Can you be excited about the White Sox while being angry that their lineup would have had Fernando Tatis Jr. if not for possibly one of the most boneheaded trades in recorded human history?
I think you can.
In fact, I would argue that it’s the ideal arrangement for your typical Sox fan, who, by nature, is 50% hopeful and 50% aggrieved. Cheering for an emerging team and shaking a fist at a (Cub?) blue sky is like inhaling and exhaling for the standard follower of the franchise.
Two things are true: The Sox have an incredible amount of young talent, and the Padres’ Tatis, also young (21) and talented (he leads the majors with 11 home runs and 28 RBI), has taken the baseball world by storm. Can’t we be happy for everybody involved and move along? No, we can’t. Everybody wants more.
After signing Tatis as an international free agent in 2015, the Sox traded him a year later for Padres pitcher James Shields, who proceeded to go 16-35 with a 5.31 ERA in three seasons on the South Side. In a classic example of foreshadowing, Shields allowed seven runs, including three home runs, in his Sox debut. As he exited the field after two-plus innings, fans at the former U.S. Cellular Field booed him. Howdy, big fella!
As Shields’ sad Sox career played out, a bigger concern emerged. The flashy, gifted, highly touted player the team had given up for him began rocketing through San Diego’s minor-league system. When Tatis finally put on a Padres cap last season, the SD looked like it stood for “stardom.’’ He hit .317 and had 22 home runs in 84 games. He finished third in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
And now he’s killing it for the Padres. Worse for the Sox, the shortstop could turn into one of those transcendent, bigger-than-the-game personalities, like Bryce Harper. His grand slam on a 3-0 count with San Diego holding a big lead Monday against the Rangers reignited the national debate about the unwritten rules of baseball. Blowing off a take sign on a 3-0 count with your team up seven runs in the eighth inning? Was this a kid with no regard for the game’s culture and history? Or was this simply someone caught up in the buzz of being 21?
Whichever side you fall on, the inescapable part of the discussion for Sox fans is that Shields most certainly wasn’t the center of attention. Tatis was. The last time the Sox were the center of anything was 2005. It took a World Series to get them there.
But let’s maintain some perspective here. As of Wednesday morning, the Sox’ record was 13-11 and the Padres’ record was 13-12. Of course the Sox would be better with Tatis on their roster. With a young lineup including Luis Robert, Yoan Moncada and Eloy Jimenez, the excitement quotient would be through the roof.
Right now is pretty good, though, isn’t it? Sure, a better start to the season would have been much preferred. And there’s still debate about Rick Renteria’s managerial abilities. But . . . back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs against the Cardinals on Sunday? Followed by six home runs against the Tigers on Monday? This is a team that can produce its own light and heat. It doesn’t need an unwritten rule to generate energy, though a Tim Anderson bat flip has been known to raise temperatures.
One of the enduring attributes of sports is the inability to be happy with what you’ve got. The infield grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Sox fans in particular seem to be wired this way. It’s not that they don’t appreciate what they have in front of them. It’s that they generally have the sneaking suspicion they’ve been had, taken, hoodwinked. Tatis-ed.
The Sox could use more pitching, but that’s how they got into the Shields mess in 2016. At the time, though, the team was still trying to go for it, and a rotation of Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon and Shields sounded pretty good.
So does a 2020 Sox lineup with Tatis. But it’s hard to argue with a team that bashes home runs the way this one does. Tatis might end up being a Hall of Famer. Sort of hard to tell after 109 career games, wouldn’t you say? And maybe Sox general manager Rick Hahn has built a roster that can have success from year to year. Also hard to say at this point. But so far, so good.
Don’t be sad, Sox fans. Tatis’ 18-year-old brother, Elijah, is in the team’s minor-league system. At least so far.