The return of Fernando Tatis Jr.

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Padres Fernando Tatis Jr.
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The return of Fernando Tatis Jr. will undoubtedly give the San Diego Padres a huge boost, especially offensively. However, the team will have to make difficult decisions about where their young risk-taking phenom will play on the field and how to protect him from future injuries.

For the second season in a row, Tatis has been unable to play for extended periods of time. In 2021, the Padres got off to a hot start and looked like contenders until mid-season. No doubt the team missed their dynamic shortstop, who played in only 130 games.

Thanks to a left shoulder subluxation, Tatis Jr. missed time in April, May, and late July. To protect his shoulder, the Padres even moved him to right field. Although medical experts recommended surgery in the offseason, Tatis Jr. opted to rely on exercises to stabilize and strengthen his shoulder.

According to Jim Bowden of @MLBNetworkRadio, “Bob Melvin…told us that Fernando Tatis Jr. will NOT have surgery on his shoulder and instead will play this year as he did last year. The Padres believe his shoulder is as strong as it’s ever been.”

If Tatis Jr. had followed medical advice and opted for surgery, there’s a good chance he would have been rehabbing rather than fooling around on his motorcycle. Unfortunately, he broke his left wrist in a motorcycle accident. Thanks to the lockout, the Padres didn’t learn about the accident until mid-March. To make matters worse, Tatis actually joked about his motorcycle mishaps asking “which one.”

News of the injury had to be especially disturbing to ownership and the front office, as the Padres had signed Tatis Jr. to a mind-boggling $340 million, 14-year contract in February 2021. It’s standard procedure for teams to add caveats to such deals, and Tatis’ contract reportedly included a ban on riding motorcycles. The Padres had every right to void his contract but chose not to penalize him. Instead, A.J. Preller and company chose to work with him. And finally, they may have gotten through to him.

“It’s terrible,” Tatis Jr. recently told reporters. “I feel like everybody’s disappointed, especially me. I feel like we have a pretty good chance this year as a team, and I just want to be out there for my teammates.”

This year especially, the Padres have sorely missed his bat. In his first three seasons, he’s averaged .292/.369/.596/.965, OPS+ 159. Although second in the National League West, the Padres have collectively batted .238/.367/.316/.683.

The entire team, with the exception of Manny Machado and, to a lesser extent Eric Hosmer, has been offensively challenged. Pitching and defense have been the mainstay in the Padres’ 36-22 record–just two games behind the National League West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers (37-21).

However, three lopsided victories in a row indicate the Padres may have actually located their hitting shoes. Earlier in the week, the team had two decisive wins over the powerful New York Mets (7-0 on Tuesday and 13-2 on Wednesday), followed by a 9-0 shellacking of the Colorado Rockies.

No doubt, as Eric Hosmer said recently, “Adding a guy like Fernando is just going to put us on a different level.” But the Padres will have a difficult decision to make when he has been cleared to play. Will he take over for Ha-Seong Kim at short, or will he move to the outfield?

Tatis Jr. has made some spectacular plays at shortstop, but he’s no Ozzie Smith defensively. The stats don’t lie. According to FanGraphs UZR/150, over 2047.0 innings at short from 2019 to 2021, Tatis Jr.’s is a sub-par -8.8, 2020: 2.6, 2021. Likewise his DRS -11.2 2019, -3, 2020 0, -09 2021 does not inspire confidence.

Tatis Jr.’s injury revealed his shortcomings and highlighted the superior play of Ha-Seong Kim: UZR/150 2021 (260 innings) 2.6; 2022 (360 innings) 13.2; DRS 9 2021, 4 2022

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Tatis Jr.’s 56.0 innings in center and 151.1 in right prove he may not be a gifted outfielder (yet), but he’s not a liability (0 DRS). With his speed and instincts, he has the ability to become a standout in right or left field.

In the best-case scenario, Tatis Jr. will be cleared to play at the end of this month or early next—and he will return with a new and improved attitude. Machado and other veteran players did not hide their impatience with the young superstar last year. At the ripe old age of 23, Tatis Jr. has what sorely missed Padres announcer Jerry Coleman would call “a golden chance” to be one of the best players and teammates in Major League Baseball.

9 thoughts on “The return of Fernando Tatis Jr.

  1. The reporting of the injury is paramount of this whole issue; is it the union rules not allowing him to get this issue taken care of right away, or Tatis and his lack of concern? Most doctors i have talked to like to start treating injuries right away, the longer you wait, the better chance for permanent damage.
    If he really wanted to help his teammates win a division you would think he would have gotten his injured wrist treated immediately, knowing it takes time to heal. Motivation and actions speak louder than words. Is he still getting paid his millions whether he sits on the bench, rehabilitating his wrist that should have been done during the off-season?

    1. Hi Adam,
      You are so right about the reporting of the incident, but the lockout screwed that up. No doubt, the sooner he got treatment, the better. But again, the lack of communication just made matters worse. There’s no question that his actions violated his contract and that he let his teammates down. My hope is that the frustration over not being able to play for an extended period of time will change his behavior–finally.
      Thanks for your thoughts,

      1. We can’t, and should not blame the lockout. Would he not go to the doctor if he was seriously ill? Yes. Tatis is to blame, fully. Sadly, the lockout is being used to minimize his foolishness.

        I know it is blasphemous to talk about the golden child in this way, but it seems clear that “El Nino” is a baby when it comes to maturity. He needs to grow up, and fast. He needs to start thinking of his teammates and his commitment to his employers, those who are paying him $340 million dollars.

        Sadly, he will be injured off and on over the next 13+ years. He is uber-talented, but fragile like fine China. Therefore, the Padres need multiple people who can play above average SS.

        1. Thanks for reading and commenting, Random Dude,

          The lockout exacerbated the situation as the Padres would undoubtedly want to send Tatis Jr. to one of their preferred surgeons.

          I think the golden child’s glow has lost its luster, and a growing number of fans have become frustrated with his carelessness and selfishness. He even seems frustrated with himself, which could lead to a change in attitude and behavior.


  2. Broken record here…maybe a solution?

    1. RF: Tatis
    2. 1B: Myers
    3. SS: Kim until CJ ready
    4. Hosmer. Change his Padre job classification. Keep paying his salary, but remove him from the 40 man roster. Do not let him coach anyone how to hit so many ground balls. Do not let him coach anyone how to field throws to 1st. But allow him to inspire others myriad ways.
      1. You are so right, Tempy,
        Dave Cameron warned Preller about Hosmer and that huge contract. It’s interesting that Cameron actually came to work for the Padres but left after a relatively short time.
        Right field would probably be the best spot for Tatis Jr., and I’ve been saying for years that the Padres should have just left Wil Myers at first. If the Padres value defense at all, Kim will stay at short.

      2. Everyone warned Preller. No one else wanted Hosmer. That signing makes no sense on any level. Yet here we are.

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