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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.”
Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez aren’t going anywhere this winter. Rockies owner Dick Monfort said Wednesday he does not intend to trade either all-star.
“The plan is to keep them. Next year, yes. And my plan is to always keep them,” Monfort said. “Is that the smartest thing in the world to do? I don’t know. But for our fans I think it’s the best thing to do.”
In a wide-ranging interview at Coors Field, Monfort addressed the team’s front-office structure, a planned player payroll increase to between $90 million and $95 million next year and his desire to add a starting pitcher and big bat to a team that has had three straight losing seasons.
Despite consecutive last-place finishes, Monfort said he will not alter the structure that has assistant general manager Bill Geivett in charge of day-to-day major-league operations and reporting to Dan O’Dowd, who is in charge of the Rockies’ player development but is also the boss of the front office.
“I really don’t think either one has done a poor job,” Monfort said.
The owner talked specifically about the Rockies’ finances and said he expects the player payroll to expand by about $9 million for 2014 from the estimated $83.7 million this past season.
Monfort hopes that will enable the Rockies to bring in a middle-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, as well as a power-hitting outfielder who possibly could play first base too.
He disagreed with those who contend he doesn’t have a passion to bring winning baseball to Colorado.
“I want to win at everything, even checkers,” Monfort said, adding that a realistic goal is getting the Rockies into the playoffs “a couple of times every five years.”
The immediate plan to get the Rockies out of the National League West basement and into the postseason revolves around Tulowitzki, their all-star shortstop, and Gonzalez, their all-star left fielder.
“I love those two guys,” Monfort said. “And if they ever get on a tear … In Tampa Bay, every once in a while, Evan Longoria just carries them and we have two guys who can carry a team.”
Monfort said Geivett will continue to operate the day-to-day business of the major-league team, while O’Dowd will oversee the minor-league operations and player development.
He doesn’t believe the unusual front-office setup creates confusion for teams trying to make deals with the Rockies.
“It’s not that we have two GMs, it’s that they just switched roles,” Monfort said. “I think most teams have someone who is focused just on the major-league team. I think there is no normal GM role, it changes for every team.”
All major-league clubs will receive $54 million in national TV revenue next season. It amounts to a $27 million bump in new money, Monfort said, a large chunk of which already is earmarked.
After mandatory payments to Major League Baseball’s line of credit and to MLB’s central fund, and without home games against the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox, Monfort said it leaves the Rockies “where we could stretch up to about $91 million, and maybe even go up to $95 million” on player payroll. He said the Rockies had revenue of about $162 million this year and the “rule of thumb” for player payroll is about 50 percent of revenue.
The Rockies haven’t reached the playoffs since 2009 and have appeared in only one World Series, getting that far in 2007. Still, Monfort believes the Rockies have enough money, as well as the business model, to compete.
“I would say if Oakland, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh can win, there’s no reason we can’t,” Monfort said.
On behalf of myself, Kate, Tulo Fans visitors and the rest of the amazing Rockies fans, we would like to wish Tulo a very happy 29th birthday! We all are wishing you a great year full of happiness, joy, love, luck, success, health and peace. And most importantly, thanks for being such an inspiration to all of us.
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