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The Fernando Tatis Jr. deal is huge, but so are the Padres’ ambition and baseball’s expectations

The sweet swing of Fernando Tatis Jr. earned him the third-biggest contract in major league history by total value. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

The San Diego Padres agreed to terms with superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. on a 14-year contract extension worth $340 million Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the deal.

When they did, it was as if the organization, having seen the baseball world hoist all its hopes and dreams on to a perceived savior’s 22-year-old shoulders, decided to pick up the tab for everyone. For years, Major League Baseball has hunted its Michael Jordan or LeBron James — the singular icon that commands national attention. And Tatis just happens to wear No. 23.

For all Tatis means to the rejuvenated Padres and their fans, he may mean more to baseball as a whole — a reminder of what has been missing from the game for the past two decades and the rare generational talent who may just be capable of restoring it.

At a time when many small- and middle-market organizations seem content to stand pat and cross their fingers, Tatis and his Padres are an example of the excitement that going all in to win can bring. At a time when some of the game’s stodgy old norms seem to be limiting its appeal to a younger audience, Tatis not only plays with joy but markets it: He recently cut an ad with Gatorade about baseball’s “unwritten rules.”

“Being a rule breaker isn’t cool,” Tatis says in the ad. Then his face breaks into a smile.

“Yes it is.”

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In Tatis’s case, rule-breaking basically translates to enjoying himself. He often slides or dives when others might protect themselves. He laughs and dances and shouts, a stark contrast from veterans brought up in stoicism. Members of the Texas Rangers once chastised him for turning a 3-0 pitch into a grand slam in a game the Padres were winning handily — in other words, for not holding back. Tatis and his manager, Jayce Tingler, eventually apologized for the swing, which also could have been prevented with a better pitch.

Now the Padres, too, seem to be throwing out the rules and going all in on the kid they hope is everything he seems to be.

The deal is not yet official, but if completed it will buy out the entirety of the 22-year-old shortstop’s arbitration years and ensure he stays in San Diego through age 36. It will be the third-largest contract in major league history by total value, behind those signed by the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Mookie Betts. It will mark the second time in three years the Padres have splurged on a high-priced infielder.

Just before the 2019 season, the Padres committed $300 million to Manny Machado, who will now be one half of the most expensive left side of an the infield in baseball history.

After two big league seasons, Tatis is already one of the most beloved stars in baseball, a dynamic, emotive, instinctual player many are eagerly tapping as part of the more fun future of a recently stagnant sport. In 143 games since the beginning of 2019, Tatis hit 39 home runs and compiled a .956 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — all at shortstop, a position at which defensive prowess such as his rarely combines with that kind of production.

“I think the easiest thing to see with him is his talent,” Tingler said Thursday before pivoting to the less tangible characteristics he feels make Tatis worthy of the deal. “The work ethic — seeing him consistently improve in a lot of areas of the game, certainly defensively. And then the way he plays the game, with such a fun spirit, the way his teammates view him, the way he treats other people, I think all those factors, we couldn’t be more excited.”

The contract, which was first reported by the Athletic, is a fitting encore to an offseason in which the Padres were the most aggressive team in baseball.

They traded for two aces in two days in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish, then acquired more rotation depth in former Pittsburgh Pirate Joe Musgrove. They re-signed super-utility man Jurickson Profar to go with the signing of Korean star Ha-Seong Kim, another versatile defender who can plug in anywhere. They bolstered their bullpen with former all-star Mark Melancon.

The World Series champion Dodgers added ace Trevor Bauer and didn’t lose anyone from their championship team, yet they may have had the second-best offseason in their own division.

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A.J. Preller, the Padres’ president of baseball operations, has had manic offseasons before, most notably before the 2014 season, when he brought in multiple all-stars in an effort to move into contention overnight. Those pieces never fit, and Preller and his staff wound up engaging in a full-scale rebuild of their minor league system.

The restocking yielded stars such as Tatis, potential rotation staples such as Chris Paddack and enough elite prospects to entice talent away from other teams. Now the once stingy Padres boast one of the sport’s most formidable and well-paid lineups.

With the contracts for Tatis and Machado, San Diego will become the first franchise in the four major sports to give out two deals worth at least $300 million. Including the eight-year deal the Padres gave Eric Hosmer before the 2018 season, San Diego will have nearly $850 million committed to members of its 2021 infield.

Houston Astros Manager Dusty Baker said when someone texted him the amount of money Tatis got, he “thought somebody had sold the club or something.” He remembered strutting around as a young player thinking his deal for $800,000 was big money.

“Wow,” he said, when told the exact terms. “He’s just got to stay healthy. I’m glad for him. I’m sure his dad’s happy, and his agent’s happy getting that percentage.”

Multiple managers and general managers around MLB were asked about the deal Thursday morning. Many said they were happy to see a franchise player stick with a team. Others, such as Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo, were suddenly confronted with questions about how much they think they will have to pay their up-and-comers — in Rizzo’s case, offensive savant Juan Soto.

But while teams often throw their hopes and financial futures into their young star, Tatis’s deal seems to etch an entire sport’s worth of expectations on his back for the next decade — for better or worse. He has been on so many game and magazine covers that his agency, MVP Sports Group, is logging them on Twitter. He has a shoe deal and Gatorade deal. He has his own logo.

“I think he’s the right guy, just for the industry of baseball. We need to market our guys. There are certainly guys in the league that are great, and he’s one of them,” Tingler said.

“With the look and the energy and the drive to win, being young and talented and still wanting to grow, I think they’ve done a good job of identifying him … and overall, that’s what baseball needs.”