Word out of Toronto says that Troy Tulowitzki is determined to play shortstop for the Blue Jays in 2019.
Good luck with that, Tulo.
The five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover hasn’t played a regular season game since July 28, 2017 and even then was declining in production at the plate.
He had off-season surgery to remove bone spurs from his heels and was ruled out for the 2018 season entirely. The rangy shortstop has never played a full season in the bigs and with his history, may never accomplish the feat.
He is still on the books for two seasons, with an option for 2021, but chances are he becomes dead money long before that. In the meantime, the Jays have used hot-hitting prospect Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at short, which may give the Jays a platoon at that position in 2019.
But Tulowitzki doesn’t seem ready to share. “I just said I’m a shortstop. If someone’s better than me, I’ll pack my bags and go home,” Tulowitzki said to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith.
With his age, 33 (34 by October) and injury history, his words may be prescient.
He is not the only notable veteran major leaguer looking at a premature end to a good career because of injuries. With the emphasis on youth in the major leagues now the norm, here are quite a few others whose own injury history may see them possibly bought out and gone too soon.
Los Angeles Angels – P Matt Shoemaker and INF Zack Cozart
When Matt Shoemaker burst on the pitching scene for the Angels in 2014, it was believed they might have their ace of the future. He had the best record on the starting staff that year at 16-4 and a great ERA of 3.04, finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting. He was already 27 and then proceeded to have two seasons of middling results and was injured by a line drive near the end of the 2016 campaign. Since then, he’s only seen action in 15 games and was shut down this season after just one start, needing surgery on his pitching forearm. Now 31, the writing may be on the wall for his brief career. On the other side of the veteran injury coin is big free agent acquisition Cozart, who had a career year in 2017 with Cincinnati, hitting .297 with 55 extra base hits and 63 RBIs, making the All-Star team for the first time in seven seasons. But, in mid-June,the 32-year-old infielder — who has missed significant time to injury in the past — suffered a shoulder injury fielding a ground ball, had surgery and isn’t expected back until the beginning of next season. Not helping his cause, he was hitting just .219 in 58 games, with five homers and 18 RBI.
Houston Astros – C Brian McCann
Catching is a tough position, especially on a veteran’s knees. Just ask long time pro McCann. He has played just 50 games this year and underwent surgery on his right knee in July and isn’t slated to return until September. The last two seasons have seen the 14-year veteran miss a ton of games, including 65 in 2017. The seven-time All-Star sustained a concussion last year, but still managed to help backstop the Astros to a championship. However, at age 34, Father Time and a career-shortening injury may be taking their toll. He last played on June 30 and at the time was hitting a career low .206, with just five homers and 17 RBI in those 50 contests. With younger catcher Max Stassi in the fold and handling most of the everyday catching duties, McCann’s days may be numbered.
Toronto Blue Jays – SS Troy Tulowitzki and 3B Josh Donaldson
We detailed Tulowitzki’s self-professed desire to start at shortstop next year and he may get his wish, albeit in a platoon situation. Oft-injured and out of action since the middle of 2017, it will be up to the state of his body whether he makes good on that wish. We’ll see, since he’s under control for a couple more seasons. As for Josh Donaldson, he of multiple injuries this season including a calf strain and a dead arm at the beginning of the season, well all bets are off too. The 2015 AL MVP last saw action on May 28 and up to that point was hitting a disappointing .234 in 36 games, with just five homers and 16 RBI. That strained calf muscle also contributed to Donaldson missing 49 games in 2017, which wasn’t a lost year but not as productive as the four previous seasons. At 32, he’s not over the hill, but there is a juggernaut coming at third base in the guise of MLB top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Donaldson is a free agent after this season and probably not worth $23 million a season any more.
Atlanta Braves – RP Darren O’Day
Former All-Star reliever Darren O’Day hasn’t pitched game one for his new team, and might likely never will. Acquired in a trade with Baltimore at the deadline, he was already shelved for the season in after surgery on his injured left hamstring in late June. Which means the NL East leading Braves are eating his $9 million salary and not benefiting from his funky sidearm delivery in a set-up role. Prior to being shut down, O’Day pitched fairly well for the Orioles, recording 27 strikeouts in 20 innings with a 3.60 ERA. At age 35, though, he has another season at $9 million (at age 36) left on his contract. The surprising Braves have younger options in the bullpen too, in Jesse Biddle, Dan Winkler and Shane Carle, who all under team control and making less than $1 million per year each. If O’Day can return to full health for 2019, good on him, but his advanced age will work against him come 2020.
St. Louis Cardinals – RF Dexter Fowler
There aren’t many more disappointing players in baseball this season than injured Dexter Fowler. Signed as a free agent in December of 2015 to a monster five-year, $82.5 million contract, Fowler was supposed to be the answer to their center field question. He was decent in 118 games with the Cards in 2017, batting .264 with 18 homers and 64 RBI. Then came 2018. Prior to fracturing his foot in early August, the 32-year-old fielder was hitting a horrid .180, or second worst in the National League for anyone with more than 200 at bats. Every major stat line was abysmal for the 11-year pro, who wasn’t wowing anyone with his defensive prowess in right field (where he was moved to make room for the since departed Tommy Pham). As it stands, Fowler, who may not make it back before the end of the season, is an expensive mistake who has three seasons left on that huge contract. And cheap options like Jose Martinez and Harrison Bader are lighting it up. Yikes.
