NEW YORK — Infielder Manny Machado might still be a free agent whom the New York Yankees desire, but the recently signed Troy Tulowitzki will open spring training next month with a legitimate chance to be the team’s “everyday shortstop,” general manager Brian Cashman said Friday.
While speaking to reporters on a conference call less than an hour after the Yankees made Tulowitzki’s signing official, Cashman made it clear that Tulowitzki would be the team’s starting shortstop if the season began right now.
“We’re going into this with a commitment level to try Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop,” Cashman said. “We have really reacted in a positive way to have that type of dialogue with Troy and to commit to giving him that opportunity to be our everyday shortstop.”
Cashman, when asked, didn’t say whether Tulowitzki’s signing and promise of a chance to earn the starting job at the position would affect the Yankees’ specific push for fellow shortstop Machado.
Pressed for any updates involving the Yankees’ connection to Machado’s reported three-team courtship (in addition to visiting the Yankees, the four-time All-Star also visited the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies just before Christmas), Cashman only acknowledged that he has remained in contact with Machado and his representatives. The late December meeting with them at Yankee Stadium was a “positive,” he added.
The Yankees did let Machado and his team know ahead of time that Tulowitzki was going to be signed, Cashman said.
Although Tulowitzki might begin the season as the starting shortstop — barring a potential Machado signing — he would effectively be filling in for a still to-be-determined length of time for Didi Gregorius, the Yankees’ shortstop since 2015 who is currently rehabbing from offseason Tommy John surgery. The Yankees hope Gregorius returns to the lineup at some point between June and August.
“He knows that Didi is coming back, and he welcomes that,” Cashman said. “He wants to be on a team with the best players, and if Didi comes back and is ready to go and plug and play, he’s all for it.
“He knows that Didi is our shortstop and that he’s hurt and he’s down. So he looks forward to the opportunity of filling that position while Didi’s done, and also showing everybody what he’s capable of while Didi’s out.”
It has been a trying past two seasons for Tulowitzki, who hasn’t appeared in a game since July 2017 due to ankle and heel injuries. Because of the injuries and because of the time away from live action, there had been some concern over just how well the 34-year-old former first-round pick might play once he gets back on the field.
Those concerns are quite low for the Yankees, who scouted two Tulowitzki workouts this offseason. New York first had evaluators present at a broader, 14-team workout Tulowitzki scheduled in Long Beach, California.
Intrigued by what they saw from that session, the Yankees sent two pro scouts back to Southern California for another private session with the free agent. The result? A league-minimum contract that was agreed upon this week.
Prior to a recent run of poor injury luck, Tulowitzki had been compiling a respectable career. As a member of the Colorado Rockies and Toronto Blue Jays, he was a five-time All-Star and earned a pair of Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger Awards.
“His first focus is proving that he can return to the levels that he’s shown in the past or approached some of those levels, and being a productive everyday player,” Cashman said.
Long before his big league career, the Northern California native grew up idolizing former Yankee Derek Jeter. He even wore the No. 2 in previous playing stops as a tribute to Jeter. The Yankees retired the number in 2017.
Cashman also provided updates Friday on starting pitcher CC Sabathia, who recently underwent a procedure on his heart. According to the GM, Sabathia has doctor visits later this month that will better outline what the left-hander’s spring will look like.
“We are optimistic that [the follow-up visits will] be fruitful and beneficial and positive and allow for a full return to the rotation when he goes to spring training,” Cashman said.
Cashman also is hopeful that Sabathia’s visits will allow the Yankees to continue in their efforts of trying to “relocate” embattled starter Sonny Gray. The GM said Sabathia’s heart issues that were discovered last month “slowed down my conversations with intent” with opposing teams interested in Gray.
“The CC circumstance has given us pause because we want to make sure that we’re covered and protected and that we’re not moving players that potentially can continue to impact us or be a choice for us or an alternative given the circumstances,” Cashman said. “Once he has these follow-up appointments, we’ll be in a much better position to either fully engage moving forward the Sonny Gray conversations we’ve had, or continue to slow walk it while we make sure that CC is taken care of healthwise first and foremost.”