When Troy Tulowitzki was released by the Blue Jays back in December, it appeared his MLB career was coming to a close. He hadn't seen a diamond in the bigs since July 28, 2017, as recovery from heel surgery wasn't the eight weeks the Blue Jays thought it would be.
But then there was his open showcase at Long Beach State in December that changed that narrative.
Being a five-time All-Star normally piques the interest of MLB front offices, but Tulowitzki's workout at his alma mater opened some eyes to the point where offers were put on the table. And Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley, who helped conduct the workout, knows exactly why.
"I think at this particular point, where he's coming of [injuries], he's moving," Buckley told SNY. "His body's moving at a clip that I haven't seen him move before."
Buckley has seen what Tulowitzki, a two-time Gold Glover, can do at shortstop since he joined the Dirtbags back in 2003. So, at 34 years old and after all the injuries, that is an amazing compliment.
However, Tulo has been working hard to get back on the field, so the results were exactly what he wanted to see.
"He was excited because I think he knew what other people didn't know and that was his ability to move, especially on the defensive side of the ball," Buckley explained. "He's worked really, really hard on his swing because he's had some time away as far as making it more productive, making it more efficient, making it looser.
"A lot of bat speed, his ability to go left and right and take care of the ball in the dirt. That's kinda been his bread and butter. I think that was productive and something that he showed a lot of people and opened some people's eyes."
That would explain why teams like the Cubs and Pirates were highly intrigued following the workout. Tulowitzki, though, decided to take a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with the Yankees this season, saying he "want[ed] to be with the best players."
Not only is he joining a team that won 100 games last season, but GM Brian Cashman signed him with the intent to start at shortstop in place of Didi Gregorius. In fact, that vote of confidence is exactly what Tulowitzki was looking for in the team he signed with. SNY's Andy Martino reported earlier this month that he would only talk to teams willing to give him a starting job.
But, with more than a year and a half without seeing game action, will he be ready for the long grind of an MLB season again? Buckley has no doubt in his mind.
"Yeah, I have no question as far as that," he said. "The thing for Troy and New York is just going to be is it going to be eight days [playing] in a row? Is it going to be four days in a row? Is it going to be three and then a day off? Those are the things that are going to answer themselves. As far as that particular time and every time I've seen him out there, it's really good."
The Yankees are only dishing out $555,000 to Tulowitzki this season, while the Blue Jays still owe him $38 million over the next two years. It is a flyer bringing Tulowitzki on instead of signing, say, Manny Machado to a multi-year deal.
But it isn't just Tulowitzki's performance on the field that the Yankees brought him to the Bronx for. He is also known to be a good locker room presence, and considering his projected infield in Miguel Andujar, Gleyber Torres, and Luke Voit combined don't have the MLB experience compared to him, that veteran presence is an added incentive.
Buckley saw what having Tulowitzki in the infield did for the rest of his team, and what was expected even after he left in 2005 to join the Rockies organization.
"He can certainly be vocal, but at the same time, he's going to do it by the way he played and by the way he worked," Buckley said. "...I really thought Tulo set a high level for how we do things here in toughness, understanding the game, but also talent. I think he really embodied all of that and set his legacy as far as this program."
That leadership strategy can certainly be related to the man Tulowitzki admired in Derek Jeter. Tulo wore No. 2 because of the former Yankees captain, and that choice reaches back to his college days when he was finally allowed to pick his number.
"I think coming in as a freshman you're kinda given your number, and then slowly that number turned into No. 2 once somebody had the number before he left," Buckley said. "I know he's always admired the best as far as in the position that he's played, and obviously Jeter was in that class for such a long time. So he had this respect and admiration for him as far as the way he played the game, the professionalism, the longevity, the presence, all of these things."
Channeling his inner Jeter, Tulowitzki -- who said he would "no doubt" have a chip on his shoulder this year -- will don the pinstripes hoping to be the impact player the Yankees believe he can be. And if his workout translates to Spring Training and so on, Buckley is confident he is healthy enough to do just that.
"For what he's done to get himself back on the field and what he's had to overcome with all the injuries and everything that he's gone through, I haven't seen him move that good in a long time," he said.