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San Diego Padres

Column: Padres GM Preller facing uphill battle to save his job

San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller talks about the teams recent acquisitions at news conference where the Padres introduced four of their new players Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

The easy question to ask regarding San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller is why they haven’t fired him yet. In their own uniquely different ways on and off the field, Preller’s first two seasons at the helm were disastrous. The club’s current big league roster portends a long 2017 season. So long, in fact, that they are, on paper, the worst team in baseball. It’s not close.

The club could have fired him after the 2015 season when, at the expense of a vast chunk of the organization’s prospects — including Trea Turner — and free agent money, he cobbled together a veteran-laden group of puzzle pieces that simply did not fit. Projected as a contender with Preller lauded for his aggressiveness, they lost 88 games and fired longtime manager Bud Black midseason.

Embarking on a rebuild for 2016, the Padres were worse. At least they knew they were rebuilding and acted like it, not spending money on veteran free agents and trading anyone who wasn’t bolted to the floor by means of an onerous contract. However, it was Preller’s ill-advised trickery that demolished his reputation even further as he was caught hiding information from opposing teams regarding the health of the players he was trading away. That got him suspended for 30 days, with calls for his dismissal. It wasn’t the first transgression for Preller during his executive career in what looks to be an ongoing attempt to win at all costs, even at the expense of his and his employer’s reputation.

With this series of black marks against him and the upcoming season’s unavoidable terribleness, there’s easy justification for the organization to cut ties now and start over before it gets worse.

But they haven’t done that. So let’s examine how Preller can save his job.

  • Don’t do anything short-sighted to save the job.

A projected starting rotation fronted by Clayton Richard, a selection of journeymen, and choosing between which reclamation project free agent pitcher to sign among Jake Peavy, Doug Fister and Jered Weaver is destined to lose close to 100 games no matter how it’s framed.

This is the reality as the club enters year 2.5 of Preller’s contract. He’s signed through 2018. In most situations in which a new GM is remaking a franchise, the club would quietly put in place a contract extension even if they avoid the public outcry by not announcing it so he’s not pressured by the rapidly-approaching expiration of his deal.

The Padres are not in that position because it doesn’t appear as if they’re totally sold on keeping Preller. Trapped in the middle and clearly unprepared to cut ties immediately, they’ll have to ride it out. If they’re keeping him, then they must make certain that he doesn’t do anything to dress up the monstrosity that the club promises to be.

Having an expiring contract and facing the pressure of trying to keep one’s job can lend itself to making moves that are cosmetically beneficial for the short-term, but only gloss over issues that should simply have been left to resolve themselves. Since the Padres haven’t signed anyone of note this offseason and are looking at the above-mentioned veterans, it’s clear they know where this season is going. Allowing him to make trades that might keep the club from losing 100 games for its own sake is a mistake that wouldn’t save his job anyway, so he shouldn’t do it and ownership can’t allow him to.

San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller answers questions about the trading of all-star pitcher Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox prior to a baseball game against the San Francisco Giants Friday, July 15, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

  • Behave like a professional.

While it might seem to be a fun, high-profile job that outside observers and low-level baseball employees envision themselves being able to do in making trades, overseeing the draft, signing free agents, being the subject of articles, writing books and standing on the champagne-soaked podium holding up the World Series trophy, when stripped of its layers, a top-level baseball executive position is just a corporate job. With that comes the fundamental truth that there are contractual obligations and codes of conduct that must be adhered to.

Preller got himself suspended with his ham-handed trickery and drew disfavor with his employers and the industry in general. Teams will look very hard at any deal he’s offering and demand that full disclosure be presented, presumably in triplicate. Had the Padres decided to fire him after the suspension, the aforementioned corporate contract would likely have had fine print with which they could have gotten out of paying him or paid him a fraction just to go away.

The argument for them having done that is compelling, but since they didn’t, this is where they are: hoping that he learned his lesson and is the gutsy talent evaluator and outside-the-box thinker they thought they were hiring.

  • Show some improvement.

Improvement can be defined in different ways. With the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants in the National League West, the Padres are not going to contend. They aren’t even all that close to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies, making another last place finish a reasonably safe foregone conclusion.

Preller graded well in his prospect accumulation when trading Drew Pomeranz, Andrew Cashner, Craig Kimbrel and others. This was obscured amid the controversy of his hidden medical reports and malfeasance. The bulk of the young players the Padres will be trotting out for 2017, like Hunter Renfroe and Austin Hedges, were not even acquired by Preller, so he has to hope that the veteran pitchers he signed or will sign are solid enough that they can yield more prospects at midseason; that he has a notable draft; and his international signings – supposedly his skill when he was with the Texas Rangers – rise quickly.

If the Padres are set on giving Preller a chance, then they can’t judge him on what happens with the big league club in 2017. They have to look at the very young minor leaguers he acquired and how they develop, using that as the barometer.

*****

With his contract expiring after 2018, Preller would be running out of time even if he’d been the epitome of class and professionalism from the start. Considering the amount of cash and treasure he expended in his poor first season and then the suspension and accompanying organization-wide embarrassment, he’s essentially taken the hourglass and started pounding on it like it was a slow-flowing bottle of ketchup.

