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.