Mike Dee was fired today, which was equal parts surprising and inevitable. But this isn’t about Mike Dee, business man—this isn’t even really about Mike Dee at all.
The question now becomes (at least for people, like me, who geek out on baseball stuff more than the business side): how does this effect baseball operations for the Padres? There’s a decent argument that the Padres need some figurehead in baseball ops, someone like Theo Epstein or Chris Antonetti. Dee was sort of playing that role for the Padres, although not in the overarching way Epstein and Antonetti are in Chicago and Cleveland, respectively. A.J. Preller’s (and staff) been driving decision-making on a micro level, but ultimately he reported to Dee, and it’s possible that Dee played a significant role in the team’s long-term approach to the baseball side. Preller’s made a number of good moves over the last year, but he’s young, inexperienced (as a general manager), and still serving the final days of a month long league-mandated suspension for keeping shady medical records.
Someone like Alex Anthopolous (Craig Elsten mentioned him) might make sense, or Ben Cherington, or Jed Hoyer (also via Craig, and a long shot), or Tony La Russa (wait, no). Surely, there are numerous other names that would work, names that would provide a stabilizing presence in baseball ops while adding knowledge and experience to the organization. Names that would work as a sort of guiding force to Preller, keeping him out of trouble in Latin America while assisting in trade negotiations with skeptical rival GMs.
At this point, it’s time to stick with Preller, who’s done a good job of rebuilding after a disastrous 2015—part of which was surely mandated by Dee and ownership (2015, that is). In fact, you’ve gotta go back a number of months before you run into a really categorically bad move made by the Padres. Most of Preller’s moves have been spectacular, really, from Drew Pomeranz (both getting him and dealing him) to the Andrew Cashner deal to the Craig Kimbrel deal (the second one, particularly) to shedding James Shields and Matt Kemp (at a cost, but still). Beyond transactions, the Padres most recent draft went well, by most reports, and they spent big on international talent in July after timing the market well. And, maybe most important, player development is on a roll. Recent draftees like Cal Quantrill (5.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and Eric Lauer (2.03 ERA, 4.11 K:BB) performed well after signing, plus Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe lived up to the hype, Austin Hedges hit, Michael Gettys made strides in Lake Elsinore, Luis Urias batted .330, and Chris Paddack was approaching a sub-zero ERA before Tommy John.
Preller’s still a wild card, no doubt. It’s uncertain how other teams will deal with him going forward, it’s uncertain if he’s going to follow the rules, and it’s uncertain if, in the end, he’ll be able to put everything together and turn the Padres into a winning organization. But the early returns are positive, particularity if you chalk up 2015’s failed spending spree to an overexcited rookie GM and an impatient ownership group. There’s a chance that Preller is just really good at this—good at finding young players and good at putting together a cohesive player development staff and good at finding (and rehabilitating) low-cost major-league contributors (like Pomeranz or Melvin Upton or even Jon Jay). The simple realization that a rebuild was necessary—rather than doubling down on a failed win-now experiment—is a feather in Preller’s (bucket) hat.
Hiring [insert name here] to take over baseball ops is going to take decision-making power away from Preller. It’s probably going to result in some personnel changes and some org-wide philosophical changes, and it’s going to reduce Preller to a glorified director of international scouting. Maybe that’s the end game for Preller, if this whole GM thing doesn’t work out. But I’m certainly not ready to give up on it yet, particularly for an organization that changes executives like a blogger changes his socks. It’s time to hold off on the reset button for a change. The Padres hired Preller to run baseball operations two years ago, and as risky as it might be, now isn’t the time to backpedal on that move (especially with Dee no longer clouding the picture). It’s time to take a chance on Preller, to take a calculated risk, to believe that what you’re doing is going to work, no safety nets needed.