While he’s not quite ready to return from the Injured List—due to his latest bout with the wonky shoulder—there’s already quite a bit of buzz-generating around San Diego Padres shortstop (?) Fernando Tatis, Jr. That buzz derives itself purely because the shortstop label may not find itself attached to the San Diego superstar, at least in the full-time capacity in which it has been the last couple of seasons.
Instead, the Padres are toying around with the possibility of moving Tatis away from the infield dirt to the outfield grass, with his return potentially coming in the form of some starts in center or right field. The move itself is not necessarily a super questionable one. Is it weird to move a player from the only position he’s ever played in August? Sure. But it’s likely one that an athlete such as Tatis is more than capable of. And there is the potential that it’ll keep him healthier in the long run. While the outfield presents its own share of obstacles (a more comfortable surface on which to dive, walls to run into, smitten fans, etc.), the hope is that less interaction with opposing players on the basepaths and more space in which to operate could be valuable from that physical standpoint.
At the same time, the less quantifiable health aspect comes in addition to Tatis’ struggles on the defensive side. FanGraphs has him at a DRS of -7, with a UZR/150 of -12.7, while Baseball Savant has him at -1 OAA. Throwing has been a particularly erratic element of Tatis’ game, where his 12 throwing errors trail only Javier Báez (13) at short. Overall, his 20 errors are tied with Báez and Bo Bichette atop the leaderboard you definitely do not want to be sitting atop.
While it’s still not a lock that this is going to happen, the extensive work Tatis has already seen as he works his way back from the IL seems to indicate the change is very likely on the horizon. Baseball Prospectus has already taken Tatis out of the infield entirely, with 35 percent of his time devoted to both center and right field. FanGraphs has this more in an experimental stage where he has some time in both of those outfield spots, but still garnering the brunt of the load at short. In any case, the transition itself is a wildly intriguing one, especially at this point in the season. Perhaps the more thought-provoking discussion is on what happens to the lineup
if and when the transition takes place.
Because it has the opportunity to get...messy.
First, you’ve got the position itself. With Tatis dawdling out in right or center, who takes over? Correct. Jake Cronenworth. As good as Cronenworth’s offense has been, he’s struggled a bit away from second base. The trade for Adam Frazier meant more time at first base, while Tatis’ latest injury pressed him into full-time duty at short. The results have been...uninspiring. He’s at a -18.3 UZR/150 and a DRS of 0. Of course, it’s a minuscule sample that likely renders any meaning in defensive metrics fairly useless. He’s got enough range, and he has the arm. It’s a matter of adjustment. Still, August to October is a hell of a time to have to make that adjustment and still be effective.
Tatis in the outfield leads to an infield configure of Cronenworth at short and the aforementioned Frazier settling back into his role at the keystone, rather than having to mess around in the outfield too much. Manny Machado at third is a nonfactor in all of this. However, a first base question also lingers. Do you continue to trot out Eric Hosmer, despite below-average offensive production and mediocre defense? After all, part of what the Frazier trade allowed you to do was plug Cronenworth in there and get Hosmer on the pine.
Essentially, you eliminate the chances of a reduced role for Hosmer and go Hosmer-Frazier-Cronenworth-Manny Machado across the infield. Jurickson Profar (when healthy) and Ha-Seong Kim can fill in the gaps on off days. Tatis can take back over at shortstop for a spell. It’s a deep group, to be sure. But there’s also the possibility of the outfield configuration trickling onto the infield as well. After all, could it mean some time for Wil Myers back at his old post? That question, in itself, brings us to the outfield.
We can’t really expect that the Padres will move their Gold Glove centerfielder, Trent Grisham, to one of the corners to accommodate Tatis, can we? It seems unlikely. In that case, you’re looking at some combination of Myers and Tommy Pham in left, Grisham in center, and Tatis in right. Unless you give Myers a look at first base. If you remember, Myers held down first base for San Diego full-time in 2016 and 2017. The first year saw some really strong defensive metrics before a regression in Year 2. This year, he has not appeared at first at all. For what it’s worth, neither Baseball Prospectus nor FanGraphs have him logging any time there for the remainder of the year.
It’s still an intriguing aspect of all of this. It’s not as if Eric Hosmer is such a defensive stalwart that you’d be reluctant to move him off the position. With Myers bringing more offensive upside, it’s a question worth asking. especially when it allows you to keep on-base machine Tommy Pham in the lineup on a daily basis rather than splitting time.
I suppose my ultimate point here is that the transition itself is not necessarily prone to many questions and second-guessing. The move, on its face, is fine. And it could definitely pay off longer term. But many nuances would have to be sorted to continue to manage the remainder of the roster outside of Fernando Tatis, Jr.
However, the very nature of the San Diego Padres makes them fairly well-suited for this type of potential transition. I wrote on their versatility earlier this year. While some of the personnel has changed, you’ve still got Profar and Kim. Cronenworth can still move around. Frazier can jump to an outfield corner. Myers might be able to handle first base. There’s already a plethora of moving parts in this San Diego lineup.
So, in reality, what’s one more?
Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.