In July of 2015 the Toronto Blue Jays made major trades to further establish themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the American League. One key acquisition was that of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. A career .293 batter, the Blue Jays looked to have landed a prolific player to handle the SS job in Toronto for the next five years. A slow start and eventual trip to the disabled list has allowed Darwin Barney to surprise many and become the Jays most consistent bat this season so far. Barney is batting .302 with a .759 OPS and when Tulowitzki returns from the disabled list, manager John Gibbons will certainly have a head scratcher on his hands.
Drafted seventh overall in 2005 by the Colorado Rockies, Tulowitzki was always expected to perform at an elite level in the majors, and he has done just that. He received NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2007 and is a five time All Star. He has also won two Gold Gloves and a pair of Silver Slugger awards. He is arguably one of the best power bats among all MLB shortstops, having recorded twenty or more home runs in six seasons while maintaining an average over .287 in all but one.
This made his slow start of 2016 even more worrisome among Blue Jay fans. Tulowitzki was meant to be a guy in the middle of the line-up who can produce at the same level our other stars have, but that had not been the case to start the season. Despite still recording eight home runs and 23 RBI’s before landing on the disabled list back on May 28, he was batting a dismal .204. He was struggling to say the least and the right quad injury he was battling through was hampering him more than we probably knew.
No need to fear though, Darwin Barney was willing and more than able to fill the void left by Tulo as the Blue Jays shortstop. Drafted 127th in 2007 by the Chicago Cubs, Barney was not expected to have nearly the same impact on an MLB team as Tulowitzki, but this season he surely is for Toronto. He spent the first three and a half seasons of his career with the Cubs as their everyday second basemen and had a terrific first full season in the majors back in 2011 batting .276 with 23 doubles and six triples. Over 2,050 career at bats Barney has struck out a mere 254 times, that’s only once every eight at bats. Compared to Tulowitzki, who strikes out every 5.3 at bats, and other Blue Jay greats such as Jose Bautista (4.6 AB ), Josh Donaldson (4.7 AB) and Edwin Encarnacion (5.5 AB), Barney may not have the same pop in his bat as these four, but he will rarely swing and miss.
The third middle infielder who gets easily lost in the shuffle with the career success of Tulowitzki and the current success of Barney, is Ryan Goins. Drafted 130th overall in 2009 by Toronto, Goins has never been one to dazzle with his bat, but his above average glove is what keeps him in the big leagues. He is a career .223 hitter and in limited action this season is hitting .172, but uncharacteristically has hit three home runs in that span, more than half way to his season best five last season. He is certainly more known for his glove than his bat, though, and over 278 games he has committed only12 errors, less than one every 24 games.
Tulowitzki is slated to return from the disabled list shortly and it is likely that someone will be demoted to AAA and play with the Buffalo Bisons. It will likely be Ryan Goins, but with the season Darwin Barney is having it will be tough to move him to be bench. With that in mind don’t be surprised if the team elects to send Devon Travis down in order to ensure he gets everyday at bats and consistent playing time, while keeping Goins as the utility infielder.
Future Blue Jays Shortstop Possibilities
Tulowitzki is on a contract that will have him earn $20 million a season through 2019, where afterwards it will dip to $14M in 2020 and $15M in 2021. Teams are not going to pay a guy that kind of money to have him come off the bench, regardless how much he is struggling and how well his replacement is doing. Historically the Jays can be confident that Tulowitzki will not bat .208 over a full season and as he further gets used to American League pitching his average is sure to rise. Barney is currently on a one year $1.05 million deal and will be a free agent this off season. If he continues to play in the second half like he has in the first he will certainly garner attention from multiple teams looking to add a middle infielder. It is unlikely that he will return to Toronto on a backup role and the Jays have some very talented middle infield prospects that may be ready to make the jump to the MLB in 2017. The Blue Jays shortstop position is one that Tulowtizki will hold down for the foreseeable future, but if the injury bug rears its head again, it’s always nice to have players like Barney who can step in.
The Blue Jays will look forward to getting their shortstop back off the disabled list in the near future, but have been more than pleased with the play of Barney in Tulowitzki’s absence. The team will now look to build off a tough series against the Orioles, winning three of four at home against their AL East foes. Tulowitzki and Barney will be two integral pieces to the Jays’ success this season as they look to capture the AL East division title once more.