“People are saying, ‘Oh, too many years.’ But I just love what I’m seeing, what we’re going to do. I want that statue (contract) on one team. I want to stay on one team and build my legacy over here in San Diego.”
Fernando Tatis Jr. will have the chance to do exactly that – build a legacy – after signing an eye-popping 14-year, $340 million contract with the San Diego Padres. The Padres – winners of two National League pennants – are pinning their hopes on “El Nino” delivering a first World Series.
Not only is Tatis’ deal the longest contract in MLB history, but also the largest contract awarded to a player not yet eligible for arbitration after he hit .277 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs to win a Silver Slugger Award.
Tatis joins an exclusive club. The 22-year-old shortstop’s deal is the third largest in league history, only behind Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426.5 million extension with the Los Angeles Angels and Mookie Betts’ $365 million contract over 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m just the same kid on the field. Nothing’s going to change,” Tatis said. “I’m playing the game I love. And I feel when you do the things with passion and with love, I feel like it’s going to reward you. And I feel like when people ask me how I’m going to play this game, I’m just going to be the same kid every single time.”
The Padres have struck (stolen) gold
If you want to talk about steals, look no further than the James Shields trade in June 2016.
The Padres gave up Shields – who had signed the richest free-agent contract in franchise history the two offseasons prior – acquiring a pair of minor leaguers from the Chicago White Sox in return.
A certain 17-year-old Tatis was among them. The Dominican – son of former third baseman Fernando Tatis, who spent some 13 years in the majors – was unranked as a prospect in nearly every publication.
“He’s got the big-league pedigree,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller said at the time, with San Diego also sending a significant amount of cash to the White Sox to pay for part of Shields’ contract. “He’s a very intelligent kid, he’s got good feel for the game. He’s a shortstop, and he’s a bigger-bodied player that’s a pretty good athlete.”
A pretty good athlete? Safe to say Preller and the Padres got it right.
In his debut season with the Padres in 2019, Tatis hit .317 with 22 homers and 53 RBIs in 84 games. Tatis became the youngest Padres player to debut on Opening Day (20 years and 85 days), while he belted the most homers (22) by any shortstop before turning 21.
He really took baseball by storm in 2020. Tatis became the fastest player in Padres history (24 team games) to reach the double-digit home run mark after hitting his 10th and 11th homers of the season in August.
In the postseason, Tatis homered twice against the St Louis Cardinals in October, becoming the youngest Padre to ever homer in a playoff game (21 years and 273 days) and the third-youngest player in MLB history to homer twice in a postseason contest, behind Carlos Correa (21 and 20 days old) and Andruw Jones (19 years, 180 days old)
Tatis also finished fourth in the National League MVP race as the Padres returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
“I love this city,” Tatis said. “I love the fans. I love the culture. I love the vibe. And I’m all about winning, and I’m all about winning in San Diego.”
Tatis is the first player to have at least 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases within the first 150 games of his career. He packs a punch with the bat – he led the majors in average exit velocity (95.9 mph), hard-hit percentage (62.2), and balls hit 95-plus MPH (102).
He also enjoyed a remarkable rise defensively following an erratic rookie season at shortstop. Tatis went from minus-13 outs above average (OAA) to plus-seven – his plus-20 improvement the largest of any player across that period.
When it comes to OPS+, Tatis stacks up well. Since 1920, Tatis (150.8) is only behind Juan Soto (153.9 – 2018-20), Albert Pujols (159.3 – 2001), Jimmie Foxx (160.0 – 1925-29), Ted Williams (161.5 – 1939-40) and Trout (165.0 – 2011-13) for highest OPS+ through their age-21 season.
Using the same timeframe, but for wins above replacement (WAR) among shortstops, Tatis (5.6) ranks ninth. Alex Rodriguez is top (13.6 – 1994-97).
Future Hall of Famer?
Tatis has only played 143 games – less than the equivalent of one season – but he is putting up serious numbers.
Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr. are two standout names to have made the shortstop position their own. Both are Hall of Famers. Tatis has said he aspires to become “the Dominican Derek Jeter”.
Jeter spent his entire 19-year career with the New York Yankees, winning five World Series titles, as many Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards, plus 14 All-Star honors.
“I was already thinking about that since I got to the big leagues,” Tatis said of one-team player Jeter. “In my dreams, the players I admire the most, they stay on one team, they build a culture, and they become winners with that team. I’m over here trying to do the same.”
Tatis is on track to emulate, and potentially even exceed Jeter.
Comparing the pair through 143 games, Tatis tops Jeter when it comes to homers (39 to 8), runs (111 to 80), RBIs (98 to 63), hits (168 to 154), triples (8 to 5), stolen bases (27 to 10), walks (57 to 46), slugging percentage (.582 to .414) and on-base percentage (.956 to .774).
It is a similar story with Ripken, a World Series winner, 19-time All-Star and two-time American League MVP.
Through the same amount of games, Tatis sits ahead of Ripken in all the above categories: homers (19) runs (62), RBIs (65), hits (124), triples (four) stolen bases (two), walks (32), slugging percentage (.439) and on-base percentage (.738).
At the end of this mammoth deal, Tatis will be 36. By that time, he would have spent 16 years in San Diego – a tenure matching Trevor Hoffman for second place in franchise history, only adrift of Tony Gwynn’s 20 years.
Like Jeter and Ripkin, Gwynn did not enjoy a Tatis-like start to his career after 143 appearances: he stood at two homers, 70 runs, 56 RBIs, 152 hits, four triples, 15 stolen bases, 39 walks, a slugging percentage of .378 and .727 in terms of on-base percentage.
Everything points to a place among the greats at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum for Tatis.
“He’s got a chance to set his mark by winning World Series,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said. “It starts with one, and then you build on that.”