What Can We Learn From Fernando Tatis Jr.'s Unprecedented $340 Million Contract Extension?
The news that Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a 14-year, $340 million contract extension with the Padres on Wednesday understandably will make jaws drop.
The size of the deal ($340 million) is less remarkable than the contract’s length. Fourteen years is a truly astonishing length of time for a contract in a sport where 10-year deals are exceedingly rare.
A 14-year deal makes all of us contemplate the passing of time and mortality. Where will we all be 14 years from now?
If you’re a kid, 14 years means you’ll be a full-blown adult by the time Tatis says farewell to this deal. If you’re a young adult, 14 years is long enough that by the time Tatis’ contract ends, you won’t be young anymore.
If you’re middle-aged like me, you just hope to still be around to watch Tatis play out the final years of this contract.
It's possible that Tatis will end up outplaying this deal. He will finish this contract as a 35-year-old. Even in a sport where the aging curve has sharpened in the performance-enhancing drug testing era, it would not be unusual for an exceptional shortstop to produce outstanding numbers throughout the length of this 14-year contract.
If Alex Rodriguez had signed a 14-year deal as a 22-year-old, he would have hit .299/.389/.573 with 565 home runs over the course of the deal. He would have been an all-star 12 times and won three MVP awards over that span. And he still would have been a middle-of-the-lineup hitter in the final year of the deal.
If Derek Jeter had signed a 14-year contract as a 22-year-old, he would have hit .334/.406/.465 in the final year of that deal. He would have been a .318/.388/.459 hitter for the totality of those 14 years with 10 all-star appearances along the way.
Cal Ripken Jr. was nearing the end of his most productive years at 35, but if the O’s had locked him up to a 14-year deal when he was 22, no one in Baltimore would have regretted the contract.
The greats usually stay great through their early-to-mid-30s and Tatis looks like he should be one of the greats. This contract gives him a strong chance to be the best player in Padres’ history, topping the great Tony Gwynn.
But it doesn’t always work out for the team and player. Rewind the calendar to 14 seasons ago (2007) and what is remarkable is that there are no regular shortstops from that season who remain active in any role now.
Some of that is a quirk in timing. Many of the shortstops of 2007 were older. The only regular shortstops who were 23-years-old or younger were Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki. But both of them offer reminders that even great young players may not have 14 years of production in their future.
Tulowitzki was a 22-year-old rookie shortstop in 2007. He produced a 6.8 bWAR that year as an offensive force who also played excellent defense. And he remained one of the best shortstops in the game for much of the next seven years. But injuries meant that his career largely petered out after he turned 30.
Ramirez was the National League rookie of the year in 2006 as a 22-year-old shortstop. The following year in 2007, he was 10th in the NL MVP voting. He remained one of the best players in baseball for the next five or six years, but like Tulowitzki his star began to fade as his 20s turned into his 30s.
Both sides give up something and get something here. Tatis is getting less than what he could likely get on the free agent market if he continues to play like one of the best players in baseball for the next five years. San Diego is willing to take the risk of Tatis getting injured or tailing off, in return for the certainty that it will retain its franchise player for the entirety of the best years of his career.