Winners and Losers of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s 14-Year, $340 Million Megadeal

Abbey MastraccoContributor IFebruary 19, 2021

Winners and Losers of Fernando Tatis Jr.'s 14-Year, $340 Million Megadeal

0 of 6

    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    When Fernando Tatis Jr. debuted for the San Diego Padres at only 20 years, many in baseball wondered what, exactly, the club was doing using a player with so much team control in the major leagues.   

    The clock started ticking the minute Tatis stepped on the big league field and began accruing major league service time. A limited window exists for the club to capitalize on a player's best years before they get too expensive for small-market clubs like San Diego to keep. 

    But the Padres never intended to let that happen with their star shortstop. They bucked the norm when they promoted him to the major leagues at age 20, so it would only make sense that they defied convention with a 14-year, $340 million mega contract. 

    Tatis' contract is only the fifth deal with a term length of at least 10 years in MLB history. Is he worth that kind of term? It's a small sample size, but Tatis has given every indication that he will be one of the most impactful players in the game at his position over the coming years. In 143 games, Tatis has slashed .301/.374/.582 with a .956 OPS, slugged 39 home runs and stolen 27 bases. He's only been caught stealing nine times. 

    If the projections hold true, Tatis is likely to hit nearly 30 home runs and create 90 or more runs for the Padres next season at 22. At his age, there is the potential for those numbers to become regular or for even greater production. 

    But like any contract of this kind of term, you take the prime along with the decline. And there are bigger things at play with this contract as well, especially when it comes to small-market teams. Here are the winners and losers of Tatis' contract. 

Winner: Fernando Tatis Jr.

1 of 6

    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    A young player in a small market often has little control over the future of his career. Some spend years on bad teams and some are traded without warning. Baseball players typically only get one chance at a lucrative free-agent deal. Tatis took that chance early.     

    While this was a win for both Tatis and the Padres, this was a way for Tatis to exercise some control over his own career, as he receiving a full no-trade clause as part of his contract. Not every player gets to decide where they make their career, but Tatis was able to decide his own destiny. 

    Tatis and his father, Fernando Sr., developed a bond with general manager A.J. Preller after the Padres acquired him from the White Sox in the 2016 James Shields trade. After his rookie season, he said he had "fallen in love" with the city of San Diego. It's an easy city to fall in love with, but for someone who plays with a demeanor as sunny as Tatis', the endless sunshine and the relaxed vibe is a perfect fit. 

    Maybe this is where players start calling a few more of the shots. Trevor Bauer was traded twice and won the NL Cy Young Award with his third organization, the Cincinnati Reds. He leveraged that into a giant contract of his own with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he has several opt-outs that could allow him to pitch elsewhere. He has been vocal about advocating for players to have some degree of control over where they play. 

    Tatis has never played for another big league team, and now he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to.

Winner: Juan Soto

2 of 6

    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The attention has quickly shifted to Washington Nationals phenom Juan Soto. A 22-year-old outfielder who has played in 170 more games than Tatis and put up comparable numbers, Soto seems primed for an extension. Contracts like Tatis' are rare, but some wondered if this would have a sort of domino effect, with the Nationals being pressured to sign Soto for a decade.

    General manager Mike Rizzo said the terms of Tatis's contract don't change anything when it comes to an extension with Soto. The club had already engaged in talks with him a year ago, but when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training, talks ended. A deal does not appear to be imminent.

    "I don't think it gives us any more clarity of what it will take for Juan Soto," Rizzo told reporters on a Zoom call Thursday. "I think every deal is separate and independent. It's all about players' wants and needs and can both sides get together to fulfill those. We signed, developed and brought Juan to the big leagues in very, very short order at a very young age and we see him as hopefully a National for a long, long time."

Loser: Ronald Acuna Jr.

3 of 6

    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    An eight-year deal worth only $100 million? Acuna is looking like an absolute bargain to the Braves. The contract was historic at the time, with a then-21-year-old Acuna becoming the youngest player to sign a $100 million deal. But now, the Venezuelan outfielder appears to be drastically underpaid by these new metrics.

    Acuna and Soto have played in the same number of games (313) and produced similar numbers. Soto doesn't steal as many bases as Acuna or Tatis, but that doesn't diminish his value. By the time Acuna hits 30, he will be well below his market value. Acuna said the contract was more about where he wanted to be than anything else, and if the Braves are looking like perennial contenders, the money may not be the driving factor for him.

    Still, it's fascinating that the three most exciting young players in baseball could end up being paid drastically different amounts.

Winner: San Diego

4 of 6

    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    San Diego hasn't had a star like this since, well, maybe Shamu.

    The Padres get to hang on to their most marketable star, who not only happens to be a Spanish speaker in a Latino-heavy market, but one who has the type of crossover appeal few athletes do. The Chargers left for Los Angeles. Tatis could become an icon in the city in the same way Tony Gwynn did.

    One of few teams to make big moves this winter, the Padres have made no secret of their desire to build a team that can compete with other National League juggernauts like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. The club has never really had any sustained periods of success and never shown a willingness to spend lots of money, but awarding a deal like this to a young star indicates a belief that one player can help lift a franchise.

    The Padres are about to test the theory that it takes money to make money. They are hoping fans repay them in good faith by buying tickets to Petco Park and spend money in the East Village area of the downtown Gaslamp Quarter around the ballpark. And if they do, the city of San Diego can thank Tatis.

Loser: Teams Crying Poor

5 of 6

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Jeff Bridich, look away.

    There is a lot of underlying resentment in baseball right now. Scouting staffs were furloughed, paycuts were instituted in front offices and some clubs shrunk their staffs. On the operations side, many teams took a conservative approach to offseason acquisitions. It's difficult to project the revenue without knowing if fans will even be allowed into ballparks this season, but the pandemic exposed all of the sport's chasms.

    The financial constraints of the pandemic cannot be understated. Losing gate revenue was a huge blow to all 30 clubs. But if a small-market club like the Padres can commit to spending $600 million on half of their infield, then the Colorado Rockies can probably afford to pay shortstop Trevor Story for the next five years.

Winner: Small-Market Clubs

6 of 6

    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    We don't know exactly what this contract looks like just yet, but Dennis Lin of The Athletic said the contract is heavily backloaded with the Padres paying him much of the $300 million over the final 10 years. There is a legitimate concern as to whether or not a contract of this length is sustainable because small-market clubs typically have trouble hanging on to their best players and their fortunes tend to be cyclical.

    But if the league implements a salary floor and salaries skyrocket, then the back end of this deal will end up looking like a bargain. Of course, if the league ends up implementing a salary cap, then the Padres could end up hamstrung from a giant contract like this, but there is little appetite to abandon the luxury tax system. A salary floor, however, would improve the competitive balance. There have been whispers about a salary floor for a few years, but for now it's just speculation.

    The Padres want to contend right away and have been making the necessary moves to do so over the last few years, but they now have their best talent locked up for several years and some key role players already in place. Small-market clubs can use this as a blueprint. Lock up your best talent while they're young, build around them early, and the window to contend might stay open a little longer.