Electric, eccentric, incredible talent, leader, the list goes on and on of words to describe Fernando Tatis Jr.
But there’s one word that’s often left out: steal.
Along time ago, in a galaxy far far away, James Shields was a good, consistent pitcher who twice was a part of starting rotations, which made it to the World Series. Both times, Shields teams lost.
The Tampa Bay Rays surprised everyone by playing their way into the 2008 World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. Shields was a big part of that run, going 14-8 during the regular season with a 3.56 era. He breezed through the White Sox in the divisional round before being roughed up by the Red Sox in the Championship series. But once the World Series came around, Shields shut out the Phillies in his only start, a Rays victory.
Fast forward five years, and Shields had made his way to the Royals as part of a deal that sent Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi back to Tampa Bay. One year after the trade. Shields once again made it back to the World Series, and unlike his first go-around, Shields was rocked in both starts, giving up seven runs on 15 hits in nine innings of work, losing two games.
That offseason, Shields signed with the San Diego Padres for four-years, $75 Million. A lot of money for a 32-year-old pitcher who had just lost two World Series games. But the Padres needed pitching. Badly.
Months after Shields signed with the Padres, Tatis Jr. signed with the Chicago White Sox as an international free agent from the Dominican Prospect League. The transaction flew under the radar partially because Tatis Jr. was only 16 years of age. Tatis Jr. had name recognition, though. His father, Fernando Tatis Sr., is most famous for hitting two grand slams in the same game in the same inning.
On June 4th, 2016, the Padres pulled the trigger on a deal to send Shields to Chicago for Tatis Jr. and Erik Johnson.
In his first season (’15) as a Padre, Shields performed around his career average to that point, 13-7 with a 3.91 era. But in year two, everything came crashing down. At the time of the trade, Shields was 2-7 with a 4.28 ERA. Once he put on the White Sox uniform, things did not get any better, as Shields went 4-12 with a 6.77, to finish the 2016 season winning only six games and losing a career-high 19, split between the two teams.
Tatis Jr. was still years away from the major leagues at the time of the trade, but by the start of his first season (’17) in the San Diego organization, he was ranked as the 52nd best prospect in all of baseball. A year later, Tatis Jr. was the second-best prospect.
Eventually, Tatis Jr. made his debut in 2019 and did not disappoint what so ever. In only 80 games played, the youngster (20-years-old at the time of his debut) hit 22 home runs, drove in 53 runs, stole 16 bases, and collected 106 hits with a .317 batting average. Tatis Jr. would finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year (ROY) voting.
Meanwhile, by the time Tatis Jr. reached the big leagues, Shields was out of baseball. In the two full seasons Shields pitched for the White Sox, he won 12 games while losing 23 with a 4.88 ERA. At the end of the 2018 season, Chicago handed Shields $2 Million to walk away after declining the team option.
The White Sox traded a future ROY contender, and possible superstar, for 16 wins, 35 losses, and a 5.31 ERA.
Less than halfway through the abridged 2020 season, Tatis Jr. leads the majors in home runs, 11, RBI’s, 28, and tied for the lead with six stolen bases. San Diego has another four years of team control, meaning Tatis Jr. should hit the open market at the ripe age of 25.
Did the Padres win the trade? You bet. Did they commit highway robbery? 100%.
Will this one day be compared to the Babe Ruth trade? Come back in roughly 15 years to find out.