Listen to A.J. Preller talk enough, and you start to realize that he’s not necessarily all there in the moment. I don’t mean that negatively—I just mean that he’s probably thinking about something baseball-related as he finishes each sentence. His mouth is saying one thing, but deep inside his baseball-obsessed mind, synapses are firing at will about Dominican prospects and such.
The Padres had a press conference for Wil Myers earlier this week. Here, I’ve tried to figure out what Preller might have actually been thinking when he said various things.
What he said: Obviously, uh, here today to announce the—you know—to announce the signing of Wil Myers to a six-year contract extension.
What he was thinking: I wonder if there are any flights to Venezuela available tonight.
It’s doesn’t make much sense to talk about the 2018-2019 free agent class for a lot of reasons, perhaps most obviously because it’s a long time away. But we’ll do it anyway.
When the Padres went for it a few years back, it was exciting. Even though there were some questionable deals, it was still exciting. Looking back, though, with the knowledge we have now, it was maybe a little less exciting. Matt Kemp was getting older and, in many ways, in severe decline. Justin Upton was only brought on for one year. Wil Myers didn’t have a clear position to play. Derek Norris was just, kind of, a guy. Will Middlebrooks. Never did understand why Will Middlebrooks was always mentioned as one of the big acquisitions of that offseason, but it feels right to mention him here. James Shields was surprisingly available for relatively cheap, and for good reasons. Craig Kimbrel was still good—great, even—but he wasn’t Craig Kimbrel.
The Padres were hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, essentially, and instead . . . well, maybe they did catch lighting in a bottle. That doesn’t sound too pleasant, really. Either way, things didn’t work out. Just looking back at that offseason retrospectively—and we kind of knew this in real-time, too—we can say that the Padres tried to half-ass their way into a contending team. Sure, they bumped the payroll up over $100 million and added some legitimate talent, but they also moved prematurely, without a winning cast of players surrounding the high-priced newcomers.
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.
In case you weren’t paying attention, a General Manager was suspended 30 days by Major League Baseball, and it wasn’t Dave Stewart for taking over an on-the-rise Diamondbacks team and running them into the ground. Ineptness is generally fine with Major League Baseball. Were it not, our beloved Padres would have been forced to fold a long time ago.
No, it was our own AJ Preller, suspended for the 2nd time as an employee of a baseball franchise, this time for failing to disclose required medical information when trading all-star starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox for top prospect Anderson Espinoza.
It’s a really crazy situation. According to multiple reports, Preller, whose suspension begins today, pissed off just about everyone he made a trade with this year. It went so far that the Padres had to take back Colin Rea from the Marlins after he partially tore his UCL ligament in his first start after being traded, with the Padres having to send intriguing prospect Luis Castillo back to the Marlins to make things right.
The White Sox were also upset with the medical information disclosed during the James Shields trade, but despite the tire fire he’s been in their uniform, they sought no compensation and did not formally complain to the league about the trade. They’re stuck with him, but the Padres are paying most of his salary already, and Erik Johnson, the guy they sent back in the trade, almost instantly evaporated into the ether never to be seen again. Maybe he’s pitching for the Padres in the Upside Down.
It seems only the Red Sox tattled to the league like the whiny babies they are, which led to the investigation into the Padres record-keeping, which led to the 30 day suspension, which has now led to a variety of hot takes from Padres fans and from around the baseball world.
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.
Padres acquired 1B Josh Naylor, RHP Luis Castillo, RHP Jarred Cosart, and RHP Carter Capps from Miami Marlins in exchange for RHP Andrew Cashner, RHP Colin Rea, RHP Tayron Guerrero, and cash.
I wrote about the Carter Capps and Jarred Cosart part of the return at Baseball Prospectus, where a quartet of other BP authors more-than-capably handled the rest of the moving parts. In short, I really like Capps, who is signed through 2018, as potential trade bait down the road. Not too high on Cosart, but as I mentioned in the article, the Padres need someone to start games, for now, and his ground ball profile and age are enough to dream on. Some closing thoughts on Cashner . . .
Once upon a time Andrew Cashner looked like a future ace. On April 11, 2014, Cashner darted his two-seamer to both sides of the plate, finishing the night with his finest Padres start—a one-hit, 11 strikeout, two walk gem against Miguel Cabrera’s Tigers. If you span two seasons, that start was part of a stretch that featured two complete game one-hitters and 10 straight outings of at least six innings and two runs or fewer allowed. It’s been mostly downhill since then.
Last offseason the Padres turned Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski into Drew Pomeranz. Then they turned Pomeranz into a healthy and effective pitcher for three and a half months. Then, earlier today, they turned that healthy and effective pitcher into Anderson Espinoza, a consensus top 25 prospect in all of baseball.
My opinion on A.J. Preller’s body of work seemingly changes weekly (as it should, I suppose), but right now it’s hard to argue that he’s not moving this franchise in the right direction. Give him—and his staff, obviously—credit for realizing that Alonso wasn’t the guy and that Pomeranz was both a good buy-low option and a potential breakout candidate. Give them further credit for actually helping Pomeranz reach that level and then, finally, for realizing that this season is lost and that Pomeranz is probably more useful as a trade chip in a thin market than as an ace on a fourth or fifth place team—especially when Dave Dombrowski has a team in the playoff hunt.
