Last season, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. made the jump from top prospect to superstar, hitting .317/.379/.590 with 22 home runs and 16 stolen bases in 84 games before a back injury ended his season in August. . A franchise cornerstone through and through.
Because he is already so good and still so young -- Tatis turned only 21 in January -- it stands to reason the Padres will look to sign him to a long-term contract and soon. In fact,. Tatis won't reach free agency until after the 2024 season, but still, San Diego wants him in its uniform as long as possible. The sooner the Padres sign him, the better.
Earlier this week Tatis appeared on the Ben & Woods Show on 97.3 The Fan and confirmed there is "nothing happening" with contract extension talks. "(We will) talk about it if the Padres come with something, but there's nothing happening out there yet," he said. Here's what GM A.J. Preller said during his own appearance on the Ben & Woods Show earlier this week:
"Definitely not looking to comment publicly ... We'll sit down with him and his representatives when the time is right here, and kind of get a feel for where they're at and see if there's something there."
It's important to note the Padres carried Tatis on their Opening Day roster last season. They did not manipulate his service time like so many other teams with their top prospects. Because of that, Tatis has a full year of service time and will be a free agent in five years rather than six. It was refreshing to see a team not play the service-time game. It really was.
Although teams are more aggressive than ever locking up their young players to long-term extensions, very few have accomplished as much as Tatis this early in their careers. There is a good contract benchmark at this service time level, however: Ronald Acuna Jr. The Braves gave their star outfielder an eight-year deal worth $100 million last offseason, coming off his rookie season.
There are several key differences between Acuna and Tatis. For starters, Acuna did not have a full season of service time when he signed his extension -- he was called up in late April -- and was still six years away from free agency. Having one fewer year of control gives Tatis more leverage because he's that much closer to free agency. He can demand a bigger payday.
Secondly, Acuna won Rookie of the Year and finished 12th in the MVP voting in 2018. That hardware put him in better position to command big arbitration salaries and thus improved his negotiating position. Tatis finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting last season and did not get any MVP votes. The lack of hardware hurts him a little bit.
And finally, Tatis battled injuries last year. He missed more than a month with a hamstring injury early in the season before a stress reaction in his back ended his year in mid August. Acuna missed a month with a knee injury in 2018, but still played quite a few more games as a rookie (111) than Tatis (84) despite the later call-up.
I think the fact Tatis is a year closer to free agency ultimately trumps Acuna's hardware and health history. Years of control reigns supreme. Tatis is that much closer to being able to leave the Padres and that gives him leverage. Acuna's nine-figure extension is a good benchmark but I bet Tatis and his camp shoot for more. It wouldn't be an unreasonable starting point.
The Padres acquired Tatis from the White Sox in the James Shields trade June 2016 before he ever played a professional game. Even with Manny Machado signed through 2029, Tatis is San Diego's centerpiece as the franchise attempts to transition from rebuilder to contender in the coming years.