17. February 2021
- Bradford Doolittle.
- Sportswriter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09.
- Editor-in-Chief, Baseball Prospectus
- Co-author of the Pro Basketball Prospectus.
- Member of the American Baseball Writers’ Association.
- Member of the Professional Basketball Players Association.
- David Schoenfield
- MLB cover for ESPN.com
- Former assistant editor of Page. 2
- Has worked for ESPN.com since 1995.
The Padres and superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. reached an agreement Wednesday night in San Diego on a 14-year, $340 million contract extension, Jeff Passan told ESPN. This is the third-largest contract in MLB history, following the record salaries for Mookie Betts and Mike Trout.
What does the deal mean for Tatis, the Padres and the rest of sports? Will San Diego win its first World Series with Tatis as the face of the franchise? Among the best MLB players, where does the recently paid Brat rank? And who could be the next big acquisition? We asked David Schoenfield and Bradford Doolittle, ESPN’s MLB experts, to help us out.
Fourteen years, $340 million? What do you think of the years and total amount the Padres are giving to their young superstar?
Doolittle: Fourteen is… a very long time. Upon completion, teams will leave their hotels, built like Lando’s city in The Empire Strikes Back, by hovercraft to travel to the field. Everyone will have a robot girl named Rosie with rolling feet. But until then, who knows, $30 million is barely enough to pay a year’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego’s Gaslamp District. The Padres will play in a baseball stadium built on stilts. I have a feeling the Padres think Fernando Tatis Jr. will be very good for a very long time. If anyone is worth a contract like that at 22, it’s him.
Since childhood, Fernando Tatis Jr. has lived for the game. The game needs him as badly as it did this year. Jeff Passan
Schoenfield: I don’t think we’re allowed to swear here, but holy…. Cow! Besides, he cashed in his years as a free agent. I like it. I think it’s great that the Padres are spending money to contract a player who could be the best and most exciting cornerstone of the franchise for the next decade, a player who – yes – has the potential to be the best in franchise history. It’s not without risk, as Tatis injured his back as a rookie; but from what we’ve seen in his two seasons resting in the first division, if he stays healthy it will be a wise investment for the Padres.
What did it mean to the Padre that Tatis was locked up at such a young age?
Doolittle: The Padres see what everyone else sees, which is that Tatis is a complete package – and not just because of his performance on the field. He’s a great hitter who still has his peak ahead of him. He has excellent physical skills and is crucial on the field defensively. But he’s also tall, and will one day be a star at other positions. And for a team that hasn’t had a true icon since Tony Gwynn retired, Tatis could be one for the Padres, but also one for all of baseball. More than anything, it tells San Diego fans that the Pads aren’t just preparing for a short-term challenge against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They expect to be a factor year after year.
Schoenfield: That means the Padres will sell out a lot of tickets next season when they take on the Dodgers in the best MLB rivalry since the Boston Red Sox – New York Yankees in 2004. I think there is a lesson here for all organizations, both large and small markets: In 2019. The Padres didn’t intervene during Tatis’ tenure, as he was listed on opening day. They could have easily kept him in Triple-A for a few weeks before another season of team control. Maybe that gesture helped them tie Tatis to the contract.
Fernando Tatis Jr. hits a home run into opposite field and celebrates in the style of the Padres’ playoff game against the Cardinals.
Where does Tatis rank among the best baseball players today?
Doolittle: He’s on the short list. Mike Trout hasn’t relinquished his crown yet, and if he does, Mookie Betts is probably best suited to take his place. Next, you’ll find yourself with a group of fast-paced rebels, including Tatis, Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. There will be others who will stand up and fight, like Vander Franco. But as we prepare for this debate, it’s important to remember that there are only a handful of successful players in the Major Leagues, and the Padres have contracted one of them for the foreseeable future.
Schoenfield: He’s upstairs. He has now played over a full season (148 games, 629 home games) and is hitting .301/.374/.582 with 39 home runs, 27 steals and a 7.0 WAR. Its slab discipline improved in 2020, as it reduced its beam rate from 29.6% to 23.7%. He enters the season at the age of 22 and is lucky to be the best player in the game – which, surprisingly, is not that rare.
Ten players lead the league in BWAR with 22 : Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Bryce Harper, Stan Musial, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., Pete Reiser, Mike Trout, Johnny Bench and Rogers Hornsby. These are all players in the inner circle, with the exception of Harper (who couldn’t play in the 2015 season) and Reiser (who was injured). Like Brad, I would always think of Trout or Betts as the best in 2021, but Tatis has the potential of Inside Circle.
