Padres ink Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14 year-$340 Million deal: And it is still a bargain?

Players sign extensions for different reasons, influenced perhaps by their parents, their agents, the circumstances in which they were born.  Extensions always come with a tradeoff: A player gains long-term security but sacrifices the potential for even greater riches.

Fernando Tatis Jr., who just locked himself into a career contract worth $340 million to stay with San Diego chose security. I’m not going to feel bad for Tatis Jr., because he just signed on for generational wealth with security, but he could’ve set MLB salary records had he waited.

Tatis Jr. could have gone year to year, become a free agent entering his age 26 season and signed for more than $340 million once a free agent.

By conservative estimates, Tatis might have earned $50 million in his three years of arbitration if he had stayed healthy. He then would have hit the open market in a post-pandemic world, with the baseball economy presumably more stable under a new collective-bargaining agreement. The Great Free-Agent Shortstop Class of 2021-22 further would have boosted his potential earning power, elevating the market at his position.

All that makes sense in theory. But seriously, how many of us would risk a guaranteed $340 million for the potential to earn perhaps $450 million?

That is where the flip side to the argument that Tatis Jr. should’ve waited this out, gone year by year.

Think back to early in Astros Shortstop Carlos Correa’s career. He was the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year in his age 20 season and almost as impressive the following year. Not quite on Tatis Jr.’s level, but close. But back trouble and other injuries limited Correa to average just 98 games from 2017 to ’19. He then produced a career-low .709 OPS in the 60-game 2020 season, and his free agency after ’21 does not appear as promising as it once did.

The risk for the Padres is that Tatis might follow a similar path. 14 years is an eternity in sports. $340 million is a huge check, one insurmountable for a small market team like the Padres to over come if Tatis Jr. doesn’t live up to expectations.

But the Padres struck now, believing Tatis’ price only would rise, and now was the time to ensure their star stayed in San Diego.

It worked for the Atlanta Braves who locked up their superstar player Ronald Acuña to sign an eight-year $100 million extension after he won Rookie of the Year in 2018. Acuña at the time had played in only 111 games, 32 fewer than Tatis. Acuña agreed to two club options, extending the club’s control through his age 30 season, a point at which clubs are more reluctant to spend big on free agents. His annual salary over the course of the deal never will be higher than $17 million.

The Braves saved hundreds of million dollars by projecting what Acuña would be. And Acuña, just two years into the deal already regrets his decision.

Going forward, the Padres and Tatis Jr. hope to travel down the path which he out performs the $340 million price tag. The Padres become a prime-time team, winning the first of many World Series. Tatis Jr. becoming one of the best to ever grace the diamond, and soon becoming the face of MLB.

Only time will tell how we view this contract, but the future looks as bright as the sunshine in San Diego.

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