Once again, the Padres shocked MLB by extending Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14 year 340 million dollar extension which makes it the third largest contract in baseball history (Mike Trout & Mookie Betts). As a diehard Friar fan I am ecstatic but remain cautiously optimistic. Before I talk Tatis Jr., I want to give some love to the man who has changed the Padres culture. That would be A.J. Preller.
Preller joined the Padres on August 6th, 2014. The Padres were bad in 2014, where they finished with a record of 77-85. San Diego is considered a small market team and are used to having cheap owners. Not much was expected from Preller because of the misery that looms over San Diego sports. Preller, the former GM for the Texas Rangers, played a large role during the 2010-11 World Series runs Texas had. A.J. promised fans he had a plan. His first batch of moves was to trade top end farm talent like pitcher Max Fried (Braves) & shortstop Trea Turner (Nationals). The Pads in return got Wil Myers and Justin Upton. He wasn’t done there. Preller called the Dodgers and made a deal to bring in LA’s beloved Matt Kemp for Yasmani Grandal and prospects. Let’s not forget about free agent signing of big game James Shields to a 4 year 75 million dollar contract. For the first time since 1998, there was true excitement for Padre fans. They took over headlines and were projected in the playoff hunt which is foreign to the Pads. Preller let San Diego know that he was not afraid to trade, sign free agents, and take some risk. Traits that are necessary to have success.
2015 ended up being a disaster. Matt Kemp’s trade almost did not go through because he did not pass his physical the first time (arthritis). Kemp ended up not being the MVP candidate he used to be in his prime. Justin Upton was subpar at best and Wil Myers only played 60 games. It was easy to go down a dark rabbit hole and convince yourself that the Padres are forever cursed like the Chargers. Meanwhile, Yasmani Grandal became a top offensive catcher, Max Fried prospered through the minors and Trea Turner bursted out onto the scene in 2016.
Preller had to act. Quickly, he came up with a rebuild plan that originally upset fans at the time because that has been the Padres story of the 00’s. Have a great farm system and trade away superstar players like (Anthony Rizzo, Trea Turner, Corey Kluber…) and the rest never come to fruition. James Shields was having an OK year but had a good enough resume to be traded to a potential contender. June 4th, 2016 the Padres are 11.5 games back, have depleted their farm system, and then the greatest possible thing happened. The Padres ate half of James Shields contract and traded him to the WhiteSox for a few prospects including 17 year shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
Preller went full rebuild mode. It was similar how the Astros built their Championship caliber team (that was before the trash cans). They spent money internationally, drafted well, continued making trades and brought in key free agents that used to be considered impossible for a “small market team”. After the 2017 season, Preller signed Eric Hosmer to an 8yr/144 million contract that was the largest in Padres history. 2018 was another rebuilding year but that offseason Preller doubled down. February 21st, 2019 Manny Machado signed a 10yr/300 million dollar contract. The Padres had been one of the lower payroll teams for so long and signing well known superstars in the league made Gaslamp Quarter giddy. The number two overall prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., was ready but many wondered if he would stay in the minor leagues for a month to get an extra year of eligibility. Recent examples of teams manipulating service time are how the Blue Jays waited to call up Valddy Jr. and the Cubs doing the same to Kris Bryant.
Eric Hosmer and Machado talked to A.J. saying that they should start Tatis on Opening Day and send a message to the team, city, and MLB that the Friar’s are going for it now. A.J. took advice from his 444 million dollar investments. Tatis Jr. played opening day and immediately San Diego fell in love. Even the way he walks is charismatic. Tatis Jr. would have won rookie of the year but only played 84 games. There was nothing to dislike about the energy and dominance he brought as a 20 year old. I remember saying the only other person I have watched enough and have this much impact on a game is Mike Trout. I no longer feel crazy believing that. Despite bringing in Machado and Tatis (for a half season) 2019 ended like most seasons, last place in the NL West. However, unlike 2015 Padres, there was a core of legit superstars this time. Hope has arrived.
