The Blue Jays are perhaps the Orioles’ stiffest competition for a wild-card spot this season, and with Tulowitzki aboard, they’ll be that much more formidable in 2016, when the Orioles could be facing a substantial rebuild because of free agent losses.
My first reaction to deadline deals is generally a shrug. Superstars are vital to team building, but they tend to make less impact over 60 games than many fans and writers assume.
Even in the best-case scenario, Tulowitzki would be worth two or three more wins than Jose Reyes, the man the Blue Jays traded for him. And that’s over a full season. Shrink the window to 60 games and we’re talking maybe a win or two. Reyes and Tulowitzki have actually been about equal this season, according to Fangraphs WAR, with neither man playing to his usual standard.
All of that said, this was a prudent and potentially significant upgrade for a Blue Jays team desperately trying to win this year or next. The Blue Jays are a sleeping giant in the standings, with the second best run differential in the sport despite their .500 record. They’re already a safer bet than the Orioles to seize a wild card spot, and another win or two would be significant in that context.
They already have the best offense in baseball, so another right-handed bat might not seem the cure for what ails them. But building on strengths can be just as valuable as patching weaknesses, especially given the interactive nature of a baseball offense. And if Tulowitzki can rediscover his past defensive excellence, he will offer a real improvement over Reyes in run prevention, the area where the Blue Jays struggle.
Tulowitzki is both a magnificent player and a frustrating one. Since 2007, he has been the best shortstop in baseball when healthy. But the second part of that statement is a huge catch in his case, because the last time he played anything close to a full season was 2011.
He’s actually remained in the lineup for the Rockies this season but hasn’t played like a superstar. And with his 31st birthday approaching, he’s likely approaching the downside of his career.
That amounts to an iffy profile for a guy who’s going to cost Toronto at least $98 million between now and 2021.
Nonetheless, this was a smart piece of franchise building because, overpriced as Tulowitzki might be, the Blue Jays mitigated the salary hit by ditching Reyes, who would have cost them at least $48 million between now and 2018.
The other assets they gave up in the deal, which reportedly include pitcher Jeff Hoffman, were unlikely to impact the 2015 or 2016 pennant races.
If the Blue Jays are to win with their current core, they’ll probably have to do so this year or next. Tulowitzki offers a significant boost to that mission.