If you were building a team, what place would Tatis occupy among the current players you would choose to build the team?
Doolittle: If we take the subject by its name – team building – we’re talking about a process that takes a certain amount of time, and that’s why I prefer Tatis to Trout, Betts, or anyone else. The reasons are obvious and mirror the reasons that inspired the Padres to make this investment. Tatis is very young and very good, he has the skills and the job profile that will make him viable for a long time, and most importantly he gives my new team an instant identity and a reason to go to the stadium no matter what.
The best prospect since Mike Trout has been at the top of our rankings. Where do the future stars of your team go?
The 100 best prospects for 2021.
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Top 10 per AL command.
Schoenfield: While I can always consider trout or gambling, I think I’ll focus on one of the three young phenomena. Acuna has more speed and is a better defender than Soto, but Acuna’s failure rate will ultimately limit his offensive potential. Akuna is still amazing, at 0.250/.406/.581 in 2020. However, Soto has a chance to be a generative hitter in Williams fashion with ridiculous triple slash lines like 2020 (.351/.490/.695). If Soto can do this every season, I can live with his defense. But for all his genius, I’ll go with Tatis, who has become at least an average defensive shortstop, maybe a little better. That gives him an advantage over Akuna or Soto. (The only caveat is the back injury Tatis suffered in 2019, which could make the other two choices safer in the long run.)
Short desktop, has been uploaded to MLB: Where does Tatis rank among the best players at this position?
Doolittle: Tatis may already be the best hitter at this position. As for the full game, I might still go for Francisco Lindor, but it will be a challenge. And even that is just a question when it comes to who has the best chance of winning this year. If we extend the deadline any further, it will definitely be Tatis. Maybe it’s Tatis already.
Schoenfield: Yeah, I think it’s Atis, too. Lindor’s defense makes him close, but he also leads the team with a .358 OBP in his best season (and just .335 in each of the last two seasons). Lindor’s durability is a big advantage, and we haven’t seen how Tatis performs in this category yet. Ultimately, I believe in defending Tatis, so he gets my vote (with further apologies to the underrated Trevor Story, and I think Corey Seager will have a great 2021).
How many World Series will the Padres win during the Tatis contract?
Doolittle: 2. The Padres are ready for an annual showdown, and as long as they manage to avoid too many disastrous contracts, they seem ready to play at a pretty high salary. And of course we are talking about a very good agricultural system, always in depth.
Think about it: The Padres signed Ha Sung Kim in the winter, and he has now secured a place for himself as a Division I shortstop. In San Diego, he will play second base or bum. Next up is C.J. Abrams, the best shortstop in Franco’s non-player category and one of the best prospects in the game. When the best player in the game is already at that position, that’s an incredible luxury. Let’s say Tatis turns around and loses defensive range. Okay, step forward and let Abrams do his job. Or you could transfer Abrams if you have to, and use him in midfield, for example. Or use Abrams as an anchor for a blockbuster addition that balances the list. San Diego is, in the best sense of the word, a very wealthy city.
From Hall of Fame locks to dream recruits, this is what could bring today’s stars to Cooperstown.
Schoenfield: I wonder what will happen to Eric Hosmer and Will Myers in 2021, as both played well above their career levels in shortened seasons. If they fall to the ground, the offense could be better than great – and that makes the Dodgers the clear favorites, at least this season and maybe in 2022 before the next wave of guys like Abrams and Luis Campusano materialize.
Not to mention that the Atlanta Braves have a good base and the New York Mets could build one too. But the Padres will be here for the foreseeable future. (Brad didn’t even mention the possible future ace McKenzie Gore.) It’s just that the National League is going to be a bloodbath in the near future. So I’m going to be rather conservative and name one.
Which young star could get a mega contract like Tatis?
Doolittle: Soto seems like a good choice. The Washington Nationals have the resources to do so, and after losing Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in recent years, they should be motivated to maintain a two-star base with Soto and Trea Turner. Soto won’t really get a commitment at the level of Tatis because he’s a cornerback; but then again, Soto could be the Ted Williams of 2021, so you never know.
Schoenfield: Soto makes sense. Max Scherzer, 36, will be a free agent after 2021, and if the Nats bring him back, it will be a short-lived affair given his age, so they should retain Soto as the face of a franchise superstar. What about Cody Bellinger and the Dodgers? He’s not a free agent until 2023, but if Seager leaves after that season, they may want to keep Bellinger long-term.
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