There is now pressure on the San Diego Padres and A.J. Preller to succeed with their new manager Jayce Tingler.
Before this disappointing season had come to an end, A.J. Preller fired the third manager of his tumultuous five years as general manager for the San Diego Padres. Andy Green had four years to prove himself and produced four seasons with more losses than wins. During Preller’s tenure, the front office has supported him with increasing payrolls and the three most significant contracts in the history of the franchise.
Up until now, the ownership group has shown patience, accepting 90-loss seasons as part of the process. But owner Ron Fowler especially has indicated his patience has just about come to an end. Green took the fall this time, but Preller has been put on notice. As Mark Zeigler of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, Preller needed to “divert attention from himself” and the fact that the team has been 106 games below .500 in his five seasons. The Padres haven’t come close to the playoffs and now have the third-longest drought in all of baseball.
Of course, Preller’s first order of business has been to hire his fourth manager. On Thursday morning, the team announced that another rookie manager, this time Jayce Tingler from the Texas Rangers, would take over in the dugout. Preller has an obvious affinity for Rangers organization, where he joined general manager Jon Daniels (a classmate at Cornell University) in 2004 and held multiple positions.
Preller made a big splash in his first year in San Diego with his “Prellerpalooza.” He traded Yasmini Grandal for Matt Kemp and Tim Federowicz, brokered a three-team deal for Wil Myers and Ryan Hanigan (which included Trea Turner, who is currently batting leadoff in the World Series), and signed James Shields to a four-year contract. Preller also added Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel.
That big splash turned into a belly flop, and one year into the job, Preller fired manager Bud Black and hired Pat Murphy, who had coached at the college level as well as the minor leagues for the Padres but never at the major league level.
After a 74-88 finish in 2015, the Padres hired Andy Green, the third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, as manager. Green, a utility infielder/outfielder, played very briefly in the majors and won the Southern Leagues’ Manager of the Year award with the Mobile BayBears. Under Green, the team recorded 274 wins to 366 losses.
Of course, Green played the hand dealt by Preller, which may have induced whiplash at times. In his four years, the Padres lurched from win-now mode to tanking (sort of) to rebuilding to developing to hoping to win. In 2017, the team carried three Rule-5 draftees on the major league roster, including shortstop Allen Cordoba, pitcher Miguel Diaz, and catcher Luis Torrens.
However, the callup of shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. combined with the signing of star third baseman Manny Machado to $300 million contract in the off-season, raised expectations for the 2019 season. A second-half swoon dashed those expectations, and the Padres only increased from 66 wins to 70, which earned the team another fifth-place finish.
Despite the glaring need and stated desire for a front line veteran starting pitcher, Machado’s contract combined with those of Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers (which will eat up another $40 million in payroll next year) will limit options. For instance, Houston Astros starter Gerrit Cole will be targeted by multiple teams and may break records set by David Price ($217 million total) and Zack Greinke ($34 million a year).
Preller certainly cannot complain about a lack of financial support from the front office like Kevin Towers or Jed Hoyer could, but San Diego isn’t New York City or Los Angeles. And money alone doesn’t buy wins. Teams need to combine that with savvy drafting and developing as well as opportune trades. Although Preller has been more than happy to offload other general manager’s prospects, he’s been very reluctant to give up his own.
As longtime Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda told Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Plaschke, “minor leaguers are liabilities until they are either traded or reach the major leagues. Then they become assets.” Highly rated Padres prospects like MacKenzie Gore, Luis Patino, Taylor Trammell, and CJ Abrams will probably be untouchable, but others will have to sacrifice to fill the team’s needs.
Along the way, Preller has made several inexplicable moves like hiring Mark McGwire, an admitted steroid cheat who forever tarnished the home run record in baseball, as bench coach. He’s added over-the-hill players like second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Jered Weaver, as well as passing fancies like Jose Pirela and Ryan Schimpf, and clubhouse cancers like Derek Norris.
While Preller has an obvious eye for talent in prospects, with Tatis Jr. and pitcher Chris Paddack being sparkling examples, he has on balance, whiffed on veteran acquisitions. The Hosmer deal will hang over his head but isn’t a one-off. For instance, he did the Dodgers a huge favor by taking Kemp and his salary off their hands.
A.J. Preller has had more than five years to prepare for the window of contention ownership expects to open in 2020. Owners Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler have reached the limits of their patience. During his tenure, the Padres have given him the financial support that had been lacking for years. The clock is indeed ticking.