The Padres will attempt to work out a long-term deal with budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr., according to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. The timing of negotiations and the organization’s spending tolerances aren’t known, but it seems the club will make a real push to agree to terms before the start of the 2020 season.
Tatis is exceptionally youthful; he won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until the new year. And he’s exceptionally talented, as evidenced by a thrilling rookie campaign. The debut effort was cut short by injury, but not before Tatis turned in 372 innings of .317/.379/.590 hitting with 22 home runs and a boat load of highlight reel contributions. He could stand to smooth out his glovework and cut back on the strikeouts, but that showing was a full-blown success regardless.
At this time last year, you could’ve said many of the same things about precocious Braves slugger Ronald Acuna Jr., who ended up signing a stunning $100MM extension that gave the team control over ten seasons of likely superstardom. That pact entered an unprecedented realm for early-career contracts, but it was also arguably the easiest nine-figure deal ever signed by a professional baseball team.
Acee rightly notes the Acuna contract as a highly relevant comp in the case of Tatis. No doubt the team will try to frame it as a ceiling, or at worst a direct comp, while nudging Tatis back down toward the other major contracts inked by burgeoning young stars last winter — the $43MM deal between Eloy Jimenez and the White Sox and the $35MM agreement the Braves scored with Ozzie Albies.
But there’s no question Tatis belongs in the Acuna stratosphere as a player. And his reps at MVP Sports can make an argument that he ought to earn more — supposing his injury woes are just a blip, at least. First and foremost, the Acuna contract doesn’t need to function in any way to limit what Tatis can and should demand for his own services. If he’s interested in a deal, Tatis can do his own math on his future free agent earnings and whether and how he’s willing to discount them. It’s eminently arguable that Acuna is undercompensated for his immense ability; Tatis doesn’t need to make the same bargain.
Then there’s the fact that Tatis is a season ahead in the service-time game than Acuna was this time last year, owing to the Friars’ decision to put him on the Opening Day roster in 2020. That surprising decision by the San Diego organization last spring was a notable gambit that could factor heavily in this new contract push. It gave leverage to Tatis, who’s a full year closer to the open market than he would have been had the team waited a few weeks to call him up. But the risky ploy may also have been part of the team’s now-evident effort to do everything it can to ensconce Tatis as a franchise-defining star for the bulk of his career. The goodwill generated by the on-time promotion might help the team secure a monster contract that’s laden with value for the organization. The tens of millions more it could in theory cost to get the deal done? That’s secondary to the ability to complete such a pact with a player of this kind.