Tulo anticipates bright future -- in Colorado
Speculation says this is win-or-leave year for shortstop, despite big contract
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Old-school music of the Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye and Prince pumped at high volume through a Rockies clubhouse teeming with anxious energy Friday morning, before the first Cactus League game of a year of new challenges. But shortstop Troy Tulowitzki seemed hyper calm on the couch, his feet propped on a table, a steaming paper cup of coffee in one hand and a cellphone in the other with the thumb doing the texting.
His demeanor belied someone whose window is fast closing. Maybe the situation deserves an all-caps headline, a hysterical statement with a question mark.
TULO-CARGO WINDOW CLOSING ON ROCKIES?
The contracts say no. Tulowitzki, the game's best two-way shortstop, has seven years and $134 million guaranteed on his contract. Gonzalez, one of the game's best left fielders, is in the second year of a deal that pays him for seven years and $80 million. Yet, the baseball hype world has deemed this the year the Rockies must win or else they will cut bait with Tulowitzki. There is even a destination: the Yankees, who will be without Derek Jeter when he retires at the end of this season.
"It's crazy," Tulowitzki said with a smile. "I feel like after this year I'm almost a free agent, and the Yankees are one of the teams I might go to. That's really the sense I've gotten because of the reporters that came and asked me the same question."
Call it new math: 2 (straight last-place National League West finishes for the Rockies) plus 2 (players in their prime in Tulowitzki, 29, and Gonzalez, 28) and 2 and 2 (the jersey numbers worn by Tulowitzki and his idol) equals the inevitable trade.
The math has a logical base: Can a team reasonably expect two stars in the prime of their careers to grin and endure unrelenting defeat? Should that team cut ties and find a different path? The Hot Stove Society had Tulowitzki going to the Cardinals for an attractive set of pitchers during the offseason. Only thing missing was, of course, the people who actually could make a deal.
But Friday, before the Rockies signaled a new day (well, as much as a first Cactus League game can signal that) with an 11-0 victory over the D-backs, Tulowitzki offered a different equation.
"I gave them the same answer every time," Tulowitzki said of reporters, from New York or any national outlet. "If we get back to winning, that'll quiet everybody. But the assumption out there is that we will be bad and I'm going to be on the market because they can't handle the contract.
"Deep down inside, I really think we're going to be good, and I won't have to worry about that."
The next month will be devoted to stories about the frontline talent, which includes another 2013 All-Star in Michael Cuddyer, a former American League MVP in Justin Morneau, the only rookie third baseman to win a Rawlings Gold Glove Award in Nolan Arenado, and power-hitting catcher Wilin Rosario. Reports abound about added depth in the starting rotation and bullpen, and how talented young players are experienced enough.
All the above allows the Rockies to feel reasonable about being optimistic. Owner, chairman and CEO Dick Monfort says the team could win 90 games if all are healthy, and he sees a period of sustained winning in the immediate future. Others feel the same, even if they do not offer predictions.
"I just think we're set up better this year to deal with what a six- or seven-month season throws at you," Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
Rockies senior vice president of Major League operations Bill Geivett is eager to see the team prove its resilience. Maybe he does not want a repeat of last year's injuries -- Tulowitzki with a broken rib, Gonzalez with a sprain of his right middle finger that never healed and closer Rafael Betancourt with a series of ailments culminating with season-ending right elbow surgery. But Geivett is OK with the fact that seasons are not painless.
"Now we're in position, even when we take on a little bit of water so to speak, that we're in position to win those games," Geivett said. "We feel like we're better."
Now is not the time for the Rockies to wonder what happens if it doesn't work. But Gonzalez acknowledged the ticking clock in the sport that is not supposed to have one.
"You're going to have players put up good numbers, and at the end of the year you're going to have batting titles and Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers," Gonzalez said. "That's why it's so difficult to believe we're not going to be contenders. If we all stay together, we're going to be a really hard team to beat.
"I know that clock doesn't stop. If we don't make the things we're supposed to do, people will get tired. I'm sure the GM and the owner can get tired and just try to rebuild or make a move that's going to help the club. Hopefully, we turn things around this year, and we fight for a championship."
Tulowitzki has worn Type-A intensity on his sleeve for much of his career. But whether it is being left as the longest-tenured Rockie because of first baseman Todd Helton's retirement, or, as he acknowledged, becoming a first-time father this offseason, he is not in a hurry. His day is regimented -- hit, eat, work out, then join the team for its full day -- yet he is quieter and looser than at any point since his 2006 debut.
"I'm as competitive as it gets," Tulowitzki said. "Everybody knows that. That fire is still burning inside. I just handle it better now. I know it's going to be a grind, whereas before I wanted it to be no grind. That's the biggest difference."
Quietly, he believes the Rockies will succeed at the grind.
"I like the people in this locker room," Tulowitzki said. "It's not to say I didn't like them before, but my early impression is this year is this is a good group. And this year I like individually where I'm at, in my life and in my career."