With all eyes on Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu, and the rest of the 2020 MLB free agent class, this topic can very easily drift into the background. However, a possible contract extension for Fernando Tatis Jr. and the San Diego Padres could potentially be on the horizon. The sport’s most electric player and, by many accounts, the face of baseball, is just two seasons into the obligatory six years of team control. The fact that we can already have this discussion surrounding Tatis Jr, who turns 22 the day after the new year begins, speaks volumes to the level of talent that the Padres shortstop possesses.
Where the speculation really begins is not if Tatis is offered an extension, but rather when it gets offered and the details of the extension. With a lot of young players signing extensions that forgo their arbitration eligible years (years 4-6 of team control), and their first few years of free agency in some players’ cases, there will be plenty of recent cases to reference when the two parties enter negotiations. Chief among those recent cases would be Ronald Acuña Jr., the Atlanta Braves’ star centerfielder. Acuña Jr. and the Braves agreed to an 8-year, $100 million extension just days after the 2019 season commenced. At the time of signing, Acuña was just a few months past his 21st birthday and his NL Rookie of the Year winning 2018 campaign. In terms of service time, Tatis Jr. will have at least an entire full season more than Acuña by the time he signs any extension, and will likely be over a full year older than Acuña was.
Tatis Jr., however, presents a really fascinating and rather unique scenario. Where he is like other young and quickly rising superstars is that by signing an extension after just two seasons, you could potentially cap your longterm value (see: Ozzie Albies’ extension). However, what Tatis brings to the table is unlike anyone that’s been in his shoes before him. At the age of just 21, he became the sole focus of the MLB, even though he cooled off mightily after a scorching hot start to his 2020 campaign. He has rapidly become baseball’s most polarizing figure, and is the future of the sport, both on and off the field. The bilingual superstar shortstop carries more off-the-field value than a Mike Trout because of his dynamic and marketable persona. Should Tatis command more money because of that? Yes and no.
With a player this young, it is nearly impossible to give him the “right” amount of money. They could agree to a deal similar to Acuña’s, and many might say he is more grossly underpaid than Acuña already is. If he gets “too much” and has underperforming seasons, you have now overpaid for someone that was already under team control. Finding the middle ground may prove to be difficult for San Diego.
What is easily indisputable is Tatis Jr.’s value to the San Diego Padres and to the sport of baseball as a whole, both presently and in the future. The hundred-million dollar question is, will Tatis be properly compensated for that? Only time will tell.
Prediction: Fernando Tatis Jr. signs an extension with the San Diego Padres somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 years and $150 million.