Judging by the club’s fortunes and his history, it’s difficult to see him keeping the job even past 2017, if he lasts that long. But if he can do the three things mentioned above, he won’t be completely toxic and, if he’s lucky, maybe he can convince the Padres that he deserves one extra year past 2018 to show that they didn’t make a mistake when they hired him in August of 2014 and let him do whatever he wanted to make what, right now, seems to be baseball’s biggest mess.

Today’s #FRS Fan Poll

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Mike

    Jan 10, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    Dee was responsible for the crazy trading and the health issue. The owners love Preller and what he is doing. Long tetm Padre fans are excited about finally have a long term plan. Go Padres!

  2. Marcus

    Jan 10, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    The acquisition of the expensive, mismatched pieces in 2015 was most likely driven by the misguided front office who hired Preller, and the tear-down and prospect haul has been his vision. Outside of Trea Turner and maybe Jake Bauers, the prospects they traded away were filler, and SD is now has a Top 5 farm system. Preller’s past will earn him a bad reputation, and deservedly so, but to say he’s on the hot seat if the team doesn’t improve is farfetched speculation and offers no information or insight that wasn’t already found on second-rate blogs five months ago. It’s weird that Heyman writes for this site, every other article I’ve read here is either poorly written or poorly researched. Should probably stop clicking

  3. Mike

    Jan 10, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    Also would rather watch Renfroe, Margot, Jankowski, Dickerson, Hedges, that my friend is a lot of exciting baseball to come. Pitching is a few years behind but a lot of young lively arms. Yes I realize a lot of them wont make it but that is why Preller has acquired so many high upside guys not just guys that project as middle of the rotation. If you cant sit tight and enjoy the ride thenjust root for doyers or midgets.

  4. Mike

    Jan 10, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    “Hater” Ask teams like cubs, royals astros soon to be brewers, braves if rebuilding from the bottom up is the right thing to do. Your one of those fans that would rather be winning 75 games a year and never getting any better. I would rather just be really bad for a few years stock the minors with as much talent as possible and watch them develop into a nice young exciting team. Padres 2019! Not exciting now but its gonna be fun!

  5. Mike

    Jan 10, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    What a lack of understanding you have about the Padres plans going forward. Preller was told to make a splash by his bosses that is why he traded for kemp, upton, kimbrel, myers That is not his m.o The man has an amazing eye for talent and the rebuild will be left in his hands. This organization has been a mess for decades and now we finally have a clear direction. Long live the “Rockstar”.

  6. Preller Hater

    Jan 10, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    This is the true evaluation of how terrible Preller has been. He came in and canned a ton of respectable baseball people. He replaced them with younger guys who all think they are smarter than they are. Thus the arrogant first year that completely backfired and his cheating scandal. Only now are we back at the same place as when he started, with a terrible team and supposedly some prospects. That is an utter waste of 3 years.

  7. Alan

    Jan 10, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    You could tell one sentence in this was a “I’m smarter than you” hatchet piece on MLBs easiest target. AJs job is jot in jeapordy and the Seidlers are 100 percent behind him. At a bare minimum he will see the end of 5 year deal which end after the 2019 season. Clearly you don’t live in this market or are aware of the history of the franchise prior to AJs arrival. My advice is to hang with Buster Olney as you guys can spew the same garbage together..

  8. Mike

    Jan 10, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    This is not the sort of work that’s going to convince anyone FanRag is an actual sports information outlet. This is a stunningly uninformed read of the situation the Padres find themselves in today or going forward. Anyone who thinks it’s necessary to write that Preller shouldn’t make knee-jerk deals to improve the 2017 big league roster should not be allowed to write about Major League Baseball.

  9. Shawn Fassett

    Jan 10, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    As a fan it was hard to read this “rag”. I found it hard to believe that you left out the dismissal of Mike Dee, the previous president. One can speculate that Preller was a scapegoat and took the punishment for the team. Granted, the 2015 experiment failed, but most media was calling him a Rockstar GM. Your claim that they won’t even compare to AZ or CO is crazy talk. The last game of the season decided the standings last year. Personally they look better on paper this year than last.

  10. Kiet tran

    Jan 10, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Wow. What’s your deal with the padres?

  11. David Beebe

    Jan 10, 2017 at 2:25 pm

    You are remarkably stupid. 0 grasp of what the Padres are doing.

    • Francisco

      Jan 10, 2017 at 4:18 pm

      I totally agree with the article. After two years and a half, there should be an improvement, contrary to that, the team is in worse shape. Clearly the favorites to get the 2018 top pick.

      • Chris

        Jan 10, 2017 at 9:33 pm

        There has been an improvement. Unprecedented spending in the international market in the last year that’s even possible, a series of trades that have dealt overpaid and unnecessary major league pieces for a series of promising prospects, a very deep 2016 draft, and a great position for the 2017 draft. The minor league system is stacked right now and in a few years should pay off.

    • Brian

      Jan 10, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Exactly. Continued reading just so I could say the same thing. Didn’t seem like much research/thought was put into the article. Oh well.

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