A.J. Preller is Learning on the Job

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Since his hiring on August 5, 2014, A.J. Preller has had an eventful tenure as general manager for the San Diego Padres. He quickly attracted national attention by making multiple trades, firing and hiring four managers in quick succession, and taking actions that earned him a 30-day suspension by MLB. Obviously, Preller has been learning on the job. But, it appears he is learning from his mistakes.

Although an Assistant GM for the Texas Rangers, Preller had never been “the guy” until the Padres chose him to replace Josh Byrnes. From 1995 to 2009, the Padres had the stability of one general manager, Kevin Towers. After the Padres fired Towers, Jed Hoyer only lasted as GM from 2009 to 2011, and Josh Byrnes from 2011 to 2014. Preller has outlasted both of them and signed a three-year extension in the off-season, so he is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

After being hired, Preller barely had time to unpack (if he ever actually does unpack) before he started his trade-a-thon, flipping veterans and prospects alike in an attempt to short-circuit the process of building a winner. Most notable of the myriad trades in December of 2014 and early in 2015, the Padres traded (among others) Yasmani Grandal, Jace Peterson, Max Fried, Mallex Smith, Cameron Maybin, and Matt Wisler for Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr., and Craig Kimbrel. In a three-team deal, the Padres traded Joe Ross, Rene Rivera, and Trea Turner to bring in Wil Myers.

The Padres actually lost three more games in 2015 than they had the year before, falling from 77-85 to 74-88. However, Preller regrouped fairly quickly, traded away most of the veterans like Kemp, Norris, both Uptons, and Kimbrel, and reverted to concentrating on what he does best: drafting and developing young players.

Early on, Preller and the team targeted Myers as a difference maker and designated him as the “face of the franchise” before the 2017 season. However, one year later, Preller implicitly acknowledged that Myers did not live up to expectations by signing Eric Hosmer to take over at first.

In retrospect, it appears Preller had no back-up plan when he fired manager Bud Black in June 2015. Dave Roberts managed for one day and then Preller installed Pat Murphy, who had never managed at the major league level. When Murphy took over, the Padres had a 32-33 record. The team won only 42 of the 96 games left in the season. In October that year, the Padres hired Andy Green and have stuck with him, although his highest winning percentage has been .438.

Thanks to malcontents like Kemp and Norris, Preller has learned that character and clubhouse demeanor actually do matter. He brought back pitcher Clayton Richard as much for his veteran presence as his (declining) skills as a pitcher. New additions Hosmer and shortstop Freddy Galvis arrive with accolades for being good teammates and clubhouse leaders.

And, on the subject of shortstops, Preller acknowledged that the shortstop position actually matters by trading for Galvis.
Since Sandy Alderson banished Khalil Greene in 2008, the Padres have employed a veritable smorgasbord of subpar shortstops. Under Preller, Clint Barmes, Alexei Ramirez, and Erick Aybar embarrassed themselves and the team. Galvis has shored up the infield defense, especially important with the number of ground-ball pitchers (although Luis Perdomo, the most ground-ball centric, has been sent down).

In fact, by making the bold move of sending Perdomo back to the minor leagues, Preller has acknowledged that the young pitcher needed more seasoning. A Rule-5 draftee in 2016, Perdomo had never played above A-ball. Instead of sending him to the minor leagues last year, the Padres kept him in the rotation, with the results being an 8-11 record, 4.67 ERA, and 1.51 WHIP. However, this year, his ERA ballooned to 5.30 and WHIP to 1.59, and Preller made the necessary move.

Under Preller, the Padres have not played even .500 ball and are off to a miserable 8-15 start this year. However, he has demonstrated his willingness to learn on the job and change course when necessary. Of course, the Padres have to acknowledge that his early actions set the franchise back two, three, or more years, and keep that in mind going forward.

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Diane Calkins
Baseball has always been part of my life, as my dad played minor league ball and went on to coach at the college level. Although I've written for a number of publications (mostly about companion animal welfare), I love having the chance to write about a lifelong passion: baseball.

This article has 13 Comments

  1. I think Diane Calkins has written an excellent story on AJ Preller and what is happening with OUR favorite team. Diane is a marvelous writer! I continue to be frustrated by what I see. What is Preller doing? What about the logjam we have in the outfield? It’s bad now and Renfroe is not even back yet. When he comes back, then what? Today I am watching the Giants and Pads and listening to the Giant announcers. They showed a replay of the great catch Travis made on Tues night and they openly asked on the air “how is Travis Jankowski NOT in the lineup the following day?” Travis is by far their best defensive outfielder. Andy Green said it last year! And he is red hot with a bat in his hands. That young man has to play!

    Jose Pirela is not a second baseman. That job should be Carlos Asuaje’s OR Cory Spangenberg. Will the Pads please stop trying that experiment?

    To AJ Preller, if you don’t want to play any of the young men who became Padres before you came on the scene, then do all of us a favor and trade them. At least by doing that, Andy Green can play the guys YOU selected and they won’t be looking over their shoulders anymore. As for the guys I hope you trade, they will at least be able to get a fresh start somewhere else. But right now it’s simply bad for everyone.

