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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — During his first at-bat on Monday against the Royals, Troy Tulowitzki reminded Rockies fans why they should be glad ownership didn’t take a trade offer from the Cardinals during the winter.
Tulowitzki pulled a Jeremy Guthrie pitch over the left-field fence for his third home run this spring. Tulowitzki has hit 154 homers since his rookie year of 2007 — most of any shortstop in the Majors — and is one of six shortstops in history with at least four seasons of 25 or more homers. Despite missing 25 games with a broken rib last year, he hit 25.
Talks with the Cardinals were rumored all winter, so it was no surprise during the weekend when FOX Sports reported that the Rockies turned down an offer of right-handed pitcher Shelby Miller, first baseman Matt Adams and shortstop Pete Kozma for Tulowitzki. The Rockies have not commented on the report.
During the winter, Tulowitzki followed it all.
“I wasn’t aware of any offer that was talked about, but I know there was some interest from the Cardinals, but things didn’t work out, obviously,” Tulowitzki said. “I’m a baseball fan, so I do read the paper and I know what’s going on in the world. But I don’t put too much thought into, ‘What if this thing goes down?’ If it happens, it happens, and if not then I’m in this locker room trying to win games for the Rockies right now. That trade talk doesn’t do much. It’s just rumors.”
Tulowitzki is owed $134 million through 2020, but realizes he could be on the move if the Rockies don’t start winning. Tulowitzki also wants to win. So there’s one way to stop the rumors.
“Since Day One, the most important thing for me has been winning,” Tulowitzki said. “I got a taste of it early in my career [a World Series trip in 2007, playoffs in 2009] and it was a lot of fun. I’ve been a part of some losing seasons now, and no matter how you come out of it individually, it’s worth nothing because I’ve had so much more fun in those years we’ve won.”
Tulowitzki has always been honest, and at times outspoken, about what he feels the club needs and its direction, even if it’s uncomfortable at times for the club. He explained that it’s not because he believes his paycheck makes him something more than a player. It’s just burning desire for a result.
“Money is not what drives me — it’s winning, and guys get paid because they want to keep guys on those winning teams,” Tulowitzki said. “I’m a very opinionated person, there’s no doubt about that.
“That’s just the way I am. But I’d rather go out trying to help things and not be that silent guy in the corner of the room not saying anything. Hopefully people listen.”
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. —The Rockies haven’t reached the playoffs since 2009, creating a sense of urgency as shortstop Troy Tulowitzki enters his eighth season with Colorado. Team owner Dick Monfort has indicated he wants to keep Tulowitzki and all-star outfielder Carlos Gonzalez together for the long haul. He said he can fit them into the 2017 projected payroll of $114.5 million, when they will make a combined $40 million.
However, if the Rockies continue finishing last in the National League West, as they’ve done the past two seasons, the question of whether they should trade one of their stars will linger.
Tulowitzki, Colorado’s longest-tenured player, realizes that he’s approaching a crossroads in his Rockies career.
“I know that (Monfort) wants to win as badly as anybody. It’s a big year for decision-making. That’s just me being a baseball fan and guessing how it could work out,” Tulowitzki said. “I just want to forget about all that stuff and get back to winning. That’s all that’s important.”
Tulowitzki’s career has offered stark contrasts. As a rookie, he helped guide the Rockies to the World Series in 2007. Then came a playoff appearance in 2009. Colorado contended until the final two weeks of the 2010 season. Since then, the Rockies are 64 games under .500, and Tulowitzki’s inability to stay healthy — he has averaged only 105 games the past three seasons — has contributed to the poor records, weighing heavily on the three-time all-star.
“The losing has taken a toll on me. I’d be lying if I said otherwise,” Tulowitzki said. “To have success so early in my career, you get spoiled by it. People reminded me when it was happening how difficult it is to win at this level. But to go absent for a few years in a row, it’s been really tough. You know that your career is not too long. If I look at my career right now, it’s possible that I am halfway done. It goes by fast. You try to enjoy it. But the best way and only way to enjoy it is to win.”
Tulo’s time to step up
The Rockies are counting on Tulowitzki to produce and provide leadership. Monfort and assistant general manager Bill Geivett have said they would like the shortstop to assume a larger role as a leader with Todd Helton retired.
“We’d expect Tulo to step up. That’s how we look at it. It’s a great opportunity for him. It’s a perfect time in his career,” Geivett said. “He has played in a World Series. He’s been through the ups and downs. He’s the guy. But there’s an awful lot of leadership on the team.”
Tulo understands the responsibility but has learned that he can’t please everyone.
“I have been here the longest out of anyone in a Rockies uniform. At the same time, I am not Todd Helton. I am who I am. What I do is good enough. I just have to be myself and encourage these young guys and maintain a solid work ethic,” Tulowitzki said. “I have to stay on the field. I want that more than anything. Some things you can’t control. But I know I have done everything to prepare.”
There will be those who want Tulo- witzki to be more vocal. He believes it should happen organically.
“I play with passion. I don’t need to force that. When I do, it might be too overbearing for some people,” Tulowitzki said. “Last year, I learned a lot about myself. I found a comfort zone. I went about my business and gave it all I had when I stepped on the field.”
