Why the Padres Should Move Fernando Tatis Jr. to 1st Base

San Diego might have their 1st base solution already in-house

What you are about to read is not conventional. It’s either madness or brilliance. Of course, it’s remarkable how often those two traits coincide.

One of the many things on the Padres to-do list this off-season is to find a 1st baseman. In 2022, the Friars had six different players spend time at 1st base. Only one of them is still on the roster: Jake Cronenworth, who is probably San Diego’s best defensive 1st baseman. Problem is, he’s also their best defensive 2nd baseman, so moving him over one spot is certainly doable but not ideal.

There are free agent options. The Friars could re-sign Josh Bell, Brandon Drury, or even Wil Myers. They could bring in a big name like Jose Abreu, Trey Mancini, J.D. Martinez, or Anthony Rizzo. Problem there is, with the exception of Myers and Drury, the starting price for any of those guys is at least $16 million a year, which is on the outskirts of what the Padres can afford if they want to adequately address the rest of their roster holes.

So, why not give Fernando Tatis Jr. the right of 1st refusal on playing 1st base?

Give that idea a second, it will start to feel a lot less weird.

In 2021 Tatis was not a good defensive shortstop. He made 20 errors in 102 games, most of them throwing, likely because of the shoulder injury he was dealing with. Yes, he did have surgery to repair the bum wing and that means he could revert to his 2020 form when he was a tremendous defender.

But, Ha-Seong Kim has emerged as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. Plus, his bat improved immensely in his second big league season. His offensive numbers were on par with Tommy Edman and better than Javier Baez so he’s no longer a placeholder at short. Kim is trending towards being a 5.0 fWAR player. Leaving Kim at short and Cronenworth at 2nd to go with Manny Machado at 3rd gives the Padres the makings of one of the best defensive infields in the game.

If Kim stays at short then the speculation is Tatis goes to the outfield because, let's face it, he's a freakish athlete (for the purpose of this exercise we’ll assume that athleticism is real and didn’t come out of a bottle). In a small sample size in 2021 he handled the outfield well enough to suggest he can man it full time. It’s also a spot where his shoulder would theoretically be subjected to fewer chances for injury than it would at shortstop. But would it really?

According to research by the Arthroscopy Association of North America, 12.9% of shoulder injuries sustained in a baseball game happen on the middle infield. 31.6% of them occur in the outfield (12.0% in center, 11.6% in left, 8.0% in right). Where do the fewest shoulder injuries happen? 1st base, at just 7.4%.

You’re not moving Trent Grisham out of centerfield so Tatis would either go to left or take over in right and have Juan Soto move to the other side of the field. Neither of those options seems all that desirable, especially if Jurickson Profar, who has done an admirable job becoming an above-average outfielder, doesn’t opt out of his contract.

Now, I understand that elite athleticism is usually wasted at 1st base. That's why I was a 1st baseman. However, that athletic ability on the corner of the infield could work in the Padres’ favor.

Next year MLB is banning the shift. Tatis has immense range. Just cue up his highlight reel and that will be readily apparent. With him at 1st base the Padres could conceivably move into virtual shift alignments because Fernando has the quickness to play farther off the bag than most 1st basemen and still get back in time to take a throw.

One downfall of this idea is Tatis has one of the strongest throwing arms in the game and that weapon would be largely wasted at 1st base. But that’s something I can accept given all the other potential benefits.

Plus, we can’t overlook the offensive component. Corner infield spots are power positions. Tatis (again, assuming it’s not drug-induced) is one of the game’s premier power threats. Had he replicated his 2021 offensive numbers this year he would have led all Major League 1st basemen in home runs and slugging % and finished in the top five in OPS, RBI, and runs scored. In 2022, Padres 1st baseman combined to finish in the bottom third of the league in those categories.

He’s going to be making a little less than $7 million next season and that’s already accounted for, meaning the Padres can take the money that would go to a corner infield free agent and instead spend it on improving the bench, or re-upping Robert Suarez, or finding another starting pitcher, etc.

After their season ended general manager AJ Preller was asked where Tatis would be playing in 2023. AJ’s response was “on the field.” 1st base is sounding more and more to me like that’s the spot “on the field” where he should be.

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