What Does Tatis Jr.’s New Contract Mean for the Padres?

Recently, San Diego Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. signed an extension for 14 years, worth $340 million.

Recently, San Diego Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. signed an extension for 14 years, worth $340 million. In the abridged 2020 Major League Baseball (MLB) season, Tatis Jr. was nothing short of sensational, producing a batting average of .277, an on-base percentage of .366, a slugging percentage of .571, finishing in the top 10 for both home runs and RBIs and collecting 17 and 45, respectively. Evidently, Tatis Jr. was considered one of baseball’s elite players last year at just 21 years old (he turned 22 this January). The extension he signed hopes to keep him in San Diego until 2034, a place where he announced that he would like to spend his whole career.

Tatis Jr. has not yet played a full season’s worth of baseball, competing in only 143 games due to the pandemic-shortened season, so his numbers come from a relatively small sample size. With the production he has had over the past two seasons, Tatis Jr.'s 162-game averages would find him with a batting average over .300, 44 home runs, and 111 RBIs. Tatis Jr. earned accolades for his admirable performances too, as he placed fourth in National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting and captured the Silver Slugger award for NL shortstops. Everything Tatis Jr. has accomplished in just two years in the MLB suggests that he is a generational star in the making. Yet, Tatis Jr.’s lack of experience might not be predictive of his future output in the long-term, as he has not yet had the opportunity to prove that he can be as good as he was in 2020 over the course of multiple seasons. However by extending him for this duration, the Padres clearly believe that, perhaps, the best has yet to come from Tatis Jr. hoping he can improve even further as he enters his athletic prime.

Two years ago, the Padres acquired third-baseman Manny Machado on a 10 year contract, securing the left side of their infield for the next eight years, barring any trades involving either Tatis Jr. or Machado. The Padres also acquired starting pitchers Blake Snell and Yu Darivsh, making them one of the top teams in the MLB. However, Machado and Snell are both 28, thus exiting their primes, and Darvish is 34. While their ages will not hinder the team’s performances this year, they will likely retire as Tatis Jr. enters the prime of his career. As such, the Padres must have the utmost confidence that Tatis Jr. will contribute to the team’s short-term success while also serving as the franchise’s star and leader in the years after their other superstars depart.

Still, the Padres are taking a serious risk by signing such a young player for an extremely long period of time. There is a possibility that once Snell, Darvish, and Machado’s careers end, the Padres will no longer be an elite team in baseball, and, to make matters worse, they’d be giving an aging Tatis Jr. huge money. His contract could restrict the team from effectively rebuilding in the event that they are no longer in a position to contend. Additionally, in baseball, one star is usually insufficient to help a below-average roster achieve even moderate success. Essentially, the Padres are going to have to find replacements for players like Machado, Snell, and Darvish if they want Tatis Jr.’s extension to hold value. Looking at the future optimistically, if Snell resigns in free agency, which may be more difficult now that much of the team’s budget is dedicated to Machado and Tatis Jr., the Padres will have another eight years of the trio in San Diego, which, along with an adequate supporting cast, would give them a chance at success. Even in that scenario, though, if Machado and Snell retire after those eight years, as they will both be 36 at the time, the Padres would still likely find themselves in possession of a below average roster whose ability to succeed would be prohibited by Tatis Jr.’s contract. Unless the Padres can maintain a great roster around Tatis Jr. for another six years after Machado and Snell turn 36, the contract’s length could prove to be overbearing for the Padres to establish a dynastic reign at baseball’s zenith.

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