The path that led to Tatis' big extension

February 22nd, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Under different circumstances, the Padres would've celebrated their star shortstop with yet another swanky press conference in Peoria’s Colonnade Room -- the same way they announced the arrivals of Eric Hosmer in 2018 and Manny Machado in '19.

Instead, met with reporters via video conference on Monday after putting pen to paper on his 14-year contract extension.

It wasn't quite the spectacle that the two previous major signings were. But make no mistake, it was every bit the celebration for the Padres. Tatis is a 22-year-old shortstop with five elite tools and the swagger to match them. Those types of players don’t come around very often.

Here's a look back at the key moments and events that set the Padres and Tatis on course for today's crescendo:

June 4, 2016: The James Shields trade

The Padres knew they were getting a steal when they landed Tatis in a trade with the White Sox. He was unranked as a prospect in nearly every publication. But even they couldn't have envisioned this.

“When your general manager comes to you and says I think this trade makes sense for us, we ask a few questions, and he’s shown he gets it more right than wrong,” said chairman Peter Seidler. “But, you know, he didn’t come in and say, ‘I’ve got the next face of baseball.'”

The Padres sent James Shields and a significant amount of cash to the White Sox to help pay for part of Shields' contract. In the deal, San Diego also landed right-hander Erik Johnson -- who was mentioned ahead of Tatis in nearly every write-up. (Full disclosure, I'm as guilty as anyone.)

Just for fun, here's what Preller had to say about Tatis in that story on the day he acquired his future $340 million man:

"He's got the big league pedigree. He's a very intelligent kid. He's got good feel for the game. He's a shortstop, and he's a bigger-bodied player that's a pretty good athlete."

Pretty good athlete, indeed.

March 26, 2019: A surprise callup

It wasn't long before Tatis skyrocketed to the top of prospect rankings everywhere. His 2017 season made it clear he was a special talent. His '18 season -- albeit shortened after 88 games because of a hand injury -- made it clear he was on a different level.

When Tatis arrived at Padres camp in 2019, the baseball world envisioned a midseason breakthrough. Tatis was undeniably talented, but he was returning from injury and had only played half a season at Double-A.

Instead, Tatis took the Cactus League by storm. A week before the season, Preller said a trio of veterans -- Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Ian Kinsler -- walked into his office.

“They said, ‘You’re absolutely crazy if you don’t put this guy on our Major League team,'” Preller said.

When they spoke, he listened. Wholly ignoring any concerns over service time, Preller made the decision to promote Tatis for Opening Day.

Much was made about that decision at the time. But this much is clear: The Padres certainly endeared themselves to Tatis. The move set the tone for a seamless marriage between a team and its superstar from the outset. Tatis would receive a standing ovation at Petco Park that rivaled Machado's, then notch two hits off Madison Bumgarner.

Related

“I’ll never forget that Opening Day, my first at-bat, how the fans received me that moment,” Tatis said. “It just clicked that moment. I felt the love. It was mutual right away. I said: ‘This is home.’”

June 23, 2019: Tatis begins to dazzle

There's a moment for every fan where the sheer audacity of the way Tatis plays baseball clicks.

He authored dozens of them during his rookie season in 2019 -- the time he evaded a rundown with a matrix-esque slide against the Braves, the time he ducked a Shaun Anderson fastball at his head then homered on a low-and-away slider, next pitch.

But the singular moment that most resonated as the beginning of the Tatis revolution came on a June afternoon in Pittsburgh. Hunter Renfroe hit a shallow pop-up to second base. Kevin Newman caught the ball on the edge of the infield dirt. Tatis, on third base at the time, broke for home.

"He was flying -- flying all over the field, aggressive, looking to take an extra 90 feet whenever he could,” said Joe Musgrove, Tatis' newest teammate, who watched the play unfold from the opposing dugout at the time. “Being on the other side of that, it was hard to watch. But he's just so fun to watch play."

Reynolds, caught off-guard, still beat Tatis with his throw, and Tatis was ruled out. But replays showed Tatis executing a picture-perfect slide and crossing the dish with his outstretched left arm.

The Padres didn't just have a star. They had a star who played the game differently.

August 17, 2020: Tatis flips, the Rangers flip out

If that moment in Pittsburgh made Tatis a household name to baseball fans, it was a moment in Texas the following summer that turned Tatis into a household name, period.

With the bases loaded and the Padres leading the Rangers by seven runs, Tatis swung at a 3-0 fastball and sent a majestic home run to the opposite field. It was his first career grand slam. That's not where the conversation went after the game.

Texas reliever Ian Gibaut threw the following pitch behind Manny Machado, and the Rangers made it clear they were none too pleased that Tatis would swing at a 3-0 pitch with a seven-run lead.

The backlash to the Rangers' sentiment was swift. Tatis was a budding star and the potential face of baseball. He'd become a symbol of playing the game with unbridled joy and unbridled emotions.

“I’m playing the game I love,” Tatis said on Monday. “When you do things with passion and with love, it’s going to reward you. People have seen it, how I play this game. I’m just going to be the same kid, every single time.”

The night of his slam, Padres staff even publicly admonished Tatis for missing a take sign. But they quickly backed away from that stance and simply encouraged Tatis to be himself. He wasted no time breaking a few more unwritten rules the following day, stealing third base with two outs and the Padres leading by six -- against Gibaut, no less.

Oct. 8, 2020: ‘Just getting started’

Tatis' brilliant 2020 season ended in heartbreak, as the Padres were bounced by the Dodgers in three games in the National League Division Series. Tatis nearly played hero in Game 2, only for Cody Bellinger to rob his would-be go-ahead home run at the warning track in center field. It marked the start of an eventful offseason.

Tatis has always made it clear he loves playing for the Padres. He's always made it clear he loves San Diego. But there was little chance Tatis would've agreed to spend 14 years of his life anywhere without assurances the franchise was serious about its World Series ambitions.

Over the past six months, the Padres have made their World Series ambitions abundantly clear. They've traded for Mike Clevinger, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Musgrove and Austin Nola. They've signed Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar, Mark Melancon and Keone Kela.

“That made it clear,” Tatis said. “The culture that we’re trying to build over here is a winning culture. We’re going for it. Everybody’s feeling it. One of the biggest key factors over here is winning, and everybody’s on the same page.”

At the center of those World Series ambitions is Tatis, who knew the Padres would come calling about an extension sooner or later. Following the NLDS loss to the Dodgers, Tatis sat at his podium, and chose to look forward, rather than back.

"This is a growing pain," he said. "We're just getting started."

Indeed, with 14 years left on the richest contract in franchise history, Fernando Tatis Jr. is just getting started.