Don’t Apologize for Fernando Tatis Jr. — Embrace Himon August 19, 2020 at 5:30 pm

Don’t Apologize for Fernando Tatis Jr. — Embrace Him

If you follow baseball, you might be aware of the minor scandal “caused” by Fernando Tatis Jr. on Monday night. Without the usual tens of thousands of fans in attendance to serve as direct witnesses, Tatis brazenly and maliciously hit a grand slam of Texas Rangers pitcher Juan Nicasio on a 3-0 count, while fully aware that his team had a seven-run lead. Ian Gibaut then came in and threw behind Manny Machado, sending an important message that acts of baseball will not be tolerated! Despite Chris Woodward‘s efforts to explain Tatis’ violations of baseball’s sanctified unwritten rules, MLB had the temerity to give suspensions to Woodward and Gibaut. Rob Manfred may as well have thrown mom’s apple pie off the window sill.

More of this, please.

Baseball’s unwritten rules are a dreary mess, a veteran-imposed caste system of arbitrary rules and penalties that attempt to impose conformity, often on players of color, without the slightest benefit to how the game is played on the field or how the product comes across to viewers. And in addition to being tone-deaf and nonsensical, they’re rarely consistently enforced! I certainly don’t remember Woodward issuing a heartfelt apology to the Royals last year when his team hit two home runs in the ninth against Chris Owings, dragooned into mop-up duty in a long-lost game. At least Nicasio is an actual major league pitcher.

But enough about that fussiness — let’s get back to the baseball-related awesomeness of Tatis.

Tatis isn’t going to be the highest-paid Padre for a very long time thanks to the presence of Machado, but if the next decade of San Diego baseball is successful, it will be defined by players like the young shortstop, not to mention Chris Paddack and Mackenzie Gore. The resurgent, seemingly fly ballism-converted Eric Hosmer is in his decline phase and Machado, while a special player, didn’t grow up in the organization.

Tatis finished third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting, but that was primarily due to only playing in 84 games. While I can’t speak for the other voters, 20-30 more games would have been enough to leapfrog him to first on the ballot I submitted last September. And in the first month of the 2020 season, he’s built upon that strong 2019 performance, and how. Last year, he hit .317 in part due to a .410 BABIP, a mark that called out for regression. This year’s .310 BA, on the other hand, has only required a far more normal .345 BABIP to maintain. Home runs are down slightly league-wide from 2019 but you wouldn’t know it looking at Tatis’ line. With 11 homers in 25 games, he now projects in our Depth Charts to finish the 60-game season with 19 homers. A .310/.384/.710 triple-slash comes out as a 189 wRC+. For those unfamiliar with the scaling of wRC+, 100 is league average; every point above 100 is a percentage point above league average. Alex Rodriguez had a 141 mark for his career and fell just short of 180 at his best.

Now, Tatis probably isn’t this good — if he is, eat your heart out, Mike Trout — but the evidence that he’s a superstar has become overwhelming. I love Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto, but if I got to pick one player to start a new franchise, I’m taking Tatis.

For the Padres, the sooner Tatis can be signed to an extension, the better. There have been rumblings in the past about doing just that — rumblings that obvioulsy came to naught — and the rumors resurfaced again when Fernando Tatis Sr. fueled the extension flames:

As the philosopher Ted Dibiase said, everybody’s got a price. In the end, the best way to get a contract done is to make a great offer, and by a great offer, I don’t mean a contract like Ozzie Albies‘s.

The only reason ZiPS had Tatis at the back of its rest-of-career WAR top 10 going into the season was because of his health the last few years. Every season Tatis is healthy, he gets a lot more expensive. Let’s start with his current projection past this year should he remain healthy. Tatis is scheduled to hit free agency after the 2024 season, so we’ll examine the contours of buying out his arbitration years, plus four years of free agency. That would keep Tatis in San Diego until at least the end of the 2028 season and give him a chance to test the market again after his age-29 season:

That is, of course, a phenomenal projection and actually edges Trout’s over the same period; remember, Trout will be 37 at the end of the 2028 season. Pricing numbers like this is always tricky because $/WAR is as distorted at the top of the curve as it is at the bottom of it. We’ve yet to see a player hit $40 million in a single season — Trout’s extension has him peaking at a mere $36 million — so there’s no history of recent megastars getting the $50-$60 million a year you’d expect at their peaks. If we assume a hard ceiling of $36 million for 2021 (with 4% growth), ZiPS suggests an eight-year, $225 million deal for Tatis as fair, at least in the context of MLB’s economic system.

If I’m San Diego, I’d be willing to do that, though it wouldn’t be my opening bid, naturally. The Braves are getting a steal for Ronald Acuna Jr. at eight-years and $100 million, and it would be hard to describe a 50% bump from that figure as a rank insult. Forbes estimates the Padres’ franchise value at $1.45 billion for 2020. San Diego will always be a smaller market than Los Angeles, but Tatis is one of the keys to making the Padres the modern rival to the Dodgers over the next decade.

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the San Diego Padres franchise. Pay him like he is and unleash him fully, unwritten rules be damned.

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