A New and Improved Version of El Nino
The Chicago White Sox probably have mixed feelings about their trade of Fernando Tatis Jr. (aka El Nino) to the San Diego Padres in June 2016 for James Shields and Erik Johnson. The young slugger has been both a curse and blessing for the recipients of the deal.
Tatis Jr.’s talents cannot be denied. He can hit and hit with power but also has the gifts of speed and youth, as he’s just 24 years old. When he has been healthy and available, Tatis Jr. has batted .290/.367/.591/.958 with a BABIP of .344 and wRC+ of 152.
The Padres recognized his talent and, in 2021, awarded him a premature contract worth $340,000,000 over 14 years. Therein lies a problem. Since joining the Padres in 2019, Tatis Jr. has appeared in just 277 games and shone signs of immaturity and selfishness.
El Nino (ranked third of all MLB prospects by most prognosticators) burst on the scene in 2019, batting .317/.379/.560 with 22 home runs. A back injury shut him down after just 84 games, but Tatis Jr. still came in third for the National League Rookie of the Year award.
No doubt, the Padres realized the team had a rare talent on their roster. However, that gifted player came with warning signs—injuries and a tendency to ignore the advice of professionals, including doctors. Also, Tatis Jr. played like his hair was on fire and appeared to be an excellent shortstop. However, the numbers tell a different story. According to FanGraphs’ UZR and UZR+, at short, he is subpar at -12.4 and -7.1.
In 2020, Tatis Jr. appeared in just 59 games but still came in fourth place in voting for the National League Most Valuable Player behind Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, and Padres’ third baseman Manny Machado. His 50 home runs ranked second; 42 RBI and 11 stolen bases fourth.
Machado got in the young superstar’s face the following season. Tatis Jr. had aggressively questioned a call at the plate in an important game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Manager Jase Tingler took the fall and was ejected.
In 2021, with his new contract in hand, Tatis more than doubled the number of games, appearing in 130 total. He batted .282/.364/.611/.975, 157 wRC+. However, the injury bug bit again, and team doctors recommended surgery on his balky left shoulder. He refused despite multiple setbacks due to a left shoulder subluxation. He also lost more time after testing positive for COVID-19. Still, Tatis Jr. won a second Silver Slugger Award and came in third in MLB voting.
Aside from injury concerns, Tatis gave the Padres reason to believe he could be a catalyst in the team’s first trip to the World Series since 1998. Instead, a motorcycle accident ruined the plan. Most teams ban such activities in their contracts. However, the Padres chose not to exercise penalties despite Tatis joking about “which one?” when questioned by reporters about his extracurricular activities.
In March 2022, Tatis had surgery on a fractured scaphoid bone with the hope that he would return later in the season. But on August 12th, news that he tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid shocked the baseball world. Tatis Jr. would not appear in a Padre game until the this season.
At first, he defended himself by claiming he’d taken medication for ringworm, but no one bought that explanation, including Adidas, which dropped his sponsorship. Later that month, Tatis changed his tune and admitted he’d let everyone, including himself, down.
“I would like to start this day by saying how truly sorry I am,” he said at the outset. “I am really sorry. I have let so many people down. I’ve lost so much love from people that I have failed. I have failed all of them. I have failed the front office of the San Diego Padres, Peter Seidler, and A.J. Preller. I have failed every fan of this city. I have failed my country. I have failed my family, parents. I’m really sorry for my mistakes.”
His previous critic, Machado, welcomed the acknowledgment. Even more important, Preller spoke up” “We all make mistakes. I’ve made plenty of mistakes as general manager of this team… The key is how you learn from those mistakes, how you grow from those mistakes, what you do going forward.”
Fernando Tatis Jr. has paid for his transgressions and carelessness on the field and off. He’s undergone the necessary surgeries on his balky shoulder and injured wrist. He has moved from shortstop to right field with no public complaints. Most important of all, he has emphasized his desire to be a “better teammate.”
On Thursday, April 20th, Fernando Tatis Jr. returned to Padres in his first game back in the big leagues in 565 days in a series in Arizona against the Diamondbacks. In a tiny sample size, he is batting a rusty.167/.211/.333/.544.
However, no one assumes Tatis Jr. has lost his touch. Just as important, he’s bought into his new position.
He’s not alone in falling afoul of MLB’s rules. In 2013, current teammate Nelson Cruz sat out 50 games for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. When he returned, opposing team fans took delight in raining down boos from the right-field stands. Tatis Jr. will undoubtedly be the victim of similar sneers, but he’s looking forward, not back.
“I feel like I’m still going to impact the game a lot that way, controlling the game from right field. I’m definitely looking forward to it. You don’t really see many outfielders who have really good arms anymore. I’m trying to be one of those guys.”
A new and improved El Nino has the talent and resolve to be the missing link in the San Diego Padre’s quest for the big prize.
Baseball has been a part of Diane’s life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
The missing link? This team isn’t going anywhere.They just got bageled again (ie shut out). They have five…FIVE of their eight starters (not including DH, which are about .250) who are UNDER .200. And two of the other 3 are at .213 and .220. That is unheard of. They also inexplicably occasionally start a .100 hitter (Odor). We’re almost a full month into the season. This is not a well managed team, and they just sent down one of their best starting pitchers (and/or relief pitchers). All this and we haven’t even really talked about their struggles with their pitching.
Hello Random Dude,
I wish I could tell you that the Padres are just off to a slow start… There are multiple reasons to be concerned, not just the offense. However, it’s early days, and there is plenty of time to turn it around.
About Tatis Jr., he’s obviously rusty. However, I can’t believe he was just a flash in the pan. However, he was a selfish, risk-taking jerk until everything caught up with him.
Thanks for your input,