Controversial Padres’ GM AJ Preller has had a rough go of it

San_Diego_Padres_logoThe San Diego Padres have been one of the MLB’s most inconsequential teams over the last decade. One winning season since 2008, with a combined 685-816 record and -612 run differential in that span, speaks to the team’s futility. A low team payroll led to an inability to retain home developed all-star talent like Jake Peavy, Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Headley, while poor asset management and talent evaluation skills let players like Brad Brach slip through the cracks and break out on other teams.

padres 10yrCurrent General Manager AJ Preller was hired by San Diego in August 2014 to replace the hapless Josh Byrnes. Preller, 37 years old and the assistant General Manager for the Texas Rangers at the time, earned a reputation for his scouting and talent evaluation abilities, particularly in regards to international players. Under Preller’s watch, the Rangers assembled an impressive cast of international signings, including Yu Darvish, Rougned Odor, Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar.

Preller’s evaluation pedigree was born out of an obsessive, all-consuming appetite for baseball. In his last year with Texas, Preller allegedly traveled over 300 days, accumulating three million American Airlines frequent flier miles in the process. Preller traveled so much that he was forced to undergo cervical fusion surgery, the type received by Peyton Manning and Prince Fielder, partly as a result of falling asleep in awkward positions on long flights. The obsessive Preller also had a reputation for underhanded tactics and a cutthroat mentality. He was suspended for 30 days by the MLB for violating international signing rules in his time with Texas. His personality has been described as eccentric and extremely competitive.


Preller in his ‘thinking stance’

These alleged negative aspects to Preller’s personality came to roost in September 2016. Preller made two trades in the preceding months – one by dealing starter Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox on July 14th, and another that saw pitchers Colin Rea and Andrew Cashner dealt to the Marlins on July 29th. Pomeranz pitched for the Red Sox for the rest of the season with little issue, however Boston complained to the MLB that Pomeranz’s medical file didn’t contain information about anti-inflammatory medication he had been taking. Rea, in his first start with Miami, felt elbow discomfort and left after only three innings. The Padres, in a show of good faith, traded back for Rea on August 1st, however his medical file didn’t say anything about the treatment he had been receiving for elbow discomfort in the weeks leading up to the trade. Rea was out for the remainder of the 2016 season and underwent Tommy John Surgery in November 2016, sidelining him for all of 2017.

The MLB operates on an honor system where teams are expected to fully disclose medical records via the Sutton Medical System, and it appears that San Diego subverted that process by keeping certain information on preventive treatments out of the database. Preller accepted full responsibility for the issue, but maintained there was no malicious intent, which is difficult to believe considering the MLB’s handing down of an unprecedented 30-day, unpaid suspension. No General Manager has received such a punishment in recent memory.

Preller’s suspect integrity has dominated the headlines and shifted focus away from his management and player personnel abilities, which can only be described as poor since he took the reigns in San Diego. Although known for his scouting and player development acumen, Preller immediately pursued a “win now” strategy upon his hiring by scuttling the team’s above average prospect pool for injury prone and aging MLB talent. Preller’s performance at the 2014 winter meetings was something to behold, as he pulled off a video game-like four blockbuster trades in the span of several days. While not all of the trades were bad moves individually, they were the makings of a GM who wanted to fast track the Padres to competitiveness rather than build sustainably through the draft, intentional signings and value trades.

Below is a summary of Preller’s infamous 2014 offseason:

December 2014: San Diego trades Max Fried (SP), Jace Peterson (2B), Dustin Peterson (3B) and Mallex Smith (CF) to Atlanta for Justin Upton (LF) and Aaron Northcraft (SP)

In Preller’s first big splash, he acquired Atlanta slugger Justin Upton for a cadre of good-but-not-great prospects. Upton has accrued 5.9 WAR since the trade, or 2.6 per season based on 625 plate appearances. Max Fried, the 7th overall pick in the 2012 draft, was the main piece heading back to Atlanta, however he has waffled in the minors since. Probably the best player that San Diego dealt was speedy outfielder Mallex Smith, who is now on Tampa and has accrued 0.7 WAR in 240 MLB PA. Upton left San Diego in the 2015 -16 offseason to sign with Detroit, but considering the Padres’ didn’t lose much real talent , the trade was a worthwhile gamble.

