Inside the Clubhouse: How Fernando Tatis Jr. landed his historic contract

This week, Inside the Clubhouse looks at Fernando Tatis Jr.’s historic deal, the contracts of Michael Brantley, Justin Turner and more.

Fernando Tatis Jr. had a decision to make. Sign an extension now that would keep him with the San Diego Padres for the rest of his career or go year-to-year in arbitration and enter free agency in his age-26 season, when Major League Baseball will be past the COVID-19 pandemic and a new collective bargaining agreement should be in place.

Tatis, 22, did not have to take a deal now. He already makes $3-4 million each year in marketing deals, a number that will continue to grow, which does not account for what he will earn on the field. But there was mutual interest in completing a mega-extension before spring training, with talks gaining traction early this week before pitchers and catchers reported.

Tatis and the Padres have agreed to a 14-year, $340 million contract extension, according to sources familiar with the situation. The deal includes a no-trade clause, no opt-outs, no deferred money and a signing bonus of more than $10 million. He will be 35 years old when the deal is completed.

The extension, negotiated by Dan Lozano and Roger Tomas of MVP Sports Group, is the third-largest deal in baseball history and the largest contract for a pre-arbitration eligible player — $196 million more than Mike Trout’s first extension.

The deal, however, comes with risks. It pays Tatis more than $300 million over the final 10 years — 10 years of free agency the Padres are buying out after only 143 major-league games. But Tatis has already established himself as arguably baseball’s most tantalizing player, finishing fourth in the MVP voting in 2020 with team officials optimistic he has the ability to lead the franchise to multiple championships.

It is something the Padres have long seen in Tatis, dating back to when the organization traded pitcher James Shields for him before he had played a professional game. He was not a highly regarded prospect when he signed with the Chicago White Sox as a 16-year-old, but he had elite tools and a confidence level that intrigued general manager A.J. Preller all the way back to his time with the Texas Rangers.

Six years later, in the words of a source close to Tatis, he is “the leader of the swag. He’s the face of the new era of what baseball is supposed to be.” It is why Padres chairman Peter Seidler and the front office felt confident giving Tatis an extension that overshadows the eight-year, $100 million contract that Ronald Acuna Jr. signed with the Atlanta Braves after only 113 games.

By signing Tatis for the next 14 seasons, the Padres have ensured that their playoff window will not close anytime soon. He is surrounded by a pitching staff that features Yu Darvish, Dinelson Lamet, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove with Mike Clevinger returning in 2021. He’s in an infield whose salaries combine to be more than $800 million, with fellow $300-million player Manny Machado next to him at third base for the next eight seasons.

Whether that type of spending is sustainable remains to be seen. The Tatis extension figures to push the Padres’ payroll past $180 million, almost double what it was in 2019. But most of their core is under contract for multiple seasons and some agents believe that veteran free agents, now and in the future, will be willing to take less money to play for the Padres — in large part because of Tatis.

“San Diego is the place to be,” one agent said, hours before the Padres extended Tatis. “If you’re a veteran and you want to win, you take less dollars to go to San Diego.”

Mark Melancon, one of the top free-agent relievers, signed a one-year, $2 million deal with a mutual option ($1 million buyout) to play in San Diego. It was the lowest offer he received in free agency, according to sources, but he prioritized winning and believed the Padres gave him the best chance to win a World Series. This is the window that the Padres have created by investing in their young core, with Machado also still under 30 years old.

The Padres wanted Tatis to lead that core and had no intention of letting him play elsewhere. They gave him one of the biggest contracts in sports history to do it.

Brewers quietly pursued Trevor Rosenthal

The Milwaukee Brewers were in on free-agent reliever Trevor Rosenthal before he agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal with the Oakland A’s, according to sources familiar with the situation.

The Brewers’ bullpen is widely considered its strength, featuring two of baseball’s best relievers in Josh Hader and Devin Williams. But depth is going to be at a premium as teams and agents fear pitcher injuries will increase with the league ramping back up to 162 games after playing only 60 last season.

For Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who relies heavily on pitching, they may not have enough bullpen depth to comfortably make it through the season.

Rosenthal, 30, would have given the Brewers a super bullpen similar to the unit they rode to within a game of the World Series in 2018. It would have allowed Counsell to pick and choose matchups in the late innings while keeping Hader fresh, something the organization has been mindful of since he entered the league in 2017.

Rosenthal comes with risks, considering he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 and has pitched in only 45 games since. But he dazzled in 2020, finishing with a 1.90 ERA in 23 appearances, and would have given the Brewers a power pitcher in the late innings who could make an impact similar to Corey Knebel.

Rosenthal sought a four-year deal in free agency and turned down less lucrative multi-year options before signing with the A’s, as Jeff Passan of ESPN reported. But while the fit with the Brewers was strong on paper, he sought the opportunity to close games. When the A’s offered him that chance, and the average annual value he had been seeking all winter, he had no choice but to take it.

Comparing Justin Turner/Michael Brantley deals

One National League executive believes that the most impressive contract of the offseason is Justin Turner’s two-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The deal, negotiated by Greg Genske of Vayner Sports, is worth $34 million guaranteed and comes with a $14 million club option for a third season. It has a higher average annual value than Michael Brantley’s two-year, $32 million deal with the Houston Astros despite Brantley being younger (he is 33; Turner is 36) and the two putting up similar production in recent seasons.

Around the Horn:

  • Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto suffered a broken thumb in his throwing hand and is expected to miss up to a month. The team is optimistic he will be ready for Opening Day, but he will miss most of spring training after signing a five-year, $115 million deal.
  • San Diego Padres pitcher Yu Darvish told reporters that he wants a rule that allowed pitchers 33 or older to decide whether they want to hit for themselves or not. My thought: I love this idea. Do it, MLB, if you’re not going to implement a universal designated hitter.
  • A’s pitcher Frankie Montas is now represented by Roc Nation, the agency announced.

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