Padres mailbag: Will Fernando Tatis Jr. return to his former level of stardom?

Luis Arraez might be the most singular hitter in baseball. Over his past eight games, the San Diego Padres’ recently acquired leadoff man collected multiple hits in each contest. Two were doubles. One was his first home run of the season. And the other 17, of course, were singles, including a bunt hit that preceded a decisive double in the top of the 10th inning Thursday.

“He’s a genius, man,” Padres manager Mike Shildt told reporters after a 6-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Arraez’s 31 hits since his trade from the Miami Marlins are the most by any player over his first 17 games with San Diego, edging the 30 hits Wally Joyner collected to open the 1996 season. Arraez’s latest 20 hits are tied for the second most by a Padre in an eight-game span, trailing only the 21 hits Adrián González amassed during a torrid stretch in 2009. Only once in two decades did Tony Gwynn, the franchise icon, tally 20 hits across eight consecutive games.

Arraez is not the all-around player Gwynn was, but his artistry inside the left-handed batter’s box seems to measure up well. Let’s get to your mailbag questions, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Between his high salary-arbitration number and the Padres’ murky financial future, how likely is it that Arraez is just a rental? — Joshua G.

Putting a value on Arraez’s unique profile is difficult in a sport that revolves around home runs and strikeouts. Such an endeavor already has led to a couple of notable disagreements: In February, Arraez lost to the Marlins in salary arbitration and was awarded Miami’s offer of $10.6 million instead of his $12 million request. A year earlier, a panel sided with Arraez’s $6 million ask rather than the Marlins’ $5 million proposal.

The Padres haven’t taken a player to arbitration since 2014, and in terms of spending, they have operated far differently from the Marlins. Yet it’s worth considering how eager San Diego might be to fit, say, a $16 million salary on its books in 2025, Arraez’s final year under team control. The Padres already have roughly $150 million committed in payroll next season, and that’s with just nine players under contract. It remains to be seen if a post-Peter Seidler ownership group will want to continue carrying all three of Arraez, Dylan Cease and Michael King; Cease and King also will be due sizable raises in their final year of arbitration eligibility.

For now, I’ll guess that Arraez at least opens the 2025 season as a member of the Padres. (I’ll also guess that fellow infielder and pending free agent Ha-Seong Kim will be playing for another team.) How Arraez and the club perform over the rest of this year certainly will have some bearing on his future. His amenability to a potential contract extension is another significant factor. Arraez’s agent, Dan Lozano of MVP Sports Group, also represents Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., but the Padres probably shouldn’t expect much of a discount. Arraez already seems comfortable in San Diego, but he clearly possesses no shortage of confidence in his polarizing skill set — or his value.

With Xander Bogaerts out for a while, can Arraez hold up at second base? Or will Jake Cronenworth go there while Arraez takes over at first? — Steve S.

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Luis Arraez has started six games at second base since joining the Padres. (Kirk Irwin / Getty Images)

We got what felt like a substantial hint Thursday: Cronenworth started at second base for the first time this season, while Arraez started at first. Arraez apparently is much less of a defensive liability at the latter position; over his career, he has been worth minus-3 outs above average at first and minus-33 OAA at second. (Cincinnati’s Jonathan India, with minus-24 OAA, is next-to-last in the majors at second.)

We’ll see if Cronenworth, who bulked up a bit in the offseason, is still an above-average defender at second base. He’s continued to display plenty of range while playing farther off the bag than virtually any other first baseman, so my guess is he’ll be fine if he’s the primary second baseman with Bogaerts sidelined.

Meanwhile, the Padres can continue giving Arraez some starts at designated hitter. Donovan Solano can fill in at second or first. And if David Peralta proves he has something left on offense, Shildt could even ask Jurickson Profar to make an occasional start at first.

What is the general thought around the front office (or league in general) on if Fernando Tatis Jr. will ever return to form? He’s been fully healthy for a while now. Is this just who he is now? — Anonymous

I think it remains too early to say. Tatis returned from a long layoff — brought on by multiple surgeries and a suspension — a little more than a year ago. He’s still hitting the ball harder on average than the vast majority of the league, and his peripherals suggest that, for a second consecutive season, he is experiencing a decent amount of poor luck. Just months ago, plenty of people around the game were predicting he would again contend for an MVP award. A few weeks ago, a former teammate opined that Tatis has matured as a player, pointing out that the Platinum Gold Glove winner is more controlled on defense and on the basepaths than he was as a young, seemingly injury-prone phenom.

But it’s true that Tatis hasn’t been as electric, or as impactful, a hitter as he once was. Both the results and the underlying numbers tell the story of a slugger who has improved his plate discipline while going from elite overall to merely above average.

