Tulowitzki looks motivated as ever at Yankees camp


Troy Tulowitzki was released by the Blue Jays in the off-season. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TAMPA – Troy Tulowitzki is still wearing his cap with the brim flat, but the white and black of the New York Yankees workout shirt is new, as is the No. 12 with his familiar No. 2 retired in honour of one of his childhood heroes, Derek Jeter.

He looks fit, comfortable and motivated as ever sitting before his new locker stall at George M. Steinbrenner Field, inspecting the bats from a new shipment, peeling off the plastic wrapping and tapping the barrels to make sure they’re just right.

“Everybody knows I love the game and history – there’s a lot here – that part is cool,” Tulowitzki said in an interview of his new beginning after his release from the Toronto Blue Jays in December. “Honestly, for me, with where I’ve been at and what I’ve been through, just putting on a uniform is cool. I’m excited to get out there and play and show people that I’m not done, that’s for sure.”

There’s plenty for the 34-year-old to prove having not played since suffering a gruesome ankle injury landing on the back of C.J. Cron’s heel trying to beat out an infield single July 28, 2017. He recovered from the ankle fracture and ligament tear in time for camp last year, but his progress stalled leading to surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels, costing him all of 2018 as well.

By the fall, he started turning a corner, making gains during workouts with Long Beach State, his college team. Still, the Blue Jays were unconvinced, GM Ross Atkins saying in early December that “he will have to overachieve to play shortstop at an above-average level with above-average offensive performance for 140 games” and 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,” Atkins added. “But candidly, I don’t think that’s likely.”


The only remaining question after that was how the Blue Jays would get him off their roster. They released him and the remaining $38 million he was still due through 2020 the next week.

“That’s his opinion,” Tulowitzki said of Atkins’ comments. “People in this game, if you play long enough, everyone has their own opinion. That’s his opinion, I don’t know if his words came out exactly like that, but I don’t really pay attention to that stuff. All I know is I feel good, I feel ready to play and trying to take care of what’s in front of me, not worrying about what’s in the past.”

That extends right down to the Blue Jays’ decision to sign Freddy Galvis to serve as a shortstop bridge to Bo Bichette, a mere month and a half after they released Tulowitzki.

“I don’t worry about that, man,” he said. “I don’t even know what’s really going on there. I talk to some friends there and see how they’re doing, how their off-season was, always trying to encourage those guys. I want the best for their careers because there is a friendship now. I don’t worry about anyone’s moves, or what they’re doing. I just concentrate on myself and right now I’ve got a job with the Yankees and that’s trying to help win ballgames.”

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Did he want to come back with the Blue Jays?

“Hey, look, I got a phone call and they said I could try out for some other teams,” replied Tulowitzki, “so that’s what I did.”

Interest in the five-time all-star and two-time Gold Glover was strong and he had several teams willing to commit playing time to choose from. But as Joel Sherman of the New York Post wrote, he gave the Yankees a private workout, convincing them he could help cover for Didi Gregorius, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

If Tulowitzki simply gets to the groundballs he should get to and delivers a .700ish OPS until Gregorius returns in June at the earliest, sometime in July more likely, the Yankees will have received extraordinary value for the major-league minimum salary, which is what they’re paying for him this year, with the Blue Jays covering the rest.

But what if one of the best shortstops of his generation exceeds that? What if he makes the “unlikely” happen?

“The last time I was on the field I was getting walked off with a broken ankle; I obviously feel way better than that,” said Tulowitzki. “That’s my most recent memory so I’m excited to get out here for spring training games and test out all the work I’ve put in. …

“I want a ring, simple as that. All I’ve ever played this game for is winning, definitely have a good chance in this locker room and looking forward to being a part of that.”

All while fulfilling a childhood dream of following in Jeter’s footstop as the shortstop for the Yankees.

“I mean, shoot, think about any kid that has pictures of that guy up in your room, that’s what you want to be. That part is definitely cool,” said Tulowitzki. “Once you do it and it’s over with, it just becomes kind of like the norm. My focus is to win games and do whatever I can.”

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