A.J. Preller weaved a web of lies for the San Diego Padres fanbase.
Speaking to fans and media members via Zoom after the season concluded, A.J. Preller boldly said things would remain the same going into the 2024 season. Less than a month later, manager Bob Melvin fled for the same position with a division rival. Preller is preparing for his 10th season as the Padres’ architect. Managing to outlive a cat, he will name his seventh manager despite what appears on his resume.
Melvin did not join Preller for that news conference. The team’s president of baseball operations addressed the media on his own. This was a much different scene from 2022’s end-of-season news conference. He dismissed earlier reports of Melvin and him having an “unfixable” relationship. Those reports cited anonymous sources from within the organization. Perhaps, at the time, those words came across as a sigh of relief for fans. Now, his denial comes across as a blatant lie. This is just one thread in his web of lies.
The lie moved closer into focus when the Padres granted the San Francisco Giants permission to interview Melvin. The Friars’ Bay Area rival had already ended its relationship with Gabe Kapler and was shopping for a new skipper.
“Bob is our manager and is going to be our manager going forward.”
The Padres granted permission to the Giants to interview Melvin after Preller said this. Reporters reached out to Melvin after Preller said this on October 4. He didn’t respond.
“With Bob and myself, I think even in the last couple of days, you get a chance to recap and look at some different things. Both of us feel really good about where things are going forward,” Preller said at that October 4 news conference.
Feeling good about where things are headed, Melvin agreed to interview with the Giants. He felt so good that he accepted a 3-year offer from the Giants to be their manager. He had one year left on his Padres contract.
“A lot has been said in the last few weeks, but both he and I are very excited about the challenge of getting this group back to the postseason next year … and both of us feel really good about where things are going forward.”
The Padres fell well short of their expectations in 2023. They played below .500 for most of the season until a late surge led the way to an 82-80 record. Preller told reporters on October 4 that he and Melvin spoke to each other “four or five times a day” and described dissenting news reports as “overblown.”
How could Melvin have been excited if he left the Padres? It’s no secret that he is from the Bay Area. He did, however, have one year left with the Padres. He had managed a roster with Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Jr., et al. These players, minus Tatis, reached the National League Championship Series in 2022. He walked away from a star-packed roster in San Diego to take the helm of the Giants, a team that has money to spend but has a roster that needs retooling. Excited would imply he was firmly planted in San Diego, preparing for what would have, could have, been his last ride. Instead, he is in San Francisco for the next three years. Here’s a scene of him excitedly putting on a Giants jersey. Skip to the 25-second mark.
Why would Preller agree to let the Giants interview Melvin? He’s the team’s general manager. His priority this winter is to put together a winning roster for 2024. Melvin would have needed to be firmly planted in San Diego if Melvin were to be the manager. Instead, he’s searching for his fifth manager hire in 10 years. More threads appear in the web of lies.
“I think we both feel that ultimately on the big-picture items, the belief in this group, the belief in this team, what we need to do to get it going forward, I think we got a chance to kind of reaffirm that in the last few days and feel really good about where … we’re moving on.”
Melvin moved on, all right.
Preller continued weaving his web of lies when he spoke to media members on October 25, again via Zoom.
“We’re super excited about the process … Our attention shifts, as soon as today, to going and finding a manager that we feel is going to connect with those players and shares the passion and thirst that our fanbase has to bringing a championship here to San Diego.”
Three weeks earlier, Preller said he was excited to look ahead to 2024 with Melvin. It had been only an hour when the image of Melvin donning a Giants jersey was seared into Padres fans’ brains when Preller fielded questions on October 25.
He wasn’t shocked that his manager agreed to leave when they were supposedly speaking to each other several times each day. He didn’t appear betrayed that his manager preferred a division rival over his ballclub. He said he was “super” excited to look for a new manager.
Melvin was excited in his own right but declined to be direct about his time in San Diego. There was a narrative in San Diego that wasn’t going away, he said, and it’s not fair for that narrative to continue through 2024. A lot of things were popping up there, he said, and it was time to move on. Preller said he and Melvin were both excited about leading the Padres in 2024. All of a sudden, Melvin felt it was time to move on.
That statement, by itself, gives credibility to the anonymous sources that said Preller’s relationship with Melvin was fractured. Web of lies, meet the next thread.
“From my own standpoint, did I make it easier? How can I do it a little bit different to make sure that the manager feels comfortable? … Making sure that everybody’s on the same page and communicating, that’s probably my biggest job.”
Preller said this was already happening between him and Melvin three weeks earlier. This answer on October 25 was the first time he acknowledged that he and Melvin weren’t on the same page. He acknowledged it after Melvin left — when it was safe to do so. He, unfortunately, weaved himself into a “gotcha!” moment. Melvin wasn’t comfortable, so he found a new job. He and Preller weren’t on the same page.
In that moment, it became abundantly clear. The news reports about clubhouse instability; anonymous sources giving behind-the-scenes looks at poor clubhouse morale and front office dysfunction; Melvin leaving; and Preller eager to find a new manager. Preller was cornered.
“As we go forward to the next manager, we’ve got to make sure we have somebody that, from that standpoint, is wanting the best information, wanting to use our resources. … That’s something we’ve got to really focus on to make sure we nail that.”
This is Preller’s fifth time hiring a manager. This sounds like something a first-time GM would say after firing his first hire. He and Melvin weren’t on the same page. Do these words suggest he wasn’t on the same page with Andy Green or Jayce Tingler? Green, a first-time manager, guided the team through a rebuild until his termination in 2019. Tingler led the Padres to a winning record as a first-time manager in a shortened 2020 season. The team finished 79-83 the following year, and Tingler was fired.
Currently, the top candidates to replace Melvin are Padres advisor Mike Schildt, who has managerial experience, and bench coach Ryan Flaherty, who does not. Schildt managed the Cardinals for three-plus seasons before joining the Padres in 2022. Schildt won National League Manager of the Year in 2019. His Cardinals were swept in the NLCS.
When will Padres chairman Peter Seidler sweep this web out of the clubhouse? Preller will be in his position on Opening Day next season and beyond.
Mike is the sports editor for the Fayette Advertiser, and has been with East Village Times since 2015. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report. He is an avid Padres fan who is keeping the faith and trusting the process.