Tulowitzki enjoyed a productive offseason. He spent more time working out than visiting a physical therapist. His left leg — which had scar tissue removed from the groin area, costing him the final four months of the 2012 season — is stronger. A year ago in spring training, he was unsure about running the bases and taking groundballs at full speed. He’s already jogging and making off-balance throws without hesitation, leaving him with two specific goals this season.
“My focus is on being really good mentally and getting the guys to realize how important winning is,” Tulowitzki said. “Nothing else matters if we don’t win.”
High ranking when healthy
This winter, MLB Network’s stats machine “The Shredder” ranked Tulowitzki as baseball’s best shortstop. Tulo and Gonzalez are considered National League MVP candidates if they can avoid the disabled list. From 2009-13, the Rockies were 231-211 when they appeared in the same game, compared with 155-213 when neither played, according to Stats Inc.
The .523 winning percentage when they play projects to 85 victories over an 162-game season. But they played in the same game only 81 times last year.
“I get tired of hearing it all the time. It’s the first thing anyone says whether it’s a friend or family member: ‘Stay healthy.’ Trust me, I would love to,” Tulowitizki said. “It’s all we both want.”
Will it be enough? Even when Tulo- witzki and Gonzalez stayed on the field in 2010, the Rockies missed the postseason. Tulo believes this year’s team is poised to improve, citing the veterans acquired in the offseason.
“We added winning players like LaTroy (Hawkins), (Justin) Morneau and others. It’s a good mix,” Tulowitzki said. “And we have young players, like Nolan (Arenado) and DJ (LeMahieu), who are a year older and will only continue to get better.”
It doesn’t seem that long ago that Tulo was the missing piece as a kid, nearly winning the NL rookie of the year award as the Rockies snapped a playoff drought that started after 1995. Seven seasons removed from that magical run, Tulowitzki knows this could be his last shot to help the Rockies reach the posteason.
“It’s huge. I am very driven to have it happen here again,” Tulowitzki said. “That’s the reason you put the work in. It’s why you come to the field. There have been things said in the past that I care only about myself at times. In this game, you have to care. If everyone cares about doing well, you have a pretty good player, and that makes a good team. So, yeah, I care. Losing gets old. All I want is for us to win. Now more than ever.”
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has taken the reverse approach. He lives in Las Vegas during the offseason to avoid the spotlight. He’s tucked away in a suburb where he can focus and train without interruption.
This winter has been rewarding on a number of levels, he said.
“I am healthy and going through a normal offseason. I have to do some maintenance stuff that I will always have because of my groin and quad injuries. But this has been a really good offseason,” Tulowitzki said in a phone interview.
The contrasts from a year ago are striking. Fifteen months ago, he had just 60 percent strength in his left leg after June groin surgery. He spent more time in physical therapy than working out.
“I just want my play to do the talking. I am prepared and I have put in the work. Hopefully they can watch and see that,” said Tulowitzki, who batted .312 and had 52 extra-base hits in 126 games last season, missing 25 games because of a broken right rib.
Of course, his offseason would not have been complete without a connection to trade rumors. The Cardinals pursued Tulowitzki in November. They made sense, given their ability to satisfy the Rockies’ demands for young pitchers and position players, and absorb the contract. But talks never reached the serious stage — with the Rockies coming off a 74-win season, any trade would have had to fill multiple needs — and St. Louis moved on, signing free agent Jhonny Peralta. Tulo was aware of the rumors, but chose not to worry about a hypothetical situation.
With the start of spring training only three weeks away for position players, Tulo is encouraged by what the front office did this winter. The Rockies added starting pitchers Brett Anderson and Franklin Morales, relief pitchers Boone Logan and LaTroy Hawkins, first baseman Justin Morneau and outfielder Drew Stubbs, who’s expected to train with Tulo for a few weeks before reporting to Scottsdale, Ariz.
“I think we he had a great offseason. We picked up some baseball guys, if you know what I mean. Guys who show up each day wanting to win,” Tulo said. “We should be better. Our pitching should be improved, and we have more depth.”
Rockies manager says shortstop showed he could handle role in ’13
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki earned a reputation as a prodigious team leader when the Rockies went to the World Series in 2007. But that team had several veterans who had been through enough ups and downs to be the team’s main compass, and Tulowitzki has spent the years since buffeted by older pros such as Todd Helton and Jason Giambi.
Now with Helton retired and Giambi heading into his second season with the Indians, Tulowitzki, 29, enters 2014 as the senior player in terms of games played in a Rockies uniform. Manager Walt Weiss believes Tulowitzki has developed the skills it takes for the difficult task — being the physical and inspirational leader of a team full of players with different personalities and skills.
“I think the time is right for Tulowitzki,” Weiss said. “I think it’s somewhat of a perfect storm at this point in his career. I think he’s seven years in, and he’s ready for that. With Todd leaving at this time, I think, like I said, it’s all lined up for Tulowitzki to take on more of a role that way. And he did that last year. I thought he took great strides in that area last year.”
Part of leading for Tulowitzki, a three-time All-Star Game participant, is avoiding injury. The team went from contender to one headed for last in the National League West after he suffered a rib cage injury last season, and leg injuries had been issues in the past.
“It’s tough when you get hurt, and he’s had to deal with that stuff; that wears on you mentally,” Weiss added. “But I thought he really stepped up last year as a leader and was a great encourager to some of our young guys, and that’s going to be needed again.”