Fernandomania

Here’s an excerpt of the multi-faceted piece I wrote in the wake of last week’s Fernando Tatís, Jr. extension. I tried to dig fairly deeply into the contract itself, the player, and what it all means for baseball’s future (lots of good things!).

Tatís is the business baseball needs to be in, for the next decade. He has the transformational, transcendent, incandescent marketability you find once each generation, and there is never a guarantee that your sport gets that superstar. Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey, Jr. are the only players in baseball history who had an impact as profound as the one Tatís could have over the next (say) 14 years. He has Mike Trout’s tools, Javier Báez’s playing style, Bryce Harper’s swagger and charisma, and he’s cooler than any of those guys. If any of that verges on hyperbole, consider that itself an illustration of the effect Tatís has. 

One of the concerns raised by some is that having Tatís bound to San Diego (one of the smallest media markets in the majors, outside the top 25 in the country) will minimize his impact. I think that inverts reality. Tatís will make San Diego as big as it needs to be. The heavy lean toward Los Angeles, when it comes to pro sports in Southern California, will be weakened a bit. National media cameras will find their way to San Diego, and the young fans to whom Tatís holds such unique appeal will find him and the Padres online, even from 2,000 miles away. He’s the first star-caliber Latinx player the Padres have had since Adrián González, who was Mexican-American and born in San Diego, but whom the team traded in his prime, rather than give him a contract considerably smaller than this one. Before González, the only Latinx star the team had ever kept for more than three seasons was Benito Santiago. 

Tatís will make the Padres a beloved brand in Mexico, in the Dominican Republic, and throughout the United States, not only by being great (and a part of great teams, as we’ll soon discuss) but via the huge marketing power he already has. He has national endorsement deals with Gatorade and Adidas, and is the cover man for this year’s version of MLB: The Show. It’s not crucial, but is a nice bonus, that he’s doing it all in the stylish brown-and-gold threads the Padres have rolled out over the last two years. Kids in Texas, Florida, and New York are going to wear his jersey. They can’t morph into the Yankees, but there is no reason the Padres can’t be the Cardinals or the Braves of the West, which would mean a major national footprint and a lasting rise in revenue.
It’s also a big deal that this is such a big deal. The only two contracts that have guaranteed players more money to play in MLB were signed by Trout and Mookie Betts, each within a year or two of free agency. Tatís was still four years from being able to sell his services to the highest bidder, and he faced no particular pressure to forgo that privilege. The Padres brought him up on Opening Day in 2019, rather than manipulate his service time in the style of previous teams holding down elite prospects (most notably Harper, Kris Bryant, and Acuña) to ensure themselves an extra season of control. Doing that put Tatís in a position to demand this kind of price at such a tender age, but far more importantly, it reinforces the fact that the Padres profited from bringing him up, rather than losing anything by doing so. It’s inexpressibly good for baseball for a 22-year-old to achieve this payday, rather than having to wait until he was 25 or 26, and (perhaps, alas) already slightly past his true prime. It’s a promising development for the future of labor dynamics in the game. It’s great marketing toward young athletes choosing among multiple professional opportunities. It raises the credibility of the sport for casual fans.

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