Fernando Tatis Jr., only 23, probably has set the record for the fastest to go from brilliant young shortstop prodigy to embarrassing cautionary tale, a calamitous situation for the Padres.
Tatis, who had yet to play this season while rehabbing a wrist fracture suffered in a motorcycle accident during the winter, now won’t return at all this year after being hit with an 80-game suspension Friday for testing positive for the banned substance Clostebol.
So much to unpack here, starting with the Padres’ decision to sign Tatis to a record 14-year, $340 million contract in February 2021 after he had played only 143 games over two seasons (.301 average, .956 OPS, 39 homers).
General manager A.J. Preller has made a reputation for taking bold swings to upgrade the franchise, and it was less than two weeks ago that the Huntington Station native stunned the sport by acquiring Juan Soto.
Now Preller again has to be questioning the wisdom of that Tatis deal, one that he maybe could have pushed to void based on the outlawed activity of riding a motorcycle, a not uncommon clause in players’ contracts.
As for this first PED offense, Tatis won’t be paid during the suspension, which will include any playoff games and carry into May of next season. Preller said he was blindsided by the positive test, and clearly is miffed by Tatis’ behavior since the motorcycle accident.
“I think we’re hoping that from the offseason to now, there would be some maturity,” Preller told reporters Friday night. “Obviously with the news today, it’s more of a pattern and something we’ve got to dig a little more into.”
Speaking of that “maturity,” Tatis initially tried to say that he mistakenly took Clostebol in a medication for ringworm treatment, going the ignorance route that many try to employ after testing positive for a banned substance. It didn’t take very long, however, for people to point out that the drug actually used for ringworm, as well as other skin ailments, is Clobetasol, obviously a lame attempt to obscure the truth.
How anyone, in 2022, could roll the dice on ingesting or injecting a medication without running it by MLB’s protocols first is too ridiculous to even consider in the first place, especially with the money at stake. Yet Tatis still included that ringworm alibi in his official statement released Friday by the Players Association, only to drop his appeal a few sentences later.
“I am completely devastated,” he said in the statement. “There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on the field competing with my teammates. After initially appealing the suspension, I have realized that my mistake was the cause of this result, and for that reason I have decided to start serving my suspension immediately. I look forward to rejoining my teammates on the field in 2023.”
Tatis is not the first to make this particular “mistake” with Clostebol. Freddy Galvis, then with the Phillies, was suspended for using it in 2012, as was Dee Strange-Gordon, who was playing for the Marlins at the time of his 2016 penalty.
Despite Tatis’ massive contract, his huge salary bumps don’t kick in until later, as he is earning $5.7 million this season and $7.7 million in 2023, the two years impacted by the suspension. As a result, the financial hit is relatively small, costing Tatis roughly $1.5 million for the remainder of this season and about $1.4 million for the start of the next one.
The Tatis shocker was twofold, coming after the Soto trade on Aug. 2 that was intended to create a super-lineup for the Padres’ playoff push. Preller was lauded for the Soto coup, but with Tatis’ behavior raising question marks about his conduct, sending that massive package of prospects to the Nationals could end up more damaging to the franchise than was previously believed.
Soto is under the Padres’ control only through the 2024 season, and he’ll likely be seeing a $500 million contract at the same time Tatis’ salary jumps to $20 million, which used to feel like a bargain. Not so much anymore.
“I’m sure he’s very disappointed,” Preller said. “At the end of the day, it’s one thing to say. You’ve got to start showing it with your actions . . . I think what we need to get to is a point in time where we trust [him]. Over the course of the last six or seven months, that’s been something that we haven’t been really able to have there.
“I think from our standpoint, obviously he’s a great talent, he’s a guy we have a lot of history with and do believe in, but these things only work when there’s trust both ways.”
Maybe the Orioles — those in the clubhouse, anyway — aren’t very good at math. After hearing general manager Mike Elias cite their low probability of making the playoffs at the Aug. 2 trade deadline — part of his explainer for dealing away the popular and talented duo of closer Jorge Lopez and first baseman/DH Trey Mancini — the Orioles won seven of nine and moved into possession of the AL’s third wild-card spot going into Saturday.
Talk about mixed messages. With Elias playing the percentages for ’22 in eyeing his pledged offseason rebuild, casting doubt on the O’s chances of making the postseason for the first time since 2016 and fourth time in 25 years, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson made a clubhouse visit to express to the players what a special group they are.
“I just want to tell you guys, you absolutely have been thrilling me,” Robinson said in a team-released video. “I watch all the games. You’ve been thrilling the people of Baltimore, they’ve been waiting for this for a while. It really is something.”
Leave it to someone like Robinson, a former MVP and two-time World Series champ, to appreciate what the Orioles are doing and what it means to a fan base whose numbers have dwindled in recent years at Camden Yards.
From a franchise-building perspective, Elias, in his fourth season as Orioles GM, is just following the modern analytics blueprint. He was part of Jeff Luhnow’s front-office group that executed a four-year plan with the Astros, fielding non-competitive teams (and hoarding high draft picks) before finally getting to the playoffs in 2015 and winning a tainted World Series two years later.
The Orioles are hoping to be on the same trajectory. Depending on the publication, Baltimore’s farm system ranks anywhere from first to fifth in the majors, and Elias pledged to invest in free agents this offseason. The Orioles are dead last in 2022 payroll at $43 million.
On deadline day, when Elias’ haul was a half-dozen middling minor-league pitchers and Brett Phillips, the Orioles’ chances of making the playoffs stood at 2.7%, according to FanGraphs. But since June 22 (through Friday), the Orioles went 29-14 and their pitching staff ranked second in the AL with a 3.30 ERA (Houston was at 3.05). They’re third in batting average (.257) and OPS (.752) during that span, but on Saturday, FanGraphs had made only a marginal upgrade to their playoff chances at 7.7%.
Their performance would suggest better odds, but it’s a bet that Elias didn’t want to buy into yet. He’s already scheduled the team’s “liftoff” for this winter (interesting that he uses an Astros metaphor). But with the once-powerful AL East looking wobbly recently, why not the O’s?