2009 Analysis: Fernando Tatis

fernando-tatis-skyIt was a wonderful story in 2008 when Fernando Tatis came back from the baseball dead, found his way back to the big leagues, was a key cog for the Mets in the second half of the season, and earned money to build a church in his hometown of San Pedro de Macoris.

The Mets front office was obviously drunk with the feel-good story when they re-signed Tatis to a one-year, $1.7M contract for 2009 — a mere drop in the bucket for the NL’s highest payroll, but nonetheless an extreme price to pay for a 30-something utilityman with average all-around skills. As with most of their signings, the Mets were bidding against themselves, as Tatis was re-upped before he had a chance to file for free agency.

From a public relations standpoint, the Mets HAD TO bring Tatis back. The story was too warming, his clutch hitting too fresh in the minds of the fans, and few were willing to accept the teetering house of cards that the economy was at the time. I’m not too proud to admit that I was one of those who fully supported the signing, terming the salary “paltry”.

But hindsight is 20-20, and when we play Monday morning quarterback, we can see how this deal wasn’t necessarily awful, but certainly overpriced.

Some of the things that were overlooked last October 30th, when we were celebrating the re-signing of the NL Comeback Player of the Year, included the fact that Fernando Tatis was a fairly ordinary hitter — and almost exactly true to his career numbers — if you omitted his high-flying July 2008. He hit like Superman that month, posting a .397 batting average, .463 OBP, .767 SLG, and 1.231 OPS. Now I understand you don’t punish a player for having a great month, but at the same time you have to take into consideration that those numbers artificially bloated his season-ending totals significantly, and you can’t realistically expect Fernando Tatis to repeat such a 30-day stretch. Those numbers are close to the best that Albert Pujols can accomplish in a month-long hot streak.

So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when Tatis reverted to a .282 AVG, .339 OBP, .438 SLG, .777 OPS and 8 HR in 345 at-bats in 2009 — those numbers are pretty much in line with what he’s done his entire 10-year MLB career. He played multiple positions with varying degrees of mediocrity: in the outfield and at first base he’s below average; at third base he’s average; at shortstop and second base he can fill in in a pinch and not embarrass himself. He is a great teammate, hustles his butt off, and fundamentally sound on offense. As a pinch-hitter, he’s pretty good — 2 HR and .257 AVG in 40 ABs. But he is not worth $1.7M.

Again, you can say, “well what’s $1.7M to a team with a $150M payroll?”. But this is an issue that permeates throughout the roster, with players at all levels of performance. The Mets overpay — significantly — for bench players and AAA depth such as Tatis, Alex Cora, Tim Redding, and others. After a while, all the seemingly insignificant $1M and $2M contracts add up, and it keeps a team from having the flexibility to jump on a bargain like Bobby Abreu or Juan Uribe. Combine the “little” contracts with the overpayment in “big” contracts (Oliver Perez, K-Rod, Brian Schneider, Carlos Delgado, etc.) and it becomes clear how the highest payroll in the NL can finish in second to last place.

But it’s not Fernando Tatis’ fault that the Mets overpaid him. The question is, will he play in 2010 for the Mets? He is eligible for free agency, and can roam the open market for the best deal. I’d like to see him offered a market rate contract — in the $600K range — and be given the opportunity to earn a job during spring training as a utilityman / pinch-hitter. But no guarantees.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Matt Himelfarb November 6, 2009 at 7:22 pm
    IDK- I was ready to call Tatis an incredible waste of resources 3-4 months into the season, although he quietly played well in the end.

    Overall, he’s slightly below average with the bat, and, at least according to UZR, he has surprisingly been average in the field.

    I think he might be a bit overpaid, but it’s unfair compare him to Redding, Cora, Perez, etc. I know you weren’t directly comparing him to Perez, but the point is there are far more overpaid players on the Mets.

    Tatis is basically an older version of Mark Teahen, and Teahen’s going to make about $5 milllion with arbitration, so that’s another way to look at it.

  2. joejanish November 6, 2009 at 8:04 pm
    I’m glad you brought up Teahen, as he is a prime example of what’s wrong with player salaries and the arbitration process in particular.

    Teahen is overpaid because his 2008 salary was based on numbers put up in 2006-2007 as a 3B/OF. Through the arbitration process, his salary continues to rise even though he hasn’t played the infield regularly in four years because it all goes back to that baseline set prior to 2008. At the time of that contract, he was only 25 and seemingly on the verge of becoming an All-Star. As a corner outfielder putting up Dan Murphy numbers, he’s significantly overpaid — but does that mean Tatis should be overpaid as well?

    And I don’t know about that $5M in arbitration. I would hope Teahen is compared to other OFs at this point; if so he should get either a reduction in salary or be frozen where he is. But for some reason the system doesn’t work that way. You can get worse and worse every year but miraculously your salary continues to rise. Go figure.

    But another thing: Teahen, with his bat, should be playing the infield — preferably 2B. He’s young enough and talented enough with his feet and hands to pull it off. In that case, he IS worth much more than Tatis, who can’t play 2B effectively, isn’t as durable, is probably ten years older, and is more likely to regress as he ages. Teahen still has youth on his side … why he’s being wasted in the OF is a mystery.

  3. Matt Himelfarb November 6, 2009 at 8:46 pm
    I don’t know if Teahen can play second. He’s kind of tall for the position (6-3), and he has been a below average third baseman. I’m inclined to think second base is generally harder to field than third, although I guess it depends on the particular case.

    That argument really relates to Murphy- a lot of us are still clamoring for him to play second. He was a third baseman in the minors (not really sure how he was), and seems to possess fine range at first.

    I’d like to hear your take on that.

  4. joejanish November 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm
    Matt, you sound like an old-school guy bringing up a player’s height. :-)

    I don’t believe any nonsense regarding height and positions. Either you can play, or you can’t. Ironically, Teahen’s new teammate Alexei Ramirez is 6’3″ and played 2B in 2008. Danny Ainge was a stellar 2B for the Blue Jays before opting for the NBA.

    Teahen was drafted partially because he was a slick glove man in college. He continued to have a great rep defensively in the minors (voted the top fielding 3B in the PCL, actually). He has quick feet and good hands. He has the raw tools to play any infield position.

    And it turns out that there was a brief experiment of Teahen at 2B during 2009 ST, but I’m not sure how it went.

    As for Murphy, he had bad hands in college, bad hands and feet in the minors, and continues to look awkward in the infield in MLB. But I think it behooves the Mets to make him more versatile. I believe they should put him behind the plate, in fact.

  5. Harry Chiti November 8, 2009 at 10:18 am
    Tatis is fine for a substitute player. He is willing to play any position and hits the occasional big shot. The problem was with Jerry Manuel’s insistence on playing him as if he were almost a regular player. He needs to go not because of himself, but because the Mets won’t get rid of one of the worst game managers around.