Fernando Tatis Jr. Costs the Padres Their Dream Season

They had every star lined up—until a little Clostebol blew up their plans.

fernando tatis jr. costs the padres their dream season

Orlando Ramirez/USA TODAY Sports

The Padres were the whale at the poker table. They kept pushing chips into the middle. Blowing through the luxury tax for a second straight year. Trading their best young players for Juan Soto and Josh Bell. Trading for Josh Hader with about $15 million due next year for the one-inning closer. Trading eight of the 10 first-round picks under A.J. Preller. Pushing the payroll to a franchise record $230 million, more than double what it was five years ago.

The Padres saw a window opening right now to win the franchise’s first world championship. That vision was heavily based on Fernando Tatis Jr. coming back to the lineup this season for the stretch run and postseason. The Padres had every star lined up—until a little Clostebol blew up their plans.

In one of the most stunning, highest-profile drug busts in baseball since penalties with suspensions began in 2005, Tatis tested positive for a banned substance, Clostebol, a synthetic anabolic-androgenic steroid—while on the Injured List and while playing under a $340 million, 14-year contract. He had been on a minor league rehab assignment recovering from a broken wrist he suffered in an offseason motorcycle accident. He claimed the Clostebol in his system came from medication he took to treat ringworm. Clostebol is favored by some drug cheats because it provides the benefits of elevated testosterone (muscle growth) with less elevated levels of estrogen as a byproduct. On Friday, he accepted without appeal his suspension of 80 games—the 48 games remaining this year and the first 32 of next season. He is ineligible for postseason play this year.

The dream top of the lineup of Silver Sluggers Tatis, Soto and Manny Machado—$56.8 million worth of star power alone this year—will not happen this season. And now even a playoff appearance for San Diego has become less likely.

At the time of the suspension the Padres were clinging to the last playoff spot, the third wild card berth in the NL. They were looking at playing the Cardinals in a best-of-three series all in St. Louis.

San Diego collapsed late last season as Tatis, playing with a shoulder injury that was not fully healed, hit .245 in his last 41 games. This year the Padres added the bats of Soto, Bell and Brandon Drury, another trade deadline acquisition, to guard against another collapse. They entered this weekend with the fewest home runs and worst slugging percentage of any National League contender.

Tatis was another big piece toward adding the thump San Diego would need to take on the Dodgers or Mets if it could get through a first-round series. He probably would have fit better into the lineup in the outfield—Padres outfielders are hitting .227 with only 29 homers—than displacing defensive whiz Ha-Seong Kim at shortstop. In either case, they would be adding the 2021 NL home run champion and one of the most exciting players in baseball.

The Padres still hold a dynamite rotation with swing and miss stuff. Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Sean Manaea, Joe Musgrove and Mike Clevinger all strike out at least 8.6 batters per nine innings. And they have reached being in a playoff position with 48 games remaining without Tatis playing even one game. But make no mistake: Tatis is one of the five best players in the game who could have been a difference maker.

San Diego has learned that the guy it identified as its franchise player is not reliable. Because of injuries, motorcycle accidents, a PED bust and the COVID-shortened season, Tatis will not have played more than 130 games in any of his first five years in the big leagues, missing at least 43% of his team’s games.

The Padres in recent years committed $1.046 billion to sign or acquire Wil Myers, Eric Hosmer, Tatis, Machado, Soto, Hader and Musgrove. It is a spasm of spending unlike anything since the Diamondbacks tripled their payroll from 1998 to 2002. The Padres have pushed their payroll from consistently 20% below MLB average to 50% above it, which is generally regarded as unsustainable in their market without huge increases in revenue.

“Franchises almost never transform to the degree the Padres have,” said one high-ranking baseball source. “Spending ahead of revenue and team success to this degree.”

Soto is under contract through 2024, which means San Diego can still roll out the Tatis-Soto-Machado trio for two seasons (though not until May of next season), but Bell is a free agent after this season. In the meantime, the Padres will have to claw for just a playoff spot this year without Tatis providing the boost they’ve been counting on all year.

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More MLB Coverage:

• The ‘Field of Dreams’ Game Deserves to Be an MLB Tradition

• Is Patrick Corbin Having the Worst Pitching Season Ever?• The White Sox Are Sleeping Away Their Once Promising Season• A Cautiously Optimistic Cody Bellinger Update• The Most Interesting Under-the-Radar Trade Deadline Deals

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