A.J. kept busy making moves for 2020. They added: Trent Grisham, Drew Pomeranz, Tommy Pham, and rookie of the year runner-up Jake Cronenworth. There were flashes of pure dominance… remember Slam Diego. They were “controversial” when Tatis swung at a 3-0 pitch. They had the 2nd best record in the NL. It was Padres, Tatis & Machado, it was brown and gold. In a shortened season, many thought teams would be skeptical making trades. The Padres didn’t care and made several. They brought in Mike Clevinger (missing 2021 season), Mitch Moreland, Jason Castro, Austin Nola, and Trevor Rosenthal. For the first time since 2006 they played in a playoff game. There were playoff moments (Tatis bat flip) which is now the cover of MLB the Show. Unfortunately, it ended to the lame ass Dodgers but watching tempers flare got me pumped up. I will do whatever I need to do to protect Machado, Tatis, Preller, and the rest of the Padres. It is my duty.
All of that led to the Pads going all in and acquiring Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Ha Seong Kim and Joe Musgrove this offseason. They no longer have a top 3 farm system but still have 4 of the top 100 prospects. This is what A.J.’s promise was to San Diego and starting this year the pressure is on.
Now if you have made it this far bless you. You are a true Friar and I appreciate you. I am going to debunk some anti Tatis contract theories. Now why is this Tatis contract good? Simple, you have the potential face of baseball locked up until he is 35. I am hearing a lot of “well look at what Pujols and Hamilton did to the Angels!” “Long contracts never work out!” What I have to say to that is, you are right. Those contracts were detrimental and there is no defending that except here is the difference. Albert Pujols, Robby Cano and Josh Hamilton were all 31-32 years old when they signed. Tatis is a decade younger. The point is people thought an athletes prime used to be roughly 28-32 years old. That has not been the trend over the past 30 years. Check out: Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuna, Trevor Story, Alex Bregman, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roy Halladay… Pujols, Hamilton, and Cano were also amazing in there 20’s. Signing Tatis and getting him for his best years and still only being 35 when his contract expires is completely different than signing a 32 year old free agent to a mega deal.
This is the second common question I hear, “Well they could have waited 3 more years and kept him under team control.” Again, yes that is true and what virtually every team has done to this point besides the Ronald Acuna deal a few years back (8yr/100 million, what a steal). Remember when Mookie was traded last year? Or when the Indians traded Francicso Lindor to the Mets this year? As a fan of MLB who likes that? When you draft or sign a player like Betts or Lindor, what else do you want? I mean seriously, how many times do you hit and draft someone with the talent of a Betts/Lindor or any superstar? It is not good for the game and it seems like more teams are doing the Rays approach where you trade your talent away to avoid paying big money for young prospects then flip them in a year. Now other owners find themselves in a unique spot where players like Juan Soto, Trevor Story, & Javy Baez are smiling knowing that they have leverage now, thanks to Preller and Tatis. Maybe in a couple of years if the Nats don’t offer you what you like, call Mr. Preller. Just a thought Mr. Soto. Ya know sometimes when you know you have a generational talent it is smart to make the individual/ fanbase happy before others can get to them.
“Well he’s only played one season basically.” That is also true and this is why I remain optimistically cautious. Nobody can predict injuries but with any investment there is always going to be some risk. I could say the same thing about Trout, Mookie, and Manny. They could all get hurt and not be worth their contract. Tatis could get injured or maybe he will not perform to expectations. It is only a 143 game sample size after all but seeing how young stars have flourished makes me feel confident Tatis is no different.
This is what I believe the plan is. Gamble on Tatis as the face of the franchise/ baseball so regardless he is selling seats and merchandise. Tatis will be making an annual of 24.2 million per year which will be an absolute bargain down the road. Snell, Darvish, and others will be off the books soon. Hosmer’s contract was front-loaded so 13 million per year after 2022 is not going to kill the Pads. They have more studs coming up (Gore & CJ Abrams) and by then they wont have to worry about getting into a bidding war with Tatis Jr. in free agency. They will have Machado, they will have Hosmer and now Tatis Jr. joins. Beyond those three after 3-4 years they have no significant money invested elsewhere. That is when you can pay the Mackenzie Gore’s of the world. In other words, the cycle will continue if Tatis Jr. stays on his current path. Agree or disagree A.J., has made the Padres relevant, sparked hope and built a culture that has been missing since Mr. Padre himself, Tony Gwynn. Tatis Jr. said he wants to be the Derek Jeter of San Diego and to have a statue of him. That is quite an aspiration for a 22 year old. But why not? When Fernando does anything, it’s always big. Go and get that cake for us. Well played Preller. Go Dads.