The San Diego Padres and superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. agreed to a 14-year, $340 million contract extension Wednesday night, a source told ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The deal is the third-largest contract in MLB history, trailing only Mookie Betts‘ and Mike Trout‘s record paydays.
What does the deal mean for Tatis, the Padres and the rest of the sport? Will San Diego win its first World Series with Tatis as the face of its franchise? Where does the newly paid Friar rank among MLB’s best players? And who could be in line for the next major extension? We asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle to weigh in.
Fourteen years, $340 million? What do you make of the years and total dollars the Padres are giving their young superstar?
Doolittle: Fourteen years is … a really long time. By the end of this deal, teams will be flying from their hotels on the road — which will be built in the sky like Lando’s city in “The Empire Strikes Back” — and going to the ballpark in hovercraft. Everyone will have a robot maid with roller skate feet named Rosie. But by then, who knows, $30 million will barely be enough to cover a year’s rent for a studio apartment in the Gaslamp quarter. The Marlins will be playing in a ballpark constructed on stilts. My feeling is that the Padres think Fernando Tatis Jr. is going to be really good for a really long time. If anyone is worth this kind of contract at 22, it’s probably him.
Schoenfield: I don’t think we’re allowed to curse here, but holy … cow! Talk about buying out his free agent years. I love this. I love the Padres spending the money to lock up a player who could be the best and most exciting franchise cornerstone in the game for the next decade-plus, a player who — yes — has the potential to be the best player in franchise history. It’s not without risk since Tatis had the back injury as a rookie, but from what we’ve seen in his two half-season in the majors, if he stays healthy this will prove to be a wise investment for the Padres.
What does it mean for the Padres to have Tatis locked up for his prime years at such a young age?
Doolittle: The Padres see what everyone sees, which is that Tatis is the full package and not just because of what he does on the field. He’s a great hitter whose peak is still well in the future. He’s a great athlete who holds down the most important defensive position on the field, but he’s big, too, and someday will be an All-Star at other positions. And for a team that hasn’t had a true franchise icon since Tony Gwynn retired, Tatis can be that for the Padres, as well as one for all of baseball. More than anything, it signals to San Diego fans that the Pads aren’t just loading up for a short-term challenge to the Dodgers. They plan on being a factor year in, year out.
Schoenfield: It means the Padres are going to sell a lot of tickets in upcoming seasons as they go toe-to-toe with the Dodgers in the best rivalry in MLB since the Red Sox and Yankees circa 2004. I think there’s a lesson to be learned here for all organizations, big-market or small-market: the Padres did not mess around with Tatis’ service time back in 2019 as he made the Opening Day roster. They could have easily have kept him in Triple-A for a couple weeks to preserve another season of team control. Maybe that gesture helped them lock up Tatis with this contract.
Fernando Tatis Jr. hits an opposite-field home run and celebrates in style during the Padres’ playoff matchup with Cardinals.
Where does Tatis rank among the best players in baseball right now?
Doolittle: He’s on the short list. Mike Trout hasn’t relinquished his crown yet, and if he does, Mookie Betts is probably best positioned to take his place. After that, you get into the group of fast risers, like Tatis, Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. There will be others who rise to challenge, like perhaps Wander Franco. But as we prepare for that debate, the important thing to keep in mind is that there are really only a handful of transcendent players in the big leagues at any given time and the Padres have locked one of them up for the foreseeable future.
Schoenfield: He’s right near the top. He now has about a full season’s worth of playing time (148 games, 629 plate appearances) and has hit .301/.374/.582 with 39 home runs, 27 steals and 7.0 WAR. His plate discipline improved in 2020, as he cut his strikeout rate from 29.6% to 23.7%. He’s entering his age-22 season and has a chance to be the best player in the game — which, surprisingly, isn’t as rare as that sounds.
Ten players have led their league in bWAR at 22: Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Bryce Harper, Stan Musial, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Pete Reiser, Trout, Johnny Bench and Rogers Hornsby. Those are all inner-circle players except Harper (who hasn’t been able to match that 2015 season) and Reiser, who got injured. Like Brad, I would still lean to Trout or Betts as best in 2021, but Tatis has inner-circle potential.
