Does A.J. Preller deserve blame for the failures of the 2021 San Diego Padres?
There is no doubt that A.J. Preller will go down as one of the most successful G.M.’s in the history of the San Diego Padres.
For what he has done with the system and turning around a failing organization, Preller deserves a ton of praise. His staff helped develop a system to cultivate talent. The Padres spent on the international market as they had never done before. Only now are we beginning to see these young players blossom and make a mark at the major league level. A.J. Preller did well to surround himself with talented individuals. And for that, he needs to be commended.
Currently, though, these talented individuals are being re-shuffled or dismissed entirely from the organization, which is slightly concerning.
Former scouting director Mark Conner will now move into a special assistant role within the Padres. It remains to be seen exactly what that entails. In addition, former senior director of player development Sam Geaney was let go last week and will not return to the team. Geaney was brought in by Preller two months after the GM began his tenure with the Padres in August of 2014. Both Connor and Geaney were instrumental in creating a well-respected system within the MLB community.
Chris Kemp will continue to oversee the international department of the Padres as well as take over as the new scouting director. In addition, Ryley Westman is the new farm director. With these men, the Padres are still in great shape as both men have a familiarity with the players. However, the loss of Connor and Geaney and how that will affect the minor leagues is something to monitor as the Padres move forward.
The farm system has bloomed over the last 5-7 years. There is no doubt about that fact. However, the current roster fails to consist of homegrown prospects, as several men were traded to create what the Padres currently possess on their roster. Franmil Reyes, Cal Quantrill, Eric Lauer, Luis Urias, Luis Patino, and Ty France were drafted by the Padres and developed within the system. Each is starting to bloom with their new team. The Padres never really produced this much talent at one time in the history of the franchise. Thankfully, more is on the way as several young players took their game to a whole new level in 2021.
For Preller, his glaring issue is evaluation of major league talent. The Padres may have recognized unheralded players like Brad Hand and Kirby Yates, but they also signed multiple free-agents and made numerous trades for veteran players (Chase Headley, Bryan Mitchell, Jered Weaver, Brandon Morrow, etc.) that have not panned out. Then there is the group of young players, mentioned above, that have developed in their new cities. Was the evaluation of these homegrown players off by the Padres? Sure, some of those prospects were dealt for useful players currently on the roster, but you have to wonder if the Padres failed to recognize their abilities?
All this talk so far has been about the minor league system, but what has the major league franchise accomplished? That is the true mark of success.
Sadly, besides last season, the Padres are a bust under the Preller regime.
The first attempt (to compete) in 2015 was bold but probably not well thought out. The team acquired multiple players (Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris, James Shields, etc.) and turned the eyes of the baseball world toward San Diego. The Padres were never a team to monitor, but that considerable trading frenzy energized the fan base and woke up baseball fans about the Padres. The whole thing crumbled in late June 2015 as the Padres battled chemistry and production issues with that squad.
Preller wisely changed gears in his philosophy and re-stocked the farm system with prospects he desired. The Padres went crazy on the international market and essentially broke the system in 2016 by spending upwards of $90 million on international talent. There are new rules in place now as Preller and the Padres took advantage and invested in young international talent as no other team had done before.
From 2016 to 2020, the Padres earned high draft picks and kept investing in the international market. At one time, the Padres possessed the best farm system in all of baseball. The idea was to create a long-lasting competitive Padres team. We are currently in that window, which opened last season. The Padres are young, invested in contending, and still blessed with one of the best farm systems in the game. Their time to win is now.
The ownership group spent money on free agents (Hosmer and Machado). With an investment like this, the Padres are recognized as a team attempting to contend. A World Series title is the goal, and nothing less is considered a success. So why is the team sitting a few games above .500 with virtually no playoff chance?
Injuries are a major factor. As is, horrible timing.
The Padres were close to landing Max Scherzer from the Nationals at the trade deadline, but that fell apart. The team failed to add any starting pitchers, though that was a significant weakness on the roster. Preller gambled with the health of his current roster, and that proved to be a mistake.
Only hours after the trade deadline passed, Chris Paddack went down with an injury. That was a brutal loss as Paddack was starting to show promise again. Since then, the team lost both Yu Darvish and Blake Snell to injuries. Snell has yet to return and is iffy to pitch at all before the season closes. The Padres lack of depth resulted in the team signing Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez off the street. Both pitchers went from jobless to starting for the Padres in critical games. Not exactly a recipe for success.
The injuries to the staff are tough to get through, but the chemistry issues within the team are nearly impossible to overcome. The Padres went from a team smiling and having fun to a group of men just going through the motions. The locker room is closed to media. There is no telling what the problem is, but there is something wrong. Sure, winning breeds chemistry, and losing leads to frowns, but there really does seem more to this issue. Early in the year, when the Padres were down, nothing seemed to phase them. Now, there is no hope for this team in 2021.
At what point do these failures fall upon the architect of the team?
A.J. Preller might not be on the hot seat now, but there are expectations for this team. They are currently failing. With that being said, there is plenty of time to correct the issues and move forward. The window of competition is open, and Preller will surely revamp the roster. The coming winter will be interesting as A.J. Preller again molds the Padres into his vision of a winning team. Again. Hopefully, for his sake, this time, he gets it right.