It took six games for Troy Tulowitzki to wind up on the injured list. Banking on him to be the stopgap shortstop while Didi Gregorius recovers from Tommy John surgery was a high risk decision from the get go, and it’s already come back to bite the Yankees. I feel bad for Tulowitzki; his return could have been a feel-good story this season (and maybe still could). For a team in contention, it was never a good idea to count a player absent from the majors since 2017. It doesn’t matter how he looked in his offseason workouts.
Gambling on Tulowitzki was a move straight out of the 2013 and 2014 playbook. Those were highly forgettable Yankees teams that somehow finished above .500 while missing the playoffs. The likes of Travis Hafner, Vernon Wells, Brian Roberts, Kevin Youkilis, and Ichiro Suzuki were counted on as regulars. All of those players were either past their primes, injury prone, or both. Tulowitzki fits that mold.
Some of the aforementioned players actually got off to good starts in pinstripes. I recall Hafner and Wells raking early on. Pronk had a 198 wRC+ in the first month of 2013. Wells posted a 150 wRC+ during the same period. Things went (steeply) downhill from there. Others like Youkilis and Roberts never contributed much at all, and didn’t even last on the roster all season. Ichiro hit well when he was acquired in 2012, but was surprisingly signed a two-year deal thereafter.
Tulowitzki never really got a chance to show any semblance of his old self. Maybe he’ll be back much sooner than we anticipate, but it’s easy to be skeptical of his belief that it’s a relatively minor calf injury. At this point, as Mike noted, the Yankees have exhausted just about all of their depth, so they actually need him back. And that gets us back to the point: it’s a problem that the Yankees relied on Tulowitzki to be their starting shortstop.
DJ LeMahieu was ostensibly the contingency plan for Tulowitzki. It’s not that he’s a bad fallback, but rather, the issue is that it forces Gleyber Torres to spend less time learning a fairly new position, second base. Torres is capable of playing short, but if the Yankees have any intention of retaining Didi Gregorius, it would make sense to give Torres as many reps at the keystone as possible. That means having a more tenable shortstop during Gregorius’s absence would have been ideal.
This injury serves as yet another reminder that the Yankees passed on Manny Machado this past winter. I know, I know, you’re all tired of hearing about that. I’d rather not discuss it either. But what choice do we have? Sure, Machado could have become another one of the team’s walking wounded. However, that would have came as a surprise, unlike Tulowitzki.
It’s a rare opportunity to acquire a young superstar in the prime of their career for only money. The team could regret the decision for years to come. You think they regret letting Robinson Cano walk in favor of Brian Roberts? There were some dark years before the team finally found Starlin Castro and ultimately Gleyber. And sure, you can say that the Yankees had better internal options now as compared to Cano’s walk year, with Andujar and Gregorius on the left side of the infield. But who knows how Gregorius, and now Andujar, return from their injuries. It’s better to acquire as much high floor talent as possible and sort things out later if everyone is healthy at the same time. Instead, the Yankees went for the cheap low floor option with a low probability of significant contribution.