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The Fernando Tatis Jr. Drama Has Only Just Begun

Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres looks on during the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies June 23, 2022 at Petco Park in San Diego, California.
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Having been branded a nearly incorrigible knucklehead even by his own general manager, Fernando Tatis The Younger now enters an entirely new phase of his career—as The Guy Who Makes You Wonder If Sometimes Talent Isn’t Actually Enough.

Do not fret for him, though. The answer will inevitably be Yes, Because I Am The Guy Who Can Change Him. There isn’t a general manager alive who doesn’t live in complete assurance that he or she alone has the power to quell the weirdodemons that live inside the best players. A.J. Preller, the man who got permission to sign The Second Tatis to a 14-year, $340 million contract last year, spoke out yesterday like he would have taken 60 bucks and a two low-A pitchers to be rid of him, but we all know better. They are joined at the forehead, because that’s where the migraines start, and at the back pocket because that’s where the money goes.

But for one night, Preller could indulge his fury because nobody else was going to defend his star player, not after piling a steroid regimen atop an off-season motorcycle accident. Everyone is on the same page here—Tatis has a bad case of anal-cranial inversion, and no typed apology that contains the needless slander of ringworm changes that.

“That’s his story,” Preller said Friday night in a hallway outside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park, per the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to him yet about it. . . . I think the biggest thing just from our standpoint, just from (MLB’s) standpoint, there’s a drug policy in place. He failed the drug screen, and ultimately he’s suspended, he can’t play, and that’s the biggest thing. It’s the player’s responsibility to make sure that he’s within compliance of that. He wasn’t, and ultimately we’re supportive of that.”

And . . .

It’s very disappointing. He’s somebody that from the organization’s standpoint we’ve invested time and money into, and when he’s on the field, he’s a difference-maker. . . . And I think we (were) hoping that, from the offseason to now, there would be some maturity, and obviously with the news today, it’s more of a pattern and something we’ve got to dig a little bit more into. I’m sure he’s very disappointed, but at the end of the day, it’s one thing to say it. You have to start by showing it with your actions.

And . . .

We’ll start digging into the shoulder and the wrist. We’ll look a little bit more into that now because we’ll have some more time to have some conversations there. And yeah, I think what we need to get to is a point in time where we trust (each other). Over the course of the last six or seven months, I think that’s been something that we haven’t really been able to have there. Obviously, he’s a great talent. He’s a guy that we have a lot of history with and do believe in. But these things only work when there’s trust both ways. And I think that’s going to be something that we’re going to have plenty of conversation and time to talk to Fernando about, and that’s something that, clearly, if we’re going to have a partnership and a real relationship, we’ve to make sure that that’s strong.

In summation, Preller said without saying it, “What an asshole.” He will commit more than a billion American to three players (Tatis, Manny Machado and his $300 million and Juan Soto and his north of $450 million), and the second of the three has been a source of zero home runs and one steady gut ache.

But Preller will come around on Tatis again because he has to, and because his ego demands it. There isn’t a single general manager who would do any different, because when you’re in for a third of a billion of your boss’s money, you will leave no wiggle room to make said boss think that you are abandoning the investment. Preller has to believe even though it seems clear he totally doesn’t.

Here, though, is the other part of the ego investment. Preller also has to believe he is such a mesmeric presence that if owner Peter Seidler asks the musical question—”Can you get rid of this guy?”—that he can talk one of his 28 brethren and one sistren (don’t forget Kim Ng trying to save the Miami Marlins from their inherent Marlinhood) into taking Tatis and his mega-salary. That would be well worth the video of him hearing derisive hang-ups until he puts his head in a desk drawer and slams it shut until he stops crying, then continuing to try because he knows that all his peers are afflicted with the same disease—”I can change him, because I’m special and I can see inside his soul.”

It is the same hubris that makes NBA general managers covet Kyrie Irving, and made NFL general managers crave Antonio Brown, and made MLB general managers play catch-and-release with Trevor Bauer. And let’s not forget Jimmy Haslam and Deshaun Watson, because that is the new clubhouse leader in ICCH. It’s an affliction as old as money itself, and it usually ends up the same way—with a general manager walking out of the office with a full cardboard box filled with mementos and reminders of what happens when one’s belief in the power to persuade overcomes one’s sense. Fernando Tatis is only half the story here, because A.J. Preller is the other half, and if you have to lay a wager on who ends up looking the fool, the smart play is to assume both of them. Tatis has a wide early lead, but this is a game that has just begun.

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