Chicago Cubs – SP Drew Smyly
Tommy John surgery isn’t necessarily the Kiss of Death to a major league baseball pitcher’s career, but it sure doesn’t help in some cases. Former highly regarded second round pick and southpaw Smyly, who was signed by Chicago last December to a two-year, $10 million contract, still hasn’t toed the rubber for the Cubs. In January of 2017, Smyly was dealt from Tampa Bay to Seattle in a four-player deal, but began the season on the DL and then in June of that year was deemed in need of Tommy John surgery. The Cubs are still awaiting his arrival. His last start was Sept. 26, 2016, a 7-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox, where his record fell to 7-12 and his ERA bumped up to a career worst 4.88. His next start might mark the two-year anniversary of his last one and he will likely be very rusty. The Cubs, who could really use another starter as they battle for the NL Central crown, have to hope he comes back. But, in what form, no one can tell.
San Francisco Giants – 3B Pablo Sandoval
Sadly, this may be the end of the line for the oft-entertaining “Kung Fu Panda.” Signed to an inexpensive one-year “show me” deal to play corner infield in San Francisco for the second time, Sandoval actually put up some decent numbers after a couple of lackluster seasons split between Boston and San Fran. Before the former two-time All-Star tore his right hamstring in late July (which later required surgery) the squat 1B/3B was hitting .248 in 92 games, with 20 extra base hits and 40 RBI. Even his fielding, which fell off sharply in a short sojourn with the Red Sox, wasn’t all that bad with the Giants. A free agent at year’s end, the 32-year-old Sandoval won’t likely be offered a new contract, especially with 25-year-old first base prospect Austin Slater playing well at first and veteran Evan Longoria still doing his thing at the hot corner.
Seattle Mariners – RP David Phelps
For the first five seasons of his career, starter turned long reliever David Phelps was an absolute workhorse for the New York Yankees, Miami Marlins and for a short bit in 2017, the Seattle Mariners. In 2016 the righthander was near lights out for Miami, logging a 7-6 record in a career high 64 appearances, along with a career low 2.28 ERA and career best 114 strikeouts in 86.2 innings pitched. In the big Miami fire sale of 2017, Phelps was dealt to Seattle and finished up another respectable campaign with the M’s, finishing with an overall ERA of 3.40, with 62 strikeouts in 55.2 innings. But, in March of this year, Phelps tore his UCL and had Tommy John surgery soon after. Now 31 (he’ll be 32 in October), that invasive surgery may have a negative impact on his career. He isn’t due back until at least April of 2019 and is a free agent at the end of this season. It will be tough getting signed.
New York Mets – LF Yoenis Cespedes And 3B David Wright
Just call Cespedes’ current ailment the “Tulowitzki Syndrome.” Cespedes, a 32-year-old two-time All-Star, will undergo surgery to remove bone spurs in his heels and will not be back this season, one in which he’s played just 38 games. He may not, in all likelihood, be back for the 2019 season either, making his $29 million per season contract dead weight. Injury problems arose with a vengeance in 2017, when Cespedes missed half the Mets’ games with hamstring injuries. Then, the heel problems reared their ugly head and have washed away this year and the next. If Cespedes’ injury woes weren’t enough, there was precedent in dealing with them in the case of seven-time All-Star 3B David Wright. Injuries to the 35-year-old’s back, shoulder and neck, along with multiple surgeries, have kept him out of action since late May, 2016. In fact, Wright played just 37 games that year and 38 the year before. Adding insult to injury, the Mets are still on the hook for the remaining two years of an eight-year, $138 million contract Wright signed before the 2013 campaign.
Baltimore Orioles – DH Mark Trumbo
Since hitting an AL leading 47 homers in 2016, two-time All-Star Trumbo’s game has taken at bit of a downturn. In 236 games since, he has hit just 40 total homers and driven in 109, which is just one more RBI and seven less dingers he banged out in 159 games of the 2016 season. While his 2018 season hasn’t been a total disappointment, Trumbo was on the Schneid in the last eight games (no homers, two RBI) before right knee inflammation landed him on the DL on Aug. 20. It’s bad enough that surgery on his inflamed 32-year-old joint is being contemplated. If that happens, he will be out the rest of the O’s miserable 2018 campaign and probably into the 2019 season. There are many designated hitter candidates — some who won’t cost $11 million for one more season in 2019 — in both the American and National Leagues, so Trumbo’s days are certainly numbered.
