How do you measure trust?

That’s the question Padres ownership will have to answer for a solution to the problem they’re facing: what to do about AJ Preller. The Padres were investigated by Major League Baseball for a complaint filed by the Boston Red Sox for withholding information in the Drew Pomeranz trade.

Preller was suspended for 30 days, which isn’t a huge deal in and of itself since major moves don’t usually happen between now and the end of the World Series. What is a big deal has less to do with MLB’s investigation and more to do with how other teams view Preller. Will anyone trust him after this?

As reported by Buster Olney, the accusations boil down to the reporting of player injury information to a central database. According to Olney, teams are required to record all information regarding any kind of treatment players receive. The Padres apparently didn’t include everything that was required. Ken Rosenthal reports that Drew Pomeranz “and others” were taking oral medications that weren’t disclosed, which led to the suspension. The Padres admit to the behavior, but say it wasn’t “malicious” which I guess means they claim they didn’t know it was against the rules.

For Preller

Here are some points in Preller’s favor: first, the Padres aren’t the only team who report different amounts of information in the database. The Mariners’ notes were “less comprehensive.” I haven’t found an explanation as to why the Mariners don’t deserve punishment for “less comprehensive” notes while the Padres do. Perhaps the Padres’ notes were egregiously less comprehensive. Perhaps the timing was the issue, as the Red Sox discovered and complained right after the Pomeranz trade made the differences more concrete because something happened. Either way, the enforcement seems inconsistent or a judgement call.

I find it hard to believe that no teams carry proprietary medical information. Since the Padres admit to reporting different information, their culpability of “maliciousness” depends on their knowledge of the specifics of the rule and whether they knew what they were reporting what was required.

Olney reported that the White Sox and “at least one other team express[ed] concern” with the medical information provided by the Padres. But neither filed a formal complaint with MLB. Why not? What’s the point of expressing concern if you’re not backing it up by filing a formal complaint?

Against Preller

Todd Hutcheson is a smoking gun. Olney reported the Padres former trainer of 18 years was let go in spring, after Padres staffers were informed of the team’s plans for reporting medical information. This information fits the timeline, as Preller traded many players before that time without incident, yet at least three teams participating in trades afterwards expressed concerns. Granted, the Padres injury history before this season isn’t exactly stellar, but to fire a longtime employee in the middle of this policy shift could mean Hutcheson informed the team of his disagreement with the new policy, and was willing to give up his job over it. At that point the “we didn’t know we couldn’t do that” explanation goes out the window. His firing makes the Padres look real bad here.

The Padres quickly reworked the trade that sent Colin Rea back to San Diego after the Marlins presumably discovered unreported medical information. Preller tried to explain, saying they didn’t really want to trade Rea in the first place. It’s an odd position to take after agreeing to the trade just a few days prior. If the Padres were confident in the deal they made and their own practices, as they should be, tell the Marlins to go pound rocks. Looking back, it appears that move could have been an attempt to placate the Marlins and downplay investigations into the Padres’ reporting practices, as Miami did not file a formal complaint with MLB after the trade-back.

Since Preller is a Vice President and General Manager, this also involves Preller’s boss, Padres President Mike Dee. Dee looks bad in this. He should have known what was going on and verified the team followed proper procedures. If he didn’t know what was going on, or he didn’t do anything about it, he wasn’t doing his job. It’s funny, based on things he’s said on air and in person, I’ve complained that Dee seems overly involved in Baseball Ops decisions despite having no previous Baseball Ops experience. Yet here’s a perfectly reasonable thing for someone with his experience level to work on, and he’s not doing it. Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser reports on the Mighty 1090 that Dee “took an active role in a lot of this.”

None of these angles provide a complete enough picture to be completely convincing. Something I’ve learned in my own professional experience is that people on the outside are never short on misunderstandings on how my job works, so I try not to assume too much knowledge about matters as complicated as this one.

But whether Preller actually was “malicious” or not is irrelevant, as is the punishment from MLB. What matters is whether other teams believe him. And other teams are best equipped to judge Preller’s trustworthiness because they’re most familiar with the details of baseball’s medical records system. Peter Seidler and Ron Fowler must figure out whether those teams trust AJ enough to allow him to do his job, then act accordingly.

Update (9/16): According to Dennis Lin the White Sox and Marlins did file grievances.

 

 

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  • One part of the Olney article that caught my attention was his note that the Padres had fewer than 10 entries in the MLB-wide system by the All Star Break while the league average was close to 60. The degree to which entries were “comprehensive” is subjective, but (if those numbers are accurate) having so few entries compared to 29 other teams strongly suggests that the Padres reporting was purposely reduced. Once you determine it was done as part of a planned effort, then Preller looks pretty bad.

    • Sac Bunt Chris

      Yeah it’s damning, that could fall into the “egregiously less comprehensive” category. I do wonder how his sources got that info.

      My understanding is you’re only supposed to be able to see the reports on players on another team once a trade is close to happening, so how does the source know the number of reports from each team? Or can everybody see the number of reports but not the contents? If so, why was this only brought to light now?