A.J. Preller is Learning on the Job

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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 been a part of Diane's life since her father played professionally (mostly at the minor league level). She has written for a number of publications and concentrated on companion animal welfare. She welcomes the opportunity to write about the sport she loves. Diane shares her home with her husband and a house full of rescued animals.
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Gary Klimas
Gary Klimas
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Gary Klimas
Gary Klimas
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Tanned Tom
Tanned Tom
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Tommy T
Tommy T
4 years ago

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… Read more »

Padre Paul
Padre Paul
4 years ago
Reply to  Tommy T

I totally agree !

LynchMob
LynchMob
4 years ago

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… Read more »

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