The San Diego Padres are ending a transformative offseason with the priciest of exclamation points.
Fernando Tatis Jr., one of 2020's breakout stars, has agreed to a 14-year, $340 million extension, according to The Athletic's Dennis Lin.
The total guarantee is close to $340 million, according to sources.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) February 18, 2021
According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, the deal contains a full no-trade clause, a signing bonus of $10 million and no deferred money.
The Padres reportedly hope to make the deal official this weekend, but the celebrations will already begin in San Diego, where a team long considered a small-market club has been acting like baseball's rising juggernaut.
Fernando Tatis Jr. is the face of the Padres
Two years ago, Tatis was the crown jewel of a top-ranked Padres farm system, and already infuriating Chicago White Sox fans whose team had traded him for James Shields.
One year ago, he had just finished off a stellar rookie season in which he hit .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs. He was limited to 84 games that season due to a back injury; had he played more, he would have been a top contender for Rookie of the Year.
As the 2020 season began, Tatis took over. He was a leading MVP candidate entering September in a shortened season, hitting .313/.395/.660 with a league-leading 13 homers while dropping highlight after highlight. Tatis' breakout season ended with disappointment due to a slow final month of the season and the Padres' sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series, but his status as a superstar was already set, especially on social media.
The 22-year-old Tatis was a natural pick for the cover of this year's "MLB: The Show," and figures to be the main attraction for one of MLB's top contenders this year.
— MLB The Show (@MLBTheShow) February 1, 2021
Forget the face of the Padres, Tatis could be the face of MLB in the very near future.
Where Fernando Tatis Jr.'s contract ranks among MLB's biggest
With this deal, Tatis enters the ever-changing landscape of baseball's famous mega-deals.
The 14-year length already represents a record among modern contracts, exceeding Bryce Harper's 13-year, $330 million deal signed before the 2019 season. The actual money of the deal ranks only behind Mike Trout's 12-year, $426 million deal and Mookie Betts' 12-year, $365 million deal.
Top #MLB Contracts (all-time)
Mike Trout, 12 yrs, $426.5M
Mookie Betts, 12 yrs, $365M
Fernando Tatis Jr., 14 yrs, $340M
Bryce Harper, 13 yrs, $330M
Giancarlo Stanton, 13 yrs, $325M
— Spotrac (@spotrac) February 18, 2021
One fun piece of perspective: Tatis' father, longtime MLB veteran Fernando Tatis, made $17.8 million in his entire career. His son will make more than that every season for the next 14 years.
Padres have been MLB's most active team this offseason
You couldn't have blamed the Padres for playing it safe this offseason. The team just completed a 37-23 season — equivalent to 100 wins in a 162-game season — and still had one of the best farm systems in baseball. It could have just run it all back, hoping its graduating prospects and better injury luck would put them over the top in the NL West.
Instead, the Padres shook the baseball world.
First, the club acquired 2018 Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays. Then it traded for 2020 Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish from the Chicago Cubs. It signed prized Korean infielder Kim Ha-seong to a four-year deal. It acquired Joe Musgrove from the Pittsburgh Pirates. It added Mark Melancon and Keone Kela to reinforce the bullpen.
Most importantly, the Padres kept nearly every major contributor to last year's team, while also retaining most (but not all) of their top prospects.
Rotation depth is what stung the Padres in the playoffs when Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger both went down with injuries, and now the team has one of the best and deepest rotations in baseball to go with a talented lineup. That's a roster that can potentially go toe-to-toe with the juggernaut up north.
Extending Tatis doesn't change the team's outlook for this season, but it reinforces the notion we are watching the rise of a new baseball powerhouse. The Padres are already the first team in North American sports to hand out two deals worth $300 million between Tatis and Machado, and the team figures to stay aggressive in the future.
Tatis deal is not without risk, but the reward is obvious
All of the words above make for an obvious upward trend. Tatis was amazing as a rookie, and even better last season. The natural expectation would be continued improvement at age 22, or similar production at the very least. Shortstops who can hit .300 with massive power are among baseball's most coveted stars, and that's exactly what Tatis has been so far in his career. Therefore, the Padres paid Tatis like a superstar.
However, comparing Tatis' deal to its fellow mega-deals, one difference does stand out. Tatis is significantly less experienced than any player to ever receive this type of contract.
Looking through the history of mega-deals in MLB since the year 2000, the norm is for players to spend several season in MLB before getting them. Bryce Harper played 927 games before signing his big deal. Mookie Betts played 794 games before his pact with the Dodgers. Giancarlo Stanton was at 624 before his then-record deal with the Miami Marlins.
The fewest amount of games a position player had ever played before getting a contract longer than eight years in modern MLB had been Todd Helton with 506 games back in 2000. Meanwhile, Tatis has played in 143 career games. All of the other players were at least 25 years old at the time of their deals; Tatis is 22.
Young superstars are exciting, but there's always a risk that their early success doesn't work out to a Hall of Fame career. It's incredibly hard to remain an elite hitter in MLB over the years, and the Padres have now put themselves in a position where Tatis being merely good for his entire career would constitute an overpay.
Of course, the Padres are well aware of all that, and it's still a gamble they wanted to make. Tatis' peripheral stats provide plenty of reason to believe his rise is for real, and it could be a generation before San Diego sees another player like Tatis, a potential crossover star well-known to the general public.
Getting a chance to keep him in San Diego for the entirety of his prime, while avoiding the late-30s seasons that so often sink other large contracts, could make it an absolute bargain for the Padres down the line.
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