A.J. Preller improved his San Diego Padres team with his recent flurry of trades.
San Diego Padres’ general manager Jack McKeon may have been called Trader Jack back in the 1980s, but he never came to close to A.J. Preller’s wheeling and dealing in his tenure in San Diego. In fact, Preller has the distinction of being the only GM in the game’s modern history to move more than 20 players in just three days. And he’s managed to do it twice.
In Preller’s most recent trade-deadline whirlwind, he even beat his record of 24 players in December 2014. Between August 29 and August 31 this year, 26 players changed teams. Even though he surpassed his record, this latest Prellerpalooza has a more measured feeling.
In December 2014, Preller had been on the job for only four months and had never had the full responsibility of running an organization. He’d reached the position of Assistant GM with the Rangers but seemed to prefer life on the road searching out talent. In his time with the Padres, he’s earned a reputation as a tireless risk-taker who operates a bit too close to the edge at times but has an eye for talent, especially rookie talent.
Superficially the two record-breaking trade extravaganzas have the same frenetic feel. However, this version has the advantage of six years of experience and hindsight. The success of former Padre farmhands Trea Turner and Max Fried has come to define the first go around. In his career with the Washington Nationals, Turner has the versatility to play short, center, and second and is batting .358/.414/.613/1.028 with OPS+ 168 this season. Fried, a lefty for the Atlanta Braves, has a 6-0 record, 1.60 ERA, 298 ERA+ in 2020.
In 2014 Preller added Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, and Derek Norris, to name a few. Kemp even crowned Preller a “GM rock star.” But the rock star also helped the Los Angeles Dodgers in a considerable way. In acquiring Kemp and sending Yasmini Grandal up the freeway, the Padres took the outfielder they’d been trying to trade and provided a starting catcher who would appear in 510 games. Making matters worse, the Padres replaced Grandal with a disruptive clubhouse presence in Norris.
But changes needed to be made, as the 2014 Padres put up a pedestrian 77-85 record with a third-place finish in the division. However, that represents the high water mark for the team until this year. Since Preller took over, the team has either landed in the cellar of the National League West or one rung above.
Thanks to the lousy team record, however, Preller has had the opportunity to restock the farm system. Every year, that system has received high marks, and this year it helped provide the young talent other teams desired. At the same time, certain untouchables like MacKenzie Gore remained in the Padres organization. Of all the players added in 2014, only Myers remains in San Diego, and his tenure has been bumpy at best. The three years before this, he’d bounced around on defense, including a best-forgotten stint at third base. This year though, Myers had been playing regularly and playing well both at the plate (.293/.365/.602, 1.4 fWAR) and in right field in most games. Unfortunately, he was recently placed on the IL for an undisclosed reason.
On paper, the latest trade fest appears far riskier than Preller’s first. For the first time since 2006, when Bruce Bochy still managed the team, the Padres look like a lock for a postseason berth. Granted, adding starting pitcher Mike Clevinger and reliever Trevor Rosenthal filled obvious and crucial needs. There’s a risk, however, that a more drastic roster change could hurt clubhouse chemistry and disrupt established roles. Adding two catchers completely unfamiliar with the pitching staff carries special risks. However, two games into the new-look Padres, the team has continued its winning ways.
The schedule also would appear to favor the Padres as only two of the teams left to play, the Dodgers and Oakland A’s, have winning records. Before the season, most prognosticators foresaw another middling season. Rotochamp, for example, picked the team to place third in the division with a 77-85 record.
On August 16, the Padres had a losing record (11-12) as the Dodgers ran away with the division. The following day the Padres decisively beat the Texas Rangers 14-4, which ushered in the beginning of a seven-game winning streak. Since then, the team has been on a tear, losing only three games.
Thanks to Prellerpalooza v.2, this team belongs completely to A.J. Preller and his instincts. The first time around, Preller obviously shot from the hip with mostly mediocre or worse results. This more experienced rendition took considerable risks in his latest flurry of trades and acquisitions with more to lose but so much more to gain.