  2. I’m NO AJ Preller fan – NOT AT ALL. We all agree the value received in the Trea Turner (Wil Myers) trade was terrible and how a veteran GM; Mike Rizzo, of the Nationals played him like a fiddle. One should NEVER trade a young shortstop and player like Turner. But Preller did because he overvalued Myers but also thought good, young shortstops grow on trees.

    Then Preller was caught cheating on signing International players and banished for 6 months by MLB. Looking back as we can now, THAT was when the team’s owners should have fired him. But they didn’t. Now he has a contract extension? For what?

    How about those wonderful Rule 5 selections? Not one has worked out. But what it did was clog the roster with THREE players who had no business being on the team. Luis Perdomo anyone? Luis Torrens? Allen Cordoba? There is NO shortcut to proper player development. It’s all about recognizing and drafting exceptional young talent.

    The Mitchell/Headley trade? That was a joke along with the $$$ forced to pay for a player who the Padres are not even using but instead, has clogged up the infield. All it did was add a pitcher who clearly does not belong. Poor Andy Green….. Because of the Headley deal, NO ONE gets a legit chance to perform including Carlos Asaujie.

    Not sure the Eric Hosmer signing was all Preller or maybe ownership’s. But I personally applaud that move! A class act and proven winning player like Hosmer does not come your way often. I would have liked the team to find a veteran starting pitcher the same way.

    How does Preller treat players who were drafted #1 by the previous regime? Except for Hedges, who may be on shaky ground because he can’t hit a lick, Preller has dumped on Spangenberg, Renfroe and Jankowski in favor of players he has drafted and traded for. Those guys all deserved a chance and none of them are busts. But it looks like Preller has already decided that his guys are better. Example; Manuel Margot cannot touch Travis Jankowski as a defensive center fielder. And Margot looks like he can’t hit much either. But he is Preller’s guy so he is the one who plays. True, a couple of guys seem to be doing well; Villanueva and maybe Cordero but giving up on Renfroe, Spangenber and Jankowski will hurt the team later on. Just wait and watch when they get traded away and how well they will play for someone else.

    Sadly, what we need is another GM – a veteran, not another rookie, with the talent and skill of Kevin Towers. But where is he? And when will ownership make that call?

  3. It is an open question whether Preller has learned anything at all. His trades of young players for veterans were all flops, his trades of these under performing veterans look promising but no more, and his big moves have sucked. The Myers extension was premature and unnecessary. The Hosmer signing was the equivalent of a teenager wrecking the family car, all excitement but no brains at all. It is hard to understate how dumb this move was, vastly overpaying for an inconsistent player, bidding against oneself, screwing up the roster because of it, etc.
    The real incompetence here is Ron Fowler’s. He hired Mike Dee, and he has extended Preller. Based on the results and the medical records cheating, not to mention having known PED cheater McGwire as a coach, Preller should have been fired, not extended.

  4. It was wise to invest in the farm system, which looks very promising. However, as bad as the Turner trade is (as well as other trades), the Hosmer contract should be forever known as “Preller’s Folly.” It already have many harmful ramifications for this team (displacing many players, making them less effective defensively, and maybe offensively, and even possibly leading to more injuries for Myers … who is “Preller’s Debacle.” It would be great to have first base open for Myers, or Pirela, or Austin Allen or Potts (in the future), but that will never happen (at least for the next 8 years!) If Preller was in fact learning on the job then either he did not make the decision to sign Hosmer or he still has a lot to learn. I believe everyone will at some point admit the Hosmer contract was a HORRIBLE move (and there was virtually no one else really competing to sign him!!!!!), it is just a matter of it is now, 3 months from now, 3 years from now, etc.

  5. A lot of AJ’s future seems to be riding on the performance of Myers and Hosmer … that doesn’t make me optimistic.

    But the farm system sure does … and it seems very possible that a future very above average rotation can be the core of success for many years …

    It’s not obvious to me that the 2014/2015 moves resulted in a “set back” … it seemed worth a shot … and as this article states, “Preller regrouped fairly quickly” … and that regrouping provided players and picks which are a part of the farm system we have today …

    I’m in and up for the ride to 2020 … and beyond!

    Thanks, Diane … and EVT … GO!

  6. Hosmer is, and will continue to be, one of the worst signings in mlb history. And the Padres are stuck with him for EIGHT YEARS

  7. The only entertainment value for this team is master of ceremonies Uncle Teddie Lightner and a mix of minor and major leaguers. It’s more “comedy” than anything else. Buckle up.

    1. Thanks for reading and for the comments. I agree that there was pressure for immediate gratification. How much of that came from Mike Dee we’ll probably never know.

  8. I’m not clear on what AJ Preller has learned, but it is a great summary and admission that his moves set back the franchise. Notably, with the exception of Trea Turner, the traded players have done very little at the MLB level. However, if there is one trade that he should not have made, it was trading Turner for, what in essence is Myers. Turner is a much better ball player at a premium position.

  9. Great article on Preller, but we also must remember that many of the moves that Preller made when he first took over were pushed by a new impatient ownership group that wanted an immediate winner. His moves have been much truer to form since, without the meddling from management.

  10. Nice piece Diane. I’d like to mention that once Preller reversed course from 2015, it was a tear down and rebuild situation so the sub .500 record is to be expected. Farm system is great and we are starting to see some of the fruits of the rebuild.

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