It’s one of the biggest “what if” draft moments in Toronto Blue Jays history. With the sixth overall pick in the 2005 MLB entry draft, the Jays had a potential perennial All-Star shortstop within their reach. Instead, they went with a left-handed pitcher from Cal State Fullerton.
That shortstop was none other than Troy Tulowitzki and that left-hander was Ricky Romero. Tulowitzki was prime for the picking for the Blue Jays, but they chose to go with Romero.
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In hindsight, the choice would be obvious to go with a position player over a pitcher in that case, but former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi rationalized the decision.
Appearing on the MLB Executive Access podcast, Ricciardi provided insight into the front office’s decision to use their first overall pick on a pitcher like Romero instead of the upside of a position player the ilk of Tulowitzki.
“The reason we took Romero was we could not get free agent pitchers to come to Toronto,” Ricciardi explained. “We knew we were going to have to develop pitching somewhere along the line.
“In the free agent market, we’re never going to be able to draw guys here because we’re never going to have the resources. We liked Tulowitzki, but we figured, ‘let’s try to get as much pitching as we can.'”
Not that anyone could have foreseen Tulowitzki developing into an All-Star shortstop and Gold Glove calibre defender, but even with his upside as an everyday player, at that juncture, the Blue Jays coveted pitching prospects.
Not to mention, the Jays already had their version of a Tulowitzki with Russ Adams, their first-round pick in the 2002 MLB entry draft. Aaron Hill was selected by the Blue Jays the following year and was another up-and-coming infielder.
Between Adams and Hill, the Blue Jays might’ve felt comfortable at the shortstop position to pass over Tulowitzki and build up the organization’s pitching depth.
What Ricciardi said about attracting free agents to Toronto didn’t come as much surprise. He made his biggest offseason moves during the winter of 2005 when the Blue Jays signed free agent starter A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $55 million contract and free agent closer B.J. Ryan to a five-year, $47 million deal.
By all accounts, the Blue Jays overpaid both pitchers to come to Toronto, but this aggressive strategy by the Blue Jays echoed Ricciardi’s sentiments about convincing free agents to sign north of the border. The sheer amount of money on the table swayed Burnett and Ryan to sign with the Blue Jays.
In a roundabout way, Tulowitzki ended up on the Blue Jays anyway during the whirlwind trade deadline of 2015. By the time Tulo made his debut in a Blue Jays uniform, Romero had already been released from his contract with the Jays.
Tulowitzki went on to become a five-time All-Star with the Colorado Rockies, went to the World Series during his rookie campaign in 2007 and added a pair of Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger awards to his trophy case.
Romero developed into a pretty decent player himself, putting forth an impressive rookie campaign during his 2009 season, he was named an All-Star in 2011 and anchored the Blue Jays rotation for three consecutive seasons.
In fact, teams who had a pick within the top 15 during that 2005 entry draft couldn’t go wrong. Six of the top seven overall draftees developed into All-Stars, including Justin Upton and Ryan Braun. Eight of the top 12 draftees went on to become All-Stars as well, illustrating the sheer depth of talent from that pool in 2005.
It’s fun to ponder where the mid-2000s Blue Jays might’ve been with Tulowitzki making plays at shortstop instead of Adams or Hill, but the team got their man … eventually. It just took 10 years and trading four prospects to the Rockies to get Tulo to become a Blue Jay.