Espinoza is just 6-feet tall and 18 years old, but he’s already thrown 79 and 1/3 innings at Red Sox Single-A affiliate Greenville, posting a 4.54 ERA but a much more impressive 2.62 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 0.2 HR/9. Remember, he’s 18, nearly four years younger than the average South Atlantic League player. A few weeks back we noted that recent Padres pickup Chris Paddack was super young for the South Atlantic League . . . well, Espinoza’s a full two years younger than him. In fact, Espinoza entered the season as the youngest player in the entire South Atlantic League. There’s a decent change he’s never faced anyone younger than himself.
On Saturday baseball’s international amateur free agent signing period (let’s call it “J-2”) started, and the Padres—like we had envisioned for a while—went crazy. According to Baseball America, the Padres have already signed three of the top 10 and eight of the top 50 international amateur players, and they’re expected to be major contenders for the services of Cubans Adrian Morejon and Jorge Ona, once those players are deemed eligible to sign by MLB. All told, the Padres could spend upwards of $60 million (or more) on international players this year, a figure which includes a 100 percent tax overage San Diego will pay due to blowing away its $3,347,600 bonus pool (Luis Almanzar, alone, signed for $4 million and Morejon could get three of four times that amount).
With big-market teams like the Red Sox, Yankees, and Dodgers all unable to sign players for more than $300,000 (for previous pool-busting J-2 periods), the Padres, Braves, and A’s have headlined this year’s high-profile signings. It’s a welcome unintended consequence of MLB’s international rules, one that effectively allowed the Padres to compete against their peer group for talented players without having to deal with the Dodgers or Red Sox swooping in and simply outspending them. That said, it’s also a major step forward for the Padres. They didn’t have to do this, and a number of similar small-to-mid-market teams don’t spend much on amateur players regardless of the kind of competition they’re dealing with. The Padres did the right thing; they hired an internationally-focused general manager and then, when the time was right, they let him spend a busload of money on his favorite international players.
Hey, here’s the thing: Nobody really knows nothin’ about these kids.
I don’t mean that literally, of course. There are really, really smart people at places like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, ESPN, and MLB (et. cetera) who know a ton about these guys—they know home-to-first times and statistics and what the scouts are saying and how many pets each player has had. What they don’t know—and, really, what they can’t know—is how these players are going to develop. Are they going to stay healthy? Are they going to find that third pitch or that perfect swing? Are they going to be the low-ceiling pitcher who turns into Jake Arrieta or the fringy bat who becomes Paul Goldschmidt? Are they going to get sidetracked with fame and money?
Go back to the 2009 draft (or any draft). The Nationals took Stephen Strasburg first overall that year, which was, at the time, a super-obvious pick. And what a pick it was! Strasburg’s been worth 17 WAR, he’s currently one of the best pitchers in the game, and he recently signed a relatively team-friendly contract extension. Whew . . . great pick!
Except it was a terrible pick, because a player named Mike Trout was available. In fact, Trout was available when the Padres took Donavan Tate third overall and when the Orioles took Matt Hobgood fifth overall and when the A’s took Grant Green 13th overall and when the Diamondbacks took Bobby Borchering 16th overall and . . . [insert any team and any pick before No. 25 here]. That year Baseball America’s scouting report compared Trout to Aaron Rowand while mentioning that his bat was “not a sure thing, but he has a chance to be a solid-average hitter with average or better power.” Mike Trout was once just another guy.
When the Padres signed James Shields toward the end of A.J. Preller’s “rockstar GM” phase, I noted that they were putting the future on hold. The Shields acquisition, at the time, represented yet another bet on that team, on the present, on winning. That team’s still together, somewhat, but they’re still mostly failing and they’re starting to come unglued.
Shields is in Chicago now, sent away with money in a deal that returned Erik Johnson, a fringy 26-year-old right hander, and Fernando Tatis Jr., a Dominican shortstop who was not yet four months old when this happened. The timing for the deal is somewhat odd—it came just four days after Shields surrendered 10 runs in Seattle, bumping his ERA up over a full run, and three days after Ron Fowler’s radio rant, in which he specifically called Shields “embarrassing.” So much for dealing players at peak value.
Ignoring some potential trade value lost from one really bad start and a public tear-down by the team’s executive chairman—and the too-obvious irony of Fowler calling somebody else embarrassing—and maybe this was just what the Padres needed to kickstart a rebuilding process that seems plainly obvious from the outside. The Plan didn’t work, in part because it probably wasn’t a very good plan and in part because baseball’s baseball. We all kind of stink at predicting it, even the executives and general managers and scouts and analysts who are paid real money—sometimes real good money—to chronically obsess over it, study it, and put their jobs on the line for it. Players get hurt and players under-perform and other teams do smart things and randomness is always sitting in the corner, ominously waiting to pounce when things are finally going well. Oh, yeah, and sometimes non-baseball ops people get involved in baseball decisions.