SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Like so many American boys who love baseball, Troy Tulowitzki grew up idolizing Derek Jeter. It’s the reason he wears No. 2.
Now Tulowitzki hears daily chatter about possibly taking over for the retiring Jeter at shortstop in New York.
“I take it as an honor for someone to think of myself as someone that possibly could replace him,” Tulowitzki said Tuesday.
That doesn’t mean the three-time All-Star wants to leave Denver. It’s just that he knows after four straight years out of the playoffs, after all the injuries that have sidelined him, this season could determine his future.
“I’d love to stay here my whole career,” Tulowitzki said. “But I know if you lose, other teams may be calling or things might happen.”
The 29-year-old Tulowitzki still has seven years left on a $157.5 million contract that runs through the 2020 season. It’s a figure that will weigh on the Rockies if they don’t contend soon.
It’s also a price tag the Yankees could absorb as they look to replace Jeter, who announced earlier this month he’ll retire at the end of the season.
“I know that right now I’m wearing a Rockies uniform and my job is to prepare and try to have the best season that I can and we can as a team,” Tulowitzki said. “I think if we play good baseball those rumors will go away. But I know if we don’t, they won’t go away.”
Tulowitzki broke in with the Rockies at the perfect time. He played in a career-high 155 games and hit 24 home runs as a rookie in 2007 when Colorado reached the World Series. They were back in the postseason two years later when he slugged .552.
They haven’t been to the playoffs since. And Tulowitzki has played in only 438 of a possible 648 over the past four seasons. There was a broken wrist, a serious groin injury and broken ribs.
When healthy, Tulowitzki is a feared hitter. He batted .312 with 25 home runs and 82 RBIs in 126 games last season.
Tulowitzki is upbeat this spring having finally entered camp healthy. He’s one of the first players to arrive at the team’s spring training complex each morning. He does extra stretching, extra mobility drills and has an extensive routine in hopes he can finally stay injury-free.
“He’s in a much different place than he was a year ago, mentally, physically,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said.
“I’m really excited for him this year,” Weiss said. “I think he’s one of the best players in all the game and I think you’ll see that this year.”
Tulowitzki also is taking on a much bigger leadership role. With first baseman Todd Helton in retirement after 17 seasons in Colorado, this is now Tulowitzki’s team.
“If you look around the locker room, I’ve worn this uniform the longest of anybody here,” he said. “But you can’t proclaim yourself a leader and say, ‘Hey, this is my club. You do as I say.’ I think you go about your work and let guys follow.”
When everyone is on the field, the Rockies boast an impressive lineup with Tulowitzki, reigning National League batting champ Michael Cuddyer, Carlos Gonzalez and newly acquired Justin Morneau.
But if the Rockies get off to a bad start and aren’t in contention at midseason, Tulowitzki knows he’ll hear his name in trade talks.
“For the organization, it is a critical year,” he said. “We’ve had two last-place finishes in a row. Some of our key players have had some injuries. And we know being a mid-market team, that sometimes your window in a place gets short.”
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