Tatis: 'I'm all about winning in San Diego'

February 22nd, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- In the general manager's suite on the second floor of the Peoria Sports Complex, Fernando Tatis Jr. -- decked out in a dress shirt and a smart, brown checkered vest -- pulled up a chair. On the desk of A.J. Preller, the man who had enough faith in Tatis to trade an All-Star to acquire him before the shortstop had even played a professional baseball game, sat a 14-year, $340 million contract.

It needed some ink.

Tatis obliged -- ensuring his place in the Padres’ plans through 2034, ensuring that the "statue contract" he craved would become a reality. With that trademark boyish smile, Tatis stood and hugged a beaming Preller. It marked the culmination of a process that began a month and a half ago and spanned two cities 3,000 miles apart.

In early January, Preller and two other members of the Padres' front office set out for San Pedro de Macoris, where Tatis grew up in the Dominican Republic, and where he spends his offseasons.

The mission to solidify the team's long-term future around Tatis -- a 22-year-old superstar and perhaps the budding face of baseball -- had three potential outcomes in Preller's estimation.

The first two were palatable: Tatis could've pushed off negotiations another year. Or he could've inked a shorter contract extension that would've given him some security, while ensuring he'd hit free agency in his late 20s.

As Preller recalled, those weren't the options Tatis was interested in.

"Why not my whole career?" Tatis asked the general manager.

From there, it became a matter of dollars and cents -- $340 million, to be exact.

“We just talked about that third option,” Preller said. “When you have a talent as exciting as Fernando … with that type of a contract Fernando might have a chance to be out there with Tony and with Trevor and then build his own legacy.”

Preller was referring to the park area beyond the outfield at Petco Park, where two statues loom -- one of Trevor Hoffman and another of Tony Gwynn, both San Diego icons.The Padres had assembled a pitch for Tatis based around those statues. Sign for the long haul, and he might just see himself in bronze out there one day.

"Why not go to a statue contract?" Tatis mused. "People are saying, 'Oh, too many years.' But I just love what I'm seeing, what we're going to do. I want that statue on one team. I want to stay on one team and build my legacy over here in San Diego."

That legacy was a constant theme during Tatis' extension press conference on Monday morning.

If all goes well, by the end of the deal, Tatis would have spent 16 years in San Diego, matching Hoffman for the second-longest tenure in Padres history, behind only Gywnn’s 20 years. (Tatis was quick to add that he plans to play in San Diego until he's 40, so don't rule out that next extension.)

“You know, the parent of a 4-year-old kid right now can tell his or her child right now that they’re going to see one of the great players in baseball in their home ballpark until they become an adult,” said Padres chairman Peter Seidler. “We love that possibility, and we humbly accept that challenge.”

Tatis once said he aspired to become "the Dominican Derek Jeter." Clearly, his legacy being tied to a singular city and a singular franchise is hugely important to him.

"I was already thinking about that since I got to the big leagues," Tatis said. "In my dreams, the players I admire the most, they stay on one team, they build a culture, and they become winners with that team. I'm over here trying to do the same."

The Padres, of course, have yet to experience the triumph of a World Series. That's unequivocally the next box to check on Tatis' agenda. He's already broken out as a superstar. Now, he has the record contract to match. What's the next step in his evolution?

"He's got a chance to set his mark by winning World Series," said manager Jayce Tingler. "It starts with one, and then you build on that."

Tatis has made his love of San Diego clear from the outset. He recalled his first career at-bat (a single off Madison Bumgarner) and the standing ovation he received from a packed Petco Park.

But Tatis also acknowledged it's unlikely he would've re-upped with San Diego had the franchise not put forth a clear vision for a World Series. The Padres, of course, have done exactly that this offseason, trading for Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove among a handful of other noteworthy transactions.

At that point, it was clear the team's ambitions matched those of Tatis. Considering his love affair with San Diego, the rest felt obvious.

"I love this city," Tatis said. "I love the fans. I love the culture. I love the vibe. And I'm all about winning, and I'm all about winning in San Diego."

According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, Tatis' contract is somewhat backloaded. He will make a total of $24 million over the next four years -- the years he was already under team control in San Diego. That contract escalates to $20 million in 2025-26, $25 million in '27-28 and $36 million thereafter.

Not that anything changes for Tatis. He plans to be the usual swaggering, bat-flipping, no-holds-barred version of himself.

"I'm just a kid," Tatis said. "Now, I'm just going to play this game with the same love since I was playing in the backyard."

For the next 14 seasons, downtown San Diego is his backyard.