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With the Padres looking to slash payroll, Fernando Tatis Jr. is an interesting trade target for the Blue Jays

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Jim Scott
4 months ago
Yes, the Blue Jays lost out on signing Shohei Ohtani. Juan Soto is also off the table as well and will be so for some time if the Yankees have anything to say about it. Bummer.
The Jays could take the money they did not spend on Shohei and spread it around, filling multiple holes. Intellectually, that might be the best option. Adding one WAR here and one WAR there might well add up to a more significant benefit than spending big on a single superstar. But emotionally, the superstar might be more appealing.
The problem is, as one of my BJN writers likes to put it, finding a trade that works is not like buying broccoli. Many superstars are simply unavailable at a realistic price, and the ones that *might* be available often come with major issues.
So, what would this player look like? Ideally, he would play a position of need — corner outfield, third base, or (possibly) designated hitter. He would be under team control for more than a single year (ideally multiple years) at a reasonable price. He would be a power hitter (a career ISO in the .250 range). He would be a force against left-handed pitching but would be more than adequate against righties as well (so he would play every day). And his team would not automatically hang up the phone if Atkins called.
The San Diego Padres have a problem. They are dangerously close to MLB’s debt service rule limits and had to borrow $50 million to pay salaries in November. They are said to “prefer” to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2024. As Sports Illustrated notes:
“Their franchise-record $255 million payroll in 2023 contributed to, according to a league official, a final luxury tax figure of $291 million — which would require a tax bill of $39.15 million payable by Jan. 21.” 
This lack of flexibility could make it very difficult for them to fill the multiple holes on their 2024 roster. Their situation is difficult – they have already traded Juan Soto and Trent Grisham, and lost Blake Snell, Josh Hader, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo to free agency. To get the flexibility they need, and restock with cheaper players, they might need to do something dramatic.
So, let’s talk about Fernando Tatis Jr.
The Paddies signed FTJ to a 14-year, $338 million deal ($24.3 million AAV) back in 2021. At the time, they called it a “statue contract” – meaning that at the end of the contract, they were hoping to erect a statue of him outside their stadium. But things have not worked out exactly as planned. First, Tatis received an 80-game PED suspension (he claimed that he took the banned clostebol by mistake), which covered the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023. Another disappointment was his defensive performance at shortstop, where his career -5 DRS/1200 was unsustainable (though to his credit, when he moved to right field, he won a gold glove in 2023). And finally, his 113 wRC+ in 2023 was the lowest of his career.
That statue is looking increasingly unlikely.
“Tatis and the club once talked openly about erecting a monument to him in San Diego at the end of what they called a “statue contract.” But by the regular season’s end, the Padres had scrubbed his giant mural from the exterior of Petco Park, canceled his bobblehead night and erased him from scoreboard videos … [and] … Many players had grown tired of Tatis’s moodiness, immaturity and lack of accountability.” 
Could that mean that, given San Diego’s critical situation, trading him might have gone from impossible to merely improbable?
Why would the Jays even consider paying the still-exorbitant price for FTJ? Even as an outfielder, he checks a lot of boxes. At 34 years old next year, George Springer is only an average right fielder. But he might be a well-above-average left fielder. And an outfield of Springer – Varsho – Tatis Jr could very well be the premiere defensive outfield in all of baseball.
And Tatis’ relatively poor 2023 with the bat needs to be taken with a grain of salt. His actual stat line was a cromulent .257/.332/.449 … but his Statcast x-stat line was .281/.364/.508. Steamer projects him for a 139 wRC+ and a 5.7 WAR in 2024 – when Fernando will be playing at only 25 years old. And his career 160 wRC+ against left-handed pitching (133 against right-handers) and career ISO of .263 would fill a lot of holes in the Jays’ batting order.

The bottom line

That the Paddies would consider trading Fernando at a price that the Jays could even consider is highly unlikely. But San Diego’s financial situation is precarious, and “trades that catch everyone by surprise because the player was considered untouchable” sometimes do happen, particularly when a player has outworn their welcome with their current team.
If the Jays believe that FTJ’s personality issues are just a function of his youth, I would hope that Ross Atkins would consider the possibility to be at least worth the cost of a long-distance phone call.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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