The baseball world was rocked on Friday afternoon, when it was learned that one of the game’s brightest young stars, Fernando Tatis Jr., had tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance and was hit by Major League Baseball with an 80-game suspension.
Tatis, the 23-year-old superstar shortstop who had already emerged as one of the faces of the sport, was only days away from coming back from the wrist injury that had kept him out all season. His San Diego Padres, on the heels of a blockbuster trade for Juan Soto, were eagerly awaiting his return while in pursuit of a title. Now Tatis’ season is over, and the Padres’ championship hopes have been greatly diminished.
But there’s so much more to this.
Here are a few of the most pressing questions concerning Tatis, the Padres and MLB.
What does this mean for Tatis?
We’ll get to the big-picture aspects later, but first the basics: Tatis’ 80-game suspension begins Friday and will last through the remaining 48 regular-season games. How long it extends into 2023 will hinge on how deep the Padres play into the postseason, if they get there (they entered play Friday with a one-game lead on the sixth and final playoff spot in the National League). Tatis also isn’t expected to be eligible to represent the Dominican Republic in next year’s World Baseball Classic.
Tatis is one of the most captivating stars in the game, but over the course of his first four seasons he will have played in only 273 of a possible 546 regular-season games. He missed the final seven weeks of the 2019 season with a stress reaction in his lower back, spent all of 2021 dealing with a balky left shoulder and will ultimately miss the entirety of 2022 for factors that were seemingly well within his control: A wrist injury that likely occurred during an offseason motorcycle accident, and now a positive drug test.
Tatis, who could lose close to $3 million in salary with the suspension, issued a 198-word statement in which he said he “inadvertently took a medication to treat ringworm that contained Clostebol.”
Tatis later added that he is “completely devastated,” writing: “There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on the field competing with my teammates. After initially appealing the suspension, I have realized that my mistake was the cause of this result, and for that reason I have decided to start serving my suspension immediately. I look forward to rejoining my teammates on the field in 2023.”
What does this mean for the Padres?
It doesn’t get any more deflating than this. Go back just 10 days ago, when fans lined up outside the gates at Petco Park, clamoring to get into the stadium for a midweek game against the floundering Colorado Rockies. It was because the team had just traded for Soto, yes, but it was bigger than that; it was a palpable excitement not just because of what the Padres were at the moment, but of what they would be very soon.
The Padres stripped their farm system bare while in pursuit of Soto, and others, because they saw an opportunity to go for it, a belief rooted largely in what the team accomplished without Tatis. With him back in the lineup, they saw a legitimate championship contender. And with the additions of Soto and Josh Bell and Brandon Druy and Josh Hader, they saw a team that could compete with the Yankees and Dodgers and Mets and Astros and any of the behemoths in the sport.
The Padres will still be good, of course. They are still considered likely to make the playoffs, with Ha-seong Kim continuing to provide stellar defense at shortstop and Trent Grisham continuing to be a mainstay in center field. But it won’t be the same. This is a major missed opportunity, and this is not a franchise that can absorb many of these.
Under the direction of Peter Seidler, the Padres have taken a major leap of faith, investing heavily on the major league roster with the hope that the local fans – within a city that recently lost the NFL – would rally around them. Tatis in many ways embodied that approach. They rewarded him with a massive 14-year, $340 million extension in February of 2021, billing it as a “statue contract.” And they essentially assembled a star-laden roster around him. Tatis hasn’t lived up to his end of it largely because he hasn’t acted responsibly, as evidenced by the two reasons he’ll miss all of 2022.
The Padres’ statement was noticeably curt and in no way supportive, ending with the following line: “We fully support the Program and are hopeful that Fernando will learn from this experience.” Later, Padres general manager A.J. Preller alluded to trust issues while speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C.
What does this mean for MLB?
It’s a black mark for the game any time one of its star players gets busted for alleged cheating (an aspect of this that Tatis denies). Tatis’ suspension is up there with prior ones for Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Miguel Tejada, Manny Ramirez and Ryan Braun. He’s that big a star, he means that much to the sport.
Tatis embodies the type of athlete Major League Baseball wants to market – bilingual, good-looking, charismatic, flashy, supremely talented. Now Tatis must live with the stigma of this for the rest of his career, the extent of which is impossible to determine at the moment. His image might never fully recover.
What does this drug do?
Clostebol is a testosterone-boosting anabolic steroid that is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and has been on MLB’s banned list since it began testing for steroids in 2003. Clostebol was one of the substances Dee Gordon tested positive for in 2016, on the heels of a batting title. Freddy Galvis also tested positive for it in 2012.
Tatis, however, is a much bigger star, standing as the only player in major league history with 80 home runs and 50 stolen bases within the first 300 games of his career. He is now the third player in the Expansion Era (since 1961) to finish within the top three in MVP voting and then miss the entire following season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The others were Moises Alou, who missed the 1999 season because of a torn ACL, and Sandy Koufax, who retired after winning a Cy Young in 1966.