If you were starting a team, where would Tatis rank among the current players you would choose to build around?
Doolittle: If we take the question at face value — starting a team — then we’re talking about a process that takes awhile and because of that, I’d take Tatis over Trout, Betts or anyone else. The reasons are obvious and mirror those that inspired the Padres to make this investment. He’s very young, very good, has a skill and position profile that will keep him viable for a long time to come and, best of all, he gives my new team an immediate identity and a reason to come to the ballpark no matter what else is going on.
Schoenfield: While I might still consider Trout or Betts, I think I would aim for one of the three young phenoms. Acuna has more speed and is a better defender than Soto, but his strikeout rate will ultimately limit his offensive upside — he’s still amazing though, hitting .250/.406/.581 in 2020. Soto, however, has a chance to be a generational hitter in the mode of a Williams with ridiculous triple-slash lines like 2020’s .351/.490/.695. If he can do that every season, I’ll live with his defense. But for all-around brilliance, I’ll go with Tatis, who has developed into at least an average shortstop on defense, maybe a little better. That gives him the nod of Acuna or Soto (the only caveat being the back injury he had in 2019, which perhaps makes the other two safer long-term choices).
Shortstop is loaded in MLB right now, where does Tatis rank among the best in the game at the position?
Doolittle: Tatis may already be the best hitter at the position. In terms of all-around play, I might still lean towards Francisco Lindor, but it would be a tough call. And even that is only a question is we’re talking about which guy gives me a better chance to win this year. If we widen the time frame any wider than that, then it’s Tatis, no question. It may already be Tatis.
Schoenfield: Yeah, I think it’s Tatis as well. Lindor’s defense makes it close, but he’s also topped out at a .358 OBP in his best season (and just .335 each of the past two seasons). Lindor’s durability is a big plus and we still have to see how Tatis fares in that category. Ultimately, I’m a believer in Tatis’ defense, so he gets my vote (with further apologies to the underrated Trevor Story and I feel Corey Seager is going to have a huge 2021).
How many World Series will the Padres win during the length of Tatis’ contract?
Doolittle: Two. The Padres are poised for yearly contention and as long as they can avoid too many catastrophic contracts, they appear to be willing to play in a fairly high payroll bracket. And of course there is a matter of a very good and still-deep farm system.
Think of this: The Padres signed Ha-Seong Kim over the winter and he profiles as a first-division shortstop right now. With San Diego, he’ll play second base or move around. Then there is CJ Abrams, the best shortstop prospect in the non-Wander category and one of the best overall prospects in the game. When you have perhaps the game’s best player already at that spot, that’s an amazing luxury to have. Let’s say Tatis bulks up and loses some defensive range. Fine, you move him over and let Abrams do his thing. Or you move Abrams if he is forcing your hand and use him in, say, center field. Or you use Abrams to anchor a blockbuster addition that balances the roster. San Diego is in the best sense of the word loaded.
Schoenfield: I’m curious to see what happens to Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers in 2021 as both performed way above their career norms in the shortened season. If they fall back to earth, the offense may be more very good than great — and that makes the Dodgers the decisive favorite, at least this season and maybe 2022, before the next wave like Abrams and Luis Campusano make an impact.
Not to mention the Braves have a great foundation and the Mets are perhaps building one as well. But the Padres are going to be right there for the foreseeable future — Brad didn’t even mention potential future ace Mackenzie Gore. It’s just that the NL is going to be bloodbath for the immediate future. So I’ll lean more conservative and say one title.
Which young star could be next to get a megadeal like Tatis’ contract?
Doolittle: Soto seems like a good bet. The Nationals have the resources and after losing Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in recent years, they figure to be motivated to keep a two-star foundation in place in Soto and Trea Turner. Soto won’t quite garner a Tatis-level commitment because he’s a corner outfielder but, then again, he might be a 2021 Ted Williams, so you never know.
Schoenfield: Soto makes sense. With Max Scherzer a free agent after 2021 and if they do bring him back it will be on a short deal given his age, so they need keep Soto as that superstar face of the franchise. How about Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers? He’s not a free agent until after 2023, but if Seager leaves after this season, they may want to lock up Bellinger to a long-term deal.