With return date set, how does Tatis fit in '23?
Superstar eligible to return from PED suspension on April 20
SAN DIEGO -- One ancillary benefit of the Padres' deep postseason run: They'll get their superstar shortstop for 12 additional games in 2023.
With each Padres playoff game counting as one game served on Fernando Tatis Jr.'s suspension, the Padres now have a tentative date for Tatis' return. As the schedule currently lines up, Tatis would be eligible to return on April 20 at the start of a four-game series in Arizona (though that date is subject to change with any rainouts or other postponements).
In August, Tatis was suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a banned substance. That suspension ensured Tatis would miss the entire 2022 season, after he'd spent the first four months rehabbing a fractured left wrist.
"I've had dialogue with him here throughout the postseason," said Padres manager Bob Melvin. "He's just looking forward to helping his team and getting back. I think he has a different perspective on things now, too. The hunger that he's going to have to come in and be part of this -- and help his team go farther than we did [in 2022] -- is pretty immense.
"What he's focused on right now is just getting healthy, getting back and being part of this group. Because he missed it."
Without Tatis in the lineup, the Padres still managed to reach the National League Championship Series before bowing out in five games to Philadelphia.
During the Padres' playoff run, Tatis underwent a second surgery on his left wrist, with the goal to strengthen it well into the future. At the team's end-of-season press conference on Tuesday, general manager A.J. Preller addressed that surgery for the first time.
"There was a question about more so the long term, over the course of the next 7-10 years, how everything would heal and would hold up," Preller said. "... We talked with a lot of experts throughout the country -- and [Tatis] ultimately made the decision: Let's go in, let's repair it, let's take the screw out and put one in. Everybody felt like it went really well."
That surgery was in addition to the left shoulder operation Tatis underwent in September to repair his labrum. He endured multiple shoulder subluxations during the 2021 season, and the left shoulder surgery, which comes with a recovery timetable of 4-6 months, is meant to prevent any further dislocations.
Despite the two recent operations, the Padres are anticipating that Tatis will be fully healthy for the start of Spring Training next season. During the suspension, Tatis will be eligible to take part in Padres camp, but he must be away from the team once the regular season begins.
In total, Tatis will miss the team's first 20 games next season.
"Limiting the time that he's away from the game, away from our team, that's a positive for sure," Preller said. "Getting a couple more weeks of a hopefully healthy Fernando Tatis Jr. should be a positive for us."
Then, of course, there's the time-tested question about where Tatis might play next season. Ha-Seong Kim emerged as a key contributor in 2022 and an outstanding defensive shortstop.
Tatis had previously expressed his desire to play shortstop primarily. But prior to his suspension, when the team was readying for his mid-August return, the Padres had planned to play him at both shortstop and center field. (The goal was to form something of a platoon between the righty-hitting Kim and lefty-hitting Trent Grisham.)
"He wants to win," Preller said. "We'll sit down and have that conversation. He's got a good baseball mind. He understands the game. We'll talk to him about what we think is best. We'll listen to what he thinks, what he wants to do, but ultimately, we're going to do what we feel is best for our group."
Ultimately it might depend on Preller's other moves this offseason. Kim is versatile, as is second baseman Jake Cronenworth. In theory, the Padres could slide Kim to second and Cronenworth to first -- even though both were Gold Glove candidates at their respective positions in 2022. That said, San Diego will also be in the market for a first baseman this winter.
Regardless, Preller put it best the first time he was asked on Tuesday what position he’d like to see Tatis playing in 2023.
"That position would be on the field," Preller said. "Maybe for 145 games. That position would be best."
For the Padres, it would represent quite a welcome change from the 2022 campaign.