Grade: C+

December 2014: San Diego trades Trea Turner (SS) and Joe Ross (SP) to Washington; San Diego also trades Rene Rivera (C), Jake Bauers (1B) and Burch Smith (SP) to Tampa in exchange for Wil Myers (1B), Ryan Hanigan (C), Gerardo Reyes (RP) and Jose Castillo (RP)

Holy Toledo, we got a complicated one here. San Diego, Washington and Tampa finalized a three way trade, the crux of which for San Diego meant that they were to send Trea Turner and Joe Ross to Washington and receive Wil Myers from Tampa. While Myers (2.9 WAR per 625 PA since the trade) has broken out in a big way for the Padres over the last two years, the losses of Trea Turner (3.7 WAR in 502 PA), who looks like a perennial top 20 MLB player, and Joe Ross, who has amassed 3.3 WAR in 197 big league innings, set the team back years. Prospect Jake Bauers is also hitting well for Tampa’s AAA affiliate. Despite Myers’ development, San Diego would be far better off with Turner, Ross and Bauers.

Grade: D

December 2014: San Diego trades Yasmani Grandal (C), Joe Wieland (SP) and Zach Eflin (SP) to Los Angeles Dodgers for Matt Kemp (CF) and Tim Federowicz (C)

This one might be the worst of the bunch. Kemp, although still a good hitter, had shown hints of decline by the end of the 2014. Grandal battled injuries with the Padres, but showed great patience and the plate and superb defensive skills. Kemp has amassed 1.9 WAR across 1,346 plate appearances since the trade, while Grandal has accumulated 6.7 in 1,107. The Padres also traded Zach Eflin, who looks like a potential #4/5 MLB starter since being traded from Los Angeles to Philadelphia. San Diego sent Kemp packing to Atlanta for basically nothing in return at the 2016 trade deadline.

Grade: D-

December 2014: San Diego trades Jesse Hahn (SP) and RJ Alvarez (RP) to Oakland for Derek Norris (C) and Seth Streitch (SP)

Derek Norris was an all-star catcher in 2014 and looked to have an impressive MLB career ahead of him with great patience at the plate, some solid power and good defensive skills. For whatever reason, Norris’ game fell off a cliff in 2016 with the Padres. Jesse Hahn has totaled a 3.68 career ERA in the majors and profiles as a good #3/4 starter for Oakland. I can see Preller’s reasoning for making this trade, as Norris had the makings of a franchise backstop, but the results were disappointing. San Diego traded Norris to Washington in the 2016 offseason for intriguing young arm Pedro Avila. Norris was subsequently cut by the Nationals in February and signed by Tampa.

Grade: C

April 2015: San Diego trades Cameron Maybin (CF), Carlos Quentin (LF), Matt Wisler (SP) and Jordan Paroubeck (LF) to Atlanta for Craig Kimbrel (RP) and Melvin Upton, Jr. (CF)

Preller firmly solidified his expectations for the 2015 Padres by pulling off another blockbuster just days before the season, adding stud closer Craig Kimbrel to anchor San Diego’s pen along with re-uniting Melvin with his brother Justin. While Matt Wisler was in many ways the focal point of the return for Atlanta, he has been ineffective in 270 MLB innings. Cameron Maybin is the best player that San Diego gave up, but he subsequently bounced from Atlanta to Detroit to Anaheim. Kimbrel had a short stint in San Diego and was flipped to the Red Sox in November 2015 for a package headlined by center fielder Manuel Margot, who looks like a solid MLB player.

Grade: B

In summation, Preller completed five major trades in the 2014 offseason, acquiring star talent in the way of Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, Derek Norris and Craig Kimbrel. Myers is the only one of the players still wearing a Padres uniform. The cost of Preller’s 2014-15 trade binge included Trea Turner, Joe Ross, Yasmani Grandal and Jesse Hahn, players who have combined to average 14.3 WAR per extrapolated season (3.6 per season per player) since being dealt by the Padres. Zach Eflin and Jake Bauers look like solid young players that could have helped the Padres right now.

The only semblance of value San Diego has from all of this is Wil Myers, who is one of the better first basemen in the NL, and Manuel Margot, who profiles as the team’s center fielder of the future. Preller’s actions in the 2014 offseason delayed San Diego’s rebuild by a full two years, and his alleged lack of integrity in the medical history scandal could cost the team opportunities to make trades in the future.

Maybe that’s a good thing, as Preller can get back to his roots and focus on rebuilding the Padres from within.


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