TAMPA, Fla. -- The typical free-agent workout seldom extends past the 20-minute mark, especially for someone who boasts Troy Tulowitzki's glossy credentials. Generally speaking, your average position player will show off a few batting-practice swings, field and throw some balls, then zip his equipment bag and hope for a contract
TAMPA, Fla. -- The typical free-agent workout seldom extends past the 20-minute mark, especially for someone who boasts Troy Tulowitzki's glossy credentials. Generally speaking, your average position player will show off a few batting-practice swings, field and throw some balls, then zip his equipment bag and hope for a contract offer.
Yet more than an hour into his sweaty exhibition, Tulowitzki squinted through the Southern California sunshine at Jay Darnell and Dan Giese, two of the Yankees' most trusted evaluators. He asked if they wanted to watch him run the bases, an indication of how desperately Tulowitzki wanted to ace this opportunity. They shook their heads; he'd already done enough.
"For me, I love this game so much," Tulowitzki said. "I've been just like a gym rat of baseball. I love being in the cage. I love being on the field. Taking a full year off was tough for me, but I think it's built some character. It's built some toughness, and it makes you appreciate it that much more."
When scouts attended Tulowitzki's December showcase at Long Beach State's Blair Field, plus a private one shortly after, they saw enough athleticism and explosiveness to suggest gambling on the 34-year-old veteran. The Blue Jays saw no reason to keep Tulowitzki in their uniform, eating the remaining $38 million on his contract, and that could prove to be the Yankees' gain.
The sequence of events that delivered Tulowitzki to the Bronx can begin on Oct. 2, 2018, as Ian Kinsler banged a seventh-inning double off of Fenway Park's Green Monster in Game 2 of the American League Division Series. Andrew McCutchen fed a relay to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who instantly felt the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow snap on a throw to home plate.
Though Gregorius continued playing in the ALDS, Tommy John surgery was inevitable. Gregorius is forecast to return somewhere between June and August, and the Yanks have fully committed to allowing Tulowitzki to hold the job in Gregorius' absence. While Tulowitzki is only receiving the league minimum salary from the Yankees, they also granted him a full no-trade clause.
"We're all in," general manager Brian Cashman said of Tulowitzki. "I think he's been great defensively. He swung the bat well early, then there was a period of time of 12 at-bats where he didn't swing the bat well. His timing was off. [After that], he's swung the bat better. So he's just getting his sea legs from under him and knocking the rust out. He is our shortstop."
The version of Tulowitzki who appeared on five National League All-Star teams with the Rockies between 2010 and '15 and won a pair of Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves, would be a fantastic addition. It's also unlikely that he will magically reappear, considering Tulowitzki has missed the past 1 1/2 seasons with injuries to both heels and his right ankle.
In Boone's view, it has been encouraging enough to see Tulowitzki bouncing around on the dirt and playing the position he has manned since age 5. Boone recognizes that even in a best-case scenario, Tulowitzki may need two days of rest per week, at which time Gleyber Torres would handle shortstop and DJ LeMahieu could enter the lineup as the second baseman.
"I would call it fluid," Boone said. "I feel like he has bounced back really well. Even in the early days, when everything is going really smooth and he is playing well and bouncing back and all those things, there are still going to be days off for him; probably more so than for any other player. We have a roster right now that is set up that way to allow him to get the rest we think he probably needs."
Yet even with those limitations, Tulowitzki has allowed the Yankees to dream.
They will not all be home runs, though he did take former Toronto teammate Marcus Stroman deep on the second pitch he saw in pinstriped pants, in what Tulowitzki not-so-subtly called "the biggest Spring Training homer I ever hit."
And no one knows for sure what will transpire when Gregorius returns, though it is expected that Gregorius would then become the everyday starter. Tulowitzki said that he is not concerned; with two repaired heels and a massive figurative chip on his shoulder, he will be satisfied with proving that he still belongs on a big league diamond.
"I put a lot of work in the rehab," Tulowitzki said. "There were a lot of people who said, 'Forget about it.' Those people said I would never make it back on a baseball field again. No one saw the hard work that went into it. The people that were in my close circle, I think they understand what I went through. I care a lot about this game."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.