Fernando Tatis Jr. Suspended 80 Games For Performance-Enhancing Drug Violation

Fernando Tatis Jr.’s 2022 season is over. In a stunning development, Major League Baseball announced Friday afternoon that the Padres star has tested positive for Clostebol, a banned performance-enhancing substance. He’s been suspended for 80 games without pay, effective immediately. Tatis, who confirmed he’s already dropped an appeal he’d initially filed, goes on the restricted list.

Tatis released a statement via the MLB Players Association (Twitter link):

I have been informed by Major League Baseball that a test sample I submitted returned a positive result for Clostebol, a banned substance. It turns out that I inadvertently took a medication to treat ringworm that contained Clostebol. I should have used the resources available to me in order to ensure that no banned substances were in what I took. I failed to do so.

I want to apologize to (owner Peter Seidler), (president of baseball operations A.J. Preller), the entire Padres organization, my teammates, Major League Baseball, and fans everywhere for my mistake. I have no excuse for my error, and I would never do anything to cheat or disrespect this game I love. … I am completely devastated. There is nowhere else in the world I would rather be than on the field competing with my teammates. … I look forward to rejoining my teammates on the field in 2023.

The Padres released a briefer statement of their own on the news:

We were surprised and extremely disappointed to learn today that Fernando Tatis Jr. tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in violation of Major League Baseball’s Joint Prevention and Treatment Program and subsequently received an 80-game suspension without pay. We fully support the Program and are hopeful that Fernando will learn from this experience.

Preller confirmed to reporters (including Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune and Dennis Lin of the Athletic) that the organization learned about the suspension this afternoon, around two hours before it was made public. The Padres baseball ops leader was forthright about his frustration, suggesting that “over the course of the last six or seven months, I think (trust has) been something that we haven’t really been able to have.” That’s presumably in reference to the motorcycle accident that fractured Tatis’ wrist. Preller continued, “I think we’re hoping that from the offseason to now, that 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.

Tatis will go the entire 2022 season without appearing in a major league game. (Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweets that he’ll also be barred from representing the Dominican Republic in next spring’s World Baseball Classic). The star shortstop sustained a fracture in his left wrist in an offseason motorcycle accident, an injury that was revealed when he reported to the team in Spring Training. He underwent surgery and was out of action for months. There was finally light at the end of the tunnel, with Tatis sent to Double-A on a rehab assignment last week. He’d played in four minor league games and was set to rejoin the big league club within a couple weeks. That’ll no longer be the case.

The Padres have 48 more games on the regular season schedule. That’ll leave him in position to miss as many as the first 32 games of the 2023 season as well, although Tatis’ suspension would be reduced for any playoff games he misses (if the Padres reach the postseason this year).

It’s a crushing blow to a San Diego team that enters play Friday night in possession of the National League’s final Wild Card spot. They’re just a game clear of the Brewers, setting the stage for a tightly contested pennant race. If they’re to get to the postseason, the Friars will have to do it without the elite midseason reinforcement on whom they’d been counting.

That’s not to say the Padres are doomed. They’ve been without the two-time Silver Slugger winner all season, and they’re nevertheless 12 games above .500 with a +40 run differential. The deadline blockbuster to add Juan Soto and Josh Bell looms larger than ever now. San Diego still has a fearsome middle of the order anchored by Soto, Bell and Manny Machado, while Jake Cronenworth and Jurickson Profar have each hit at above-average levels.

There’s no way to replace a player who owns a .292/.369/.596 slash line through his first three big league seasons, but the Padres are in as good a position as a team can reasonably be to weather Tatis’ absence. They’ve gotten strong play from Ha-Seong Kim at shortstop in his second MLB season. The former KBO star is hitting .247/.324/.371 through 392 plate appearances, exactly league average offense by measure of wRC+. Public metrics have pegged Kim as one of the sport’s top defensive shortstops, making him a more than adequate fill-in for the remainder of the season.

Perhaps the greater roster ramification is that San Diego now has little recourse to replace scuffling center fielder Trent Grisham. Tatis had been slated to play both shortstop and center field on his rehab assignment, and he may well have gotten more time in the outfield down the stretch. While Kim has held down shortstop effectively all year, Grisham owns a .195/.292/.357 line over 411 trips to the plate. He has continued on as the primary center fielder, although Wil Myers has gotten the nod the past three times the Friars have faced a left-handed opposing starter. Skipper Bob Melvin figures to stick with at least a soft platoon arrangement for the stretch run.

While the team will feel the strongest repercussions down the stretch this year, Tatis’ lack of availability in 2022 has to be alarming to the organization over the long term. He’s under contract for another 12 seasons beyond this one under the extension he signed in February 2021. That $340MM deal is the fourth-largest in MLB history, and there’s arguably no one more important to the franchise’s long-term future.

That deal is backloaded. Tatis’ forfeited salary during the suspension, while substantial, isn’t nearly as significant as it would have been had he tested positive a couple years from now. He’ll lose the remainder of this year’s $5MM salary (approximately $1.5MM) as well as around a month’s worth of next year’s $7MM salary. The extent of his salary forfeiture is dependent on how many games he loses next season, which is subject to how far into the playoffs the Friars get this year. He’s likely to miss around 20% of the schedule, which would translate to around $1.3MM in lost salary next year.

Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported that Tatis had failed a PED test and was facing a suspension.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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