Tatis hitting metrics

Year Exit velocity Hard-hit % Barrel % Chase % xSLG



















One noticeable issue for Tatis: He has been trying to go the other way with regularity, but he hasn’t hit for any real power to the opposite field.

Tatis hitting to opposite field

Year Hits Home runs Slugging %













Maybe some of that power will return as Tatis gets more distance from his shoulder and wrist surgeries. (It took multiple years following shoulder surgery for former National League MVP Cody Bellinger to return to true star-caliber production.) Maybe those operations ultimately prevent him from fully regaining his prior level of performance. Of course, some in the game will continue to doubt a player who tested positive in 2022 for a banned substance.

It’s worth noting that Tatis did not test positive for a banned substance while he was taking the league by storm from 2019 to 2021. Now in 2024, he has shown flashes of his old self, including with the hardest-hit ball of his career. Despite a weeks-long slump and some slippage on defense, he remains on a roughly 4-WAR pace.

Still, that’s merely the pace of a very good player, not the MVP candidate the Padres were hoping they would get. Tatis probably deserves multiple more months to prove whether he can reapproach his former stardom. In the meantime, I think he recently alluded to another factor that helps explain his relative struggles.

“The game of baseball is, you got to make adjustments every single day,” Tatis said earlier this month. “The pitchers that we were seeing three years ago, they’re probably better — sweepers, whatever, you know, they change angles. We got to make adjustments. You can have good at-bats (and) go 3-for-4, but by the next day, you got to make a different adjustment.”

Seeing as how the rise of Jeremiah Estrada effectively solidifies him as our eighth-inning setup man, does this change A.J. Preller’s approach to adding more bullpen pieces before the trade deadline? — Ray C.

If Estrada keeps this up, I don’t see how it wouldn’t affect the team’s approach to the deadline. Until recently, the Padres appeared to lack reliable high-leverage relievers aside from closer Robert Suarez. In the past week, Estrada has struck out the side while recording his first major-league save, struck out two batters in a perfect eighth inning and struck out five batters over two scoreless frames. Thursday, one of those five strikeouts was sealed with a slider Estrada introduced to his repertoire in the offseason.

The Padres might still end up needing bullpen reinforcements, whether from inside or outside the organization. It’s been a small sample for Estrada, and among San Diego’s relievers, only he and Suarez have excelled in high-leverage situations. But Estrada’s emergence has been critical for a team that could use help in other areas.

If this team remains in contention for the postseason, who do you presume are the top 3-5 starting pitchers A.J. could target that would still keep them under the first tax threshold? — Adam J.

Here are a few potential targets, starting with a pitcher the Padres pursued before they traded for Cease:

• Marlins left-hander Jesús Luzardo ($5.5 million average annual value)
• Los Angeles Angels lefty Patrick Sandoval ($5.025 million AAV)
• Chicago White Sox right-hander Erick Fedde ($7.5 million AAV)

Luzardo, who has two-plus years of control, might end up out of the Padres’ price range, especially after they surrendered much of their remaining prospect capital to acquire Cease and Arraez. Given the health-related questions surrounding Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish, San Diego still would be wise to at least consider pursuing options such as Sandoval and Fedde.

Is there anything that can explain why the Padres, specifically their right-handed hitters, are performing so poorly against left-handed pitching? Or is it just one of those unexplainable anomalies like last year’s extra-innings ineptitude and hitting with runners in scoring position? — Ian H.

This has been a confounding problem. Last season, the Padres hit .271/.343/.464 against left-handers (third-highest OPS in the majors). This season, they’re hitting .217/.290/.338 versus lefties (sixth-lowest OPS). Righty hitters Bogaerts, Kim, Machado and Tatis all have gone from above-average producers against lefties to well below average. (Most of them have scuffled against righties, too.)

We’ll need more of a sample to conclude whether there is something broken about the Padres’ approach against left-handed pitching. The Padres themselves have been chalking it up to baseball randomness, although Shildt has gone from saying he isn’t concerned to not dismissing the issue. The upcoming homestand will pose a couple of important tests: Carlos Rodón will start for the New York Yankees on Friday, and the Marlins could throw three lefties, including Luzardo, during next week’s visit to Petco Park.

If you could get in a hot tub time machine and bring back any Padre from the past to fill a hole on the 2024 team, who’s coming back with you, Dennis? Cap hit is their last year’s salary as a Friar. — Dana J.

Assuming we’re aiming for a combination of productivity, affordability and good vibes, here are two players who come to mind: René Rivera and Yangervis Solarte. The Padres don’t really need more middle infielders, but every team could use more of this.

(Top photo of Fernando Tatis Jr.: Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

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