This particular gamble would be low-stakes, in such a way that maximum resources could be put toward the daunting task of rebuilding the pitching rotation. If he doesn’t pan out, then Barreto could be waiting in the wings.
But dang, if he comes back strong? The A’s could have a new star, and a legitimate Lowrie replacement. And it would cost them absolutely nothing, in acquisition or salary. Even just a solid everyday player would be a great find at that price, and his defense alone could be enough to give him that kind of value — especially moving down the difficulty spectrum from SS to 2B. He’s a right-handed batter and lefty would be ideal, but I think we could overlook that.
If Lowrie is indeed out of the picture, then I was getting into the idea of LeMahieu as a new target with which to build an even more absurd super-defense. But if Tulo is available, for free, and the A’s determine that he’s worth going for? Hoo boy, I’m listening.