Column: Where Tatis belongs; Abreu-Padres fit would be promising

The Padres have a solution at first base. Just slide the kid over there.

Yes, I mean Fernando Tatis Jr.

First base is the best spot for both Tatis and the Padres in 2023.

We’d see amazing defense with less risk of injury.

Tatis would cover a whole zip code.

Scoops? He’s a shortstop by trade. High throws? He’s a springy, 6-foot-4 athlete. Wide throws? He’s long-armed and bends like a gymnast.

See the soft hands, the quick feet in pursuit of batted balls.

Don’t put him in the outfield. Keep him in the infield, close up, where his instincts and reaction times are honed.

First base is less hazardous than shortstop, though Tatis would have to embrace going to school to develop the needed fundamentals.

There’s plenty of action at first base to keep Tatis fully engaged. He’d be less apt to take his hitting setbacks onto the field.

Forget about moving Ha-Seong Kim off shortstop.

If you hit the ball to Kim, you’re out. Don’t take that for granted.

What’s more, moving Kim off shortstop would send the wrong message and put heat on Tatis that he doesn’t need.

Kim rescued the Padres last year. He played a steady shortstop. The 5-foot-9, 168-pounder overcame exhaustion while navigating a journey he said was more fatiguing than his full seasons in South Korea.

Reward him. Keep him at shortstop. He certainly earned it.

There are partnerships to consider. A shortstop captains the infield. Kim, partnering with Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth, developed excellent timing and chemistry.

Someday it may make sense to return Tatis back to shortstop. Now’s not the time.

Don’t burden Tatis with supplanting a top-flight defender who’s also popular with teammates and fans. What happens if his erratic play resurfaces?

Tatis would be celebrated for moving to first base. He’d be praised for learning a new spot to help the team.

He could use the good vibes.

For those of us who love defense, it’s exciting to envision a potential Gold Glover at all four infield spots. A quartet of capable shortstops throwing a brown pinstriped net across the infield.

Grow the grass high and watch these guys go to work. Randy Jones would come out of retirement. Ozzie Smith would beg the Padres to bring him back, having him spell Kim.

Enlist Derrek Lee.

As a tall (6-foot-5) right-handed thrower who won three Gold Gloves and World Series rings across a 15-year career, Lee could teach Tatis the footwork and the nuances. Padres executive Logan White was a scout in Lee’s area when they drafted him.

No, it wouldn’t be a waste of Tatis’ powerful arm to put him at first base. Though his hand cannon expanded Tatis’ playmaking at shortstop, enabling him to play deeper and expand his range, it’s more important to be accurate. In that area, he had work to before missing last season.

Jose Abreu’s fit

If the Padres signed him — no clue if they will — free agent Jose Abreu could hold down first base until Tatis returns early in the season and return good value as a designated hitter and spot defender.

The obvious concern is that Abreu — the American League’s 2020 MVP — will turn 36 in January. “No way of knowing when the decline comes or how steep,” said a major league evaluator not affiliated with the Padres.

Abreu is like Machado in several respects: he embraces and weathers the long grind, having logged seven seasons with at least 145 games; a fellow righty, he swats pitches to all fields; he’s a good hitter who hits home runs more than he is a home run hitter; he’s comfortable in the heart of the order; and his physique holds up. As Machado never has gone on the disabled list, Abreu’s medical history shows just one significant injury in the past several years (an abdominal and groin injury in 2018).

In production, Abreu’s lone yellow flag is his decline to 15 home runs with the White Sox last year. His homer rate (.022 per plate appearance) was the lowest in a nine-year MLB career since Abreu defected from Cuba. It was half of his career rate (.044).

Abreu lofted fewer pitches on a home run trajectory. But he hit the ball hard. The average exit velocity of his batted balls (92.2 miles per hour) finished 14th in MLB. He hit 40 doubles, second best in the league. He finished with a .304 batting average and a .378 on-base percentage.

This is a .292 career hitter who can’t leg out hits that inflate a batting average.

“He’s a stud,” the scout said. “He’s in great shape. No drop in bat speed or exit velo.”

The homer drop-off? “He changed his approach due to balls not being as lively,” the scout said.

Abreu’s intangibles are highly praised. His work ethic and pain tolerance stand out. Several hours before first pitch, he’ll run sprints in the outfield on hot days.

He’d fit in with the Padres’ gritty core headed by Machado and Cronenworth (more than 170 games and 700 plate appearances across the seventh months). As an RBI machine — second most in MLB for the past four years — he’d take heat off on-base machine Juan Soto.

There’s a lot to like here. But free agency can be an unpredictable beast.

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