Padres’ Player Acquisitions: Strengths and Weaknesses of General Managers Kevin Towers and A.J. Preller

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: AP Photo

Since August 2014 when he was hired as general manager, A.J. Preller has forged a reputation as a master at identifying young talent in the draft and through other means like the Latin American market.  The ultimate judgment on the success of those players at the major league level or in their use as trade bait will take several years.  In the meantime, Preller has demonstrated much less acumen in choosing veteran players to add to the roster.

Kevin Towers (the Padres’ GM from 1995-2006) has the inverse reputation.  Many of Towers draft picks, especially first round picks, bombed, some spectacularly like Matt Bush in 2004.  However, he demonstrated a genius for acquiring veterans especially leading up to the Padres’ 1998 playoff run that ended in a loss to the New York Yankees.

Towers had the benefit of taking over a team with All-Star-to-be Tony Gwynn, one of the best hitters to ever play the sport. Drafted by Jack McKeon aka Trader Jack, Gwynn also played under Randy Smith and Joe McIlvaine

After assessing the existing team, Towers then set out choosing a group of players, mainly through trades and free agent signings, that could compete.  He brought in pitchers Andy Ashby (3.2 WAR), Trevor Hoffman, (3.1), Sterling Hitchcock (1.5) and Kevin Brown (9.6).

As the story goes, when the rest of the team found out about the trade for Brown, they knew the Padres’ front office was serious about winning.  Brown went 18-7, Ashby 17-9, Hitchcock 9-7. Hoffman saved 53 games with an ERA of 1.48 in 1998.

Towers (as GM and previously as Scouting Director) also added infielders Ken Caminiti (129 wRC+, 2.6 WAR), Wally Joyner (121, 2.1), Quilvio Veras (106, 3.0) and Chris Gomez (97, 1.6).  Joining Gwynn in the outfield, Steve Finley (89, -0.2) played center and Greg Vaughn left (151, 5.8). Vaughn led the team with 50 home runs and 119 RBI. Every starting fielder on the team had an on-base percentage higher than .300 with Joyner leading the group at .373. Most of the starters on the 2018 roster have an OBP under .300 despite the teams focus on getting on base.

The 1998 Padres obviously had the benefit of that intangible asset called chemistry. But the team also had an enforcer in Ken Caminiti. In 1996 he put the uniform of a player who had criticized Bochy in an interview in the manager’s office.  When the player couldn’t find his uni, Caminiti advised him to look for it in the managers’ office since he obviously wanted to manage the team.

Unfortunately, the Padres had the misfortune of facing one of the best teams in history, the New York Yankees with its 114-48 record in the American League East. Ironically that team was built around players drafted and developed by the Yankees including Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.

Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

By every indication, team chemistry has not been a hallmark under Preller.  In fact, the front office has added players like Wil Myers, Freddy Galvis, and Eric Hosmer to help provide leadership and chemistry.  Additions like Derek Norris, Melvin Upton Jr., and Matt Kemp have been cited as players that actually disrupted the vibe in the dugout and locker room, but thankfully they have moved on.

The jury will be out on Prellers’ success in the draft and international market for several years, but every ranking system rates the minor league system highly.  Players like Eric Lauer, Joey Lucchesi, Luis Urias have arrived, and others are not far behind.

In the meantime, the performance of veterans added under Preller has been mixed at best.  Again using wRC+ and WAR, no player has come close to Greg Vaughn.  On the current team, Eric Hosmer has a wRC+ of 93, WAR of -0.5; Wil Myers 105, 1.4; Freddy Galvis 76, 0.4.  In 2015, Matt Kemp had a wRC+ of 93 and WAR of 1.0; Derek Norris 98, 2.4; Melvin Upton Jr. 110, 1.5; Jon Jay 101, 0.9; Justin Upton 119, 3.4; Clint Barmes 75, 0.2. The following year Norris dropped to 54, -0.4 and shortstop Alexei Ramirez had a miserable 63, -1.5.  In 2017, pitcher Jered Weaver had a -1.0 WAR while shortstop Erick Aybar had a wRC+ of 72 and WAR of -0.2.

One of the more troubling aspects of Preller’s’ record in trading for or signing veteran talent has been the fact that Myers and Hosmer have the highest contracts of any Padres’ players in the history of the team.  The Padres have a commitment to Hosmer through 2025, and he will make $20 million a year through 2022.  Myers will start earning $20 million in 2020.  Neither has performed at a level commensurate with their contracts so far.

While fans await the arrivals of young players like Fernando Tatis Jr., Mackenzie Gore, and Chris Paddack to show up, the Padres’ front office must find a way to improve the quality of veterans added to the team.

*Apologizes for a couple of misleading sentences in this piece. The editorial staff of EVT takes full responsibility for any errors or misleading information that was communicated in this article. We appreciate your support very much. Thank you.

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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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Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey
4 years ago

I guess whatever is written about people hating on Preller or the Padres, just look at the stats at this moment (or any other). Eric Hosmer is leading the team with a .251 batting average. That’s not directly anyone’s fault but Eric Hosmer, but it does say a lot about understanding coaching and talent acquisition. It’s funny, you can love them or be called a hater but our stats have been awful for years. Team AVG, OPB, ERA, wins, etc….. Contention, huh? Okay……..

Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey
4 years ago

It’s funny to read the comments and how people tend to fall on one side or the other: Welcome to modern media. Look folks, her points about Preller are cogent and Preller is truly lacking in quite a few categories. This isn’t fiction or hating, it’s simply what has been the pattern. Let’s try to keep in mind that you can be a diehard fan and be critical, it’s “interesting” that this is not okay. Indeed there is no perfect GM but Preller is missing the mark in assembling effective coaching, leadership, or adding through Free Agency. This is the… Read more »

Mario
Mario
4 years ago

Die hard padres fan since 1982. This is the most excited I have been about our future since we acquired Kevin Brown. Every team has a bad contract or 2 but in today’s baseball 20 mil really isn’t nothing. Especially if the rest of your team will be filled with rookies or 2nd and 3rd year players. Kevin Towers did what he did and it got us to the world series. Thank you Kevin. Preller is doing what he is doing and this could possibly make us the Braves of the 90’s. I remember when Smoltz and Glavine first came… Read more »

Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey
4 years ago
Reply to  Mario

We’re staring at 70 wins next season my friend unless a major haul comes down the line and we get some coaching on offense. Also keep in mind where Quantrill and Gore are developmentally- they won’t be in the majors next season. Keep in mind Luccesi’s health and consistency. Keep in mind, Urias would be in his first major league season, as will Mejia, and there is no guarantee either are on the 25 man roster, they’re rookies. Keep in mind, Myers hasn’t proven he can play or contribute in 150 games. Keep in mind that Hosmer seems to be… Read more »

Tempe3DHall
Tempe3DHall
4 years ago

Hi Diane.
Can you explain what will happen for the SA Missions next year? If they change affiliates and move to AAA, what happens to the players that are “property” of the SD Padres? Who goes with the team to the new affiliate? Where do the Padres property play? What team becomes the new AA Padres team?
Thank you in advance

San Diego Skittles
San Diego Skittles
4 years ago
Reply to  Tempe3DHall

Tempe,
The players that are “property” of the Padres will stay as part of the Padres. All personnel that is part of the AA staff and players will stay with the Padres and either move to the new location in Amarillo, TX or elsewhere in the organization. Personnel that belongs to the stadium, stay with the stadium.

Gringo Padre en El Barrio
Gringo Padre en El Barrio
4 years ago

Sloppy. Ashby, Caminiti, Finley and Hoffman were all acquired while Randy Smith was GM. Perhaps Towers deserved some credit since he was Scouting Director at the time, but the article is specifically about Towers’ performance as GM, right? Wil Myers was brought in “to help provide leadership and chemistry?” That’s funny. I was under the impression he was a young, not-very-established (especially for a former ROY winner) player with injury history and exciting tools who had already been traded once. That said, it’s kind of apples and oranges comparison, especially when you narrow things to the first 3/4 years-on-the-job window.… Read more »

Gringo Padre en El Barrio
Gringo Padre en El Barrio
4 years ago
Reply to  Diane Calkins

Sorry for the lack of clarity. My “on purpose” speculation is in reference to the discrepancy between the Preller FO’s gleaming record of success at minor league talent acquisition, and its disastrous results where major league roster construction is concerned.

Tanned Tom
Tanned Tom
4 years ago

You think they deliberately added poor ML talent? Please explain.

Gringo Padre en El Barrio
Gringo Padre en El Barrio
4 years ago
Reply to  Tanned Tom

It is just speculation at this point. What’s more clear is that the Padres organization has demonstrated operational incompetence in multiple areas over the course of decades. Drafting and player development were a total disaster for basically all of the Moores era. Activity in the international market was nonexistent before the mid ’00s and has mediocre overall success since then. Since a year or two into the Petco Park era, Marketing and PR operations have been notoriously lackluster, often clumsy, sometimes tone-deaf, and occasionally controversial. To compound this, they lag far behind various other pro sports franchises, including their most… Read more »

Paul Jeffrey
Paul Jeffrey
4 years ago

To be honest, Myers was brought in for that reason, it was just a mismanaged idea. And no, that’s not the writer’s fault.

Gringo Padre en El Barrio
Gringo Padre en El Barrio
4 years ago
Reply to  Paul Jeffrey

I assume Myers was traded for because there was belief in the Padres FO that he would be a star. Kemp, Upton, Kimbrel and Shields were considerably more established as major leaguers when they were all acquired that ’14-’15 offseason. It’s much more apparent that Hosmer and Galvis were acquired for chemistry/leadership purposes, as Diane says.

Richard
Richard
4 years ago

In reality KT was involved with the draft only and Larry Lucchino was against the Houston trade and luckily, for the fan of San Diego, finally caved in and OK’d the trade. He was also against Randy hiring Bruce Bochy and is ultimately what drove Randy out of San Diego. And who got the credit for both of those huge decisions that got the Padres to the top of the west in 96 and to the the World series in 98? It was again Kevin Towers and Larry Lucchino. Over the years it’s been incredible to see how many different… Read more »

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