Texas Rangers – SP Doug Fister
The last four years have pretty much been a struggle for former fairly dominant starter Doug Fister. The 6’8″ journeyman is on his fourth team in four seasons and has logged a 23-36 record and an ERA north of 4.00 over that span. This, after going 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA for Washington in 2014, when he garnered a few votes for NL Cy Young. In 12 starts with the Rangers this season, Fister was 1-7 with a 4.50 ERA and 1.394 WHIP before a right knee strain took him out of the line-up, right to the end of the season. His troubles may not be over if he fully recovers, either. He negotiated a one-year deal with the Rangers that had a team option for $4.5 million in 2019. Good starting pitching is at a premium, however, it doesn’t guarantee that Texas retains Fister, considering his age (34), serious knee injury and recent performance.
Colorado Rockies – RP Mike Dunn
For seven straight seasons, Mike Dunn was one of those quiet workhorse relievers that could be counted on to get the job done. In six seasons with the Miami Marlins, he twice logged 75 appearances and no less than 51, while keeping his average ERA under 4.00 and logging more strikeouts than innings pitched. But, time takes its toll and this year the 33-year-old suffered an injured AC joint in his throwing arm after making 25 appearances. And his numbers weren’t good either with the Rockies. His ERA stands at 9.00 and his strikeouts per nine innings just 6.4 and his WHIP an unwieldy 2.353. He may not have come fully unglued, however, the Rockies are still in a playoff hunt and he is due to return to the line-up for the first time since July 3, when he was placed on the 60-day DL. He also has two more years at $7 million on a three-year contract he signed in 2016.
Kansas City Royals – 3B Cheslor Cuthbert
Cheslor Cuthbert’s career may be over before it really ever got started. In 2016, the Nicaraguan third baseman had a great year at the plate, while still feeling things out defensively at the hot corner. It was his first full season in the bigs and he hit .274 in 128 games, with 41 extra base hits and 46 RBI. Now, he did replace an injured Mike Moustakas at third that year and in 2017 had to take a back seat, appearing in just 58 games and hitting .231 with two homers and 18 RBI. With Moustakas gone at the deadline, it was Cuthbert’s chance to shine again, but a back strain that took him out of the line-up in mid-May was extended on July 31 to 60 days, which pretty much takes him out of action for the rest of the year. The Royals have viable third base candidates in Rosell Herrera and Hunter Dozier, so we don’t expect Cuthbert to get a new contract from the Royals, or many other teams.
Detroit Tigers – 1B Miguel Cabrera
Is the end of the line coming for two-time MVP and elite slugger Miguel Cabrera? Well, he is 35 and his season with the woeful Tigers was over in mid-June when he injured his left biceps muscle. It required surgery and halted his 2018 campaign after just 38 games. It seems that wear and tear has started taking its toll on the veteran’s body. He played through herniated discs in his back in 2017, a season that saw his normally robust productivity plummet hard. He hit just .249, which was well below his career .316 average, along with only 16 homers and 60 RBI in 130 games. This year, his average was more in line with normalcy, at .299, but that biceps problem probably contributed to his continued power outage, as Cabrera had just three homers and 22 RBI in those 38 contests. The fly in the ointment for Detroit, which must rebuild a sagging ball club, is that Miggy signed a massive eight-year, $248 million contract extension in 2014 that didn’t kick until 2016. It doesn’t run out, then, until 2024, when Cabrera is 41. With his recent injury woes, we don’t think he’ll fulfill this deal.
Minnesota Twins – C Jason Castro and SP Ervin Santana
In 2017, star pitcher and two-time All-Star Ervin Santana was resurgent for the playoff bound Twins. He went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA and garnered enough votes to finish seventh in AL Cy Young polling. However, he was 34 at the time and this year, at age 35, he sustained a debilitating injury to a finger joint on his throwing hand. He had made just five starts this year due to injury problems and was carrying a 0-1 record and un-Santana like 8.03 ERA and 1.622 WHIP. He was placed on the 10-day DL in mid August and surgery may be required. With a team option on his four-year, $55 million contract looming, it’s highly likely he won’t be retained. In tandem on the DL with Santana is veteran 31-year-old catcher Jason Castro. The former All-Star and eight-year veteran played in just 19 games this year and hit just .143 before suffering a knee injury and undergoing surgery. He is out for the rest of the season and has one more year at $8 million on a three-year deal he signed prior to the 2017 season. Castro’s days are also growing short.
New York Yankees – OF Jacoby Ellsbury
With the mighty Yankees clicking on all cylinders, it has to grate on veteran Jacoby Ellsbury to be watching from the sidelines. The former All-Star and two-time World Series champ hasn’t played at all this season after it was discovered he had oblique muscle strain and then a torn labrum in his hip that would require surgery in August. Best case scenario is that he returns in time for spring training in 2019. By then, however, he will already be 35 and susceptible to further injury. He also has two years left on a contract that pays him a shade over $21 million per season, which makes him a viable buyout candidate, should Yankees brass chose to go that way. That case could be made, as his production has declined steadily since finishing second in AL MVP voting with Boston in 2011.