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Blue Jays could be at a crossroads with Tulo

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays might be headed for a showdown with Troy Tulowitzki as they struggle to find a role for the oft-injured shortstop who hasn't played in almost a year and a half.

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins was asked during a media availability Wednesday afternoon whether Tulowitzki would be able to play regularly -- and to the standard the Blue Jays require -- at shortstop. The answer was surprisingly blunt.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays might be headed for a showdown with Troy Tulowitzki as they struggle to find a role for the oft-injured shortstop who hasn't played in almost a year and a half.

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins was asked during a media availability Wednesday afternoon whether Tulowitzki would be able to play regularly -- and to the standard the Blue Jays require -- at shortstop. The answer was surprisingly blunt.

"Candidly, and I think Troy would agree with me, that is not likely," Atkins said. "He will have to overachieve to play shortstop at an above-average level, with above-average offensive performance for 140 games. That would be unlikely based on what has occurred in the last 2 1/2 years. That doesn't mean he's not going to do it, but candidly, I don't think that's likely."

Atkins later went on to say that if the season started tomorrow, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. would be the club's shortstop. There's still plenty of time for that to change, but the fact that Tulowitzki has two years and $38 million remaining on his contract only complicates things even more.

Tulowitzki has repeatedly stated -- as recently as early September -- that he has no intention of moving off shortstop. How strongly does he feel about that?

"I said I'm a shortstop," Tulowitzki added at the time. "If someone's better than me, I'll pack my bags and go home."

The Blue Jays might be prepared to call Tulowitzki's bluff, because at this point it's not immediately clear what role he will have on the 2019 roster. If he's not the starting shortstop, then what is he exactly? Would Tulowitzki be considered a part-time player? Would the club ask him to permanently change positions despite his public comments?

"First and foremost, he has to get healthy, and he is," Atkins said of Tulowitzki, who missed all of 2018 after having surgery to remove bone spurs in both of his feet. "He looks like he is healthy. He's recovering well. He has full range of motion. He has his strength. ... Our reports are very positive.

"It's just a matter of getting him into the Spring Training environment and once we see him at a higher caliber of play, with those expectations, it's just too hard to say. To call him a part-time player, the honest answer to that is, I don't know. We're not going to label him anything just yet, but I think it's unlikely that he plays an above-average shortstop for us for 140 games."

The Blue Jays are expected to start the year with Gurriel at short, Brandon Drury at third, Devon Travis at second and Justin Smoak at first. Top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. should be promoted by the end of April, and where this leaves Tulowitzki -- and his seemingly untradeable contract -- is anyone's guess.

So will Toronto have a problem on its hands if Tulowitzki is healthy but not starting at shortstop when the Blue Jays open the season on March 28 vs. the Tigers?

"We'll see," Atkins said. "At this point, we're just focused on what we can control."

And if the season started tomorrow, the Blue Jays would control that by putting Gurriel at short.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Troy Tulowitzki