Foreshadowing the Padres Spending Spree by Miles Wray December 19, 2014 For the first time since perhaps lovable Tony Gwynn Sr. was swattin’ singles around the yard, the San Diego Padres have commanded the full attentions of the baseball world. The architect of these numerous wheelings and dealings, first-year General Manager A.J. Preller, would be hard for even dedicated fans to pick out of a crowd simply because he has been on the job for slightly over four months (and one of those months was the thrilling playoffs, when nobody was too concerned about the Padres). Today, let’s get to know Preller a little bit via the stray scraps of video interviews that have been released since his hire. Personally, count me a fan of his simultaneously methodical and relaxed demeanor. More importantly, let’s comb through this unofficial archive in search for any clues that the Padres would dramatically reshape their team this offseason. Presented in chronological order: August 6 Most Significant Clue: “I think the timing of the hire actually lends itself to that, where you can kind of get into the offseason running.” When Preller was hired in early August, I remember thinking that that had to be the absolute worst time of the whole 365 days of the year for a General Manager to be hired. The trade deadline has passed literally a week ago, and the draft wasn’t even two full months before that. Preller inherited a team that had been significantly shaped by his predecessors, Josh Byrnes, who conducted this year’s draft before being fired in late June, and interim GM Omar Minaya, who used his spare weeks in control to make some significant trades that shipped out Chris Denorfia, Chase Headley, and Huston Street. While Preller theoretically could have made some moves on the waiver wire, all he could do was basically sit on his hands and watch a team assembled by two guys who had been deemed unsatisfactory in their team-building abilities. What a bummer! Credit Preller, then, for focusing on the positives in the timing of his hire. He was afforded a few months where he had no pressure to make any moves, and planned to use those months to get to know his organization from top to bottom. I wonder if this time to think and evaluate the whole system is what made Preller so eager to deal away prospects selected by his predecessors. It actually makes a lot of sense: Byrnes was unable to assemble a winning team at the major-league level, so why hitch your own future (i.e., Preller’s own future) to the eventual development of Byrnes-selected prospects? Byrnes presided over three drafts (2012-2014) and selected six first-rounders (including supplemental picks). Preller has traded away three of them this winter: Max Fried, Zach Eflin, Trea Turner. September 29 Most Significant Clue: “It’s always a situation, just, how you can improve, big-picture, in general. And I think, you know, when you’re finishing in third place, we’re going to look at every aspect.” Your browser does not support iframes. At the time, I’m sure a lot of what Preller said in this interview could be classified as empty sports-cliche-speak. Of course he says that the team is going to improve from finishing in third-place. Is there really any alternative for what a GM in that position is going to say? (“You know, the fans keep coming out even when we win 75 games, the bills get paid, I get paid, so it’s all fine by me.”) But, now, with the clarity of hindsight, one can definitely see that the gears were already turning in Preller’s head. A particularly nimble bit of linguistic gymnastics was when Preller noted that other teams “envy” the Padres’ double-headed catching platoon of Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera, which was by many measures the best pitch-framing duo of any team in the Majors. Since both Grandal and Rivera are now ex-Padres, it’s at the least very pro-active of Preller to get other teams to put a price on their catcher-envy. In this way, maybe Preller’s positivity about Alexi Amirista’s defense is also omen of a future transaction. Preller’s comments about not being concerned about positional fits are also revealing now that he has a potentially overloaded outfield with Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Cameron Maybin, Seth Smith, and Will Venable. Given the pace of Preller’s moves, the odds of this sentence being not-obsolete as you, the reader, read it are frightfully small. Opening Day is still not visible on the horizon, so no need to be concerned about this logjam just yet. December 8 Most Significant Clue: “I think it’s a situation where, ownership has been in the loop so far throughout the whole process. They understand that, depending on what happens here in the next few weeks, it may take our budget to different levels, our payroll to different levels.” December 8! What an eternity ago! At that distant point in the past, in a foreign era unrecognizable to this one, the most significant move the Padres had thus far made in the offseason was declining to tender a contract to Evereth Cabrera (December 1). Or perhaps the signing of Clint Barmes to a one-year deal (December 5) outweighed dropping Cabrera in terms of total fanfare. But, even though Preller talks in detail about Turner’s future with the Padres, a future that would quickly become nonexistent, clues abound in this interview! Preller is so even-keel that his pronouncement of taking the Padres’ payroll “to different levels” almost slides by in the background of this interview, even though it is a big-ol’ blaring clue when typed out. Other clues that are dripping with foreshadowing: 1. “I think there’s some pieces going forward that we feel are going to be a part of what we do here over the next few years, and now it’s a matter of adding to that core.” Preller’s sentence here is either spots-cliche-speak or a major piece of foreshadowing depending on ones interpretation of the words “some” and “core.” Judging by the ferocity of Preller’s moves in recent days, by “some pieces” he meant “not very many pieces.” 2. “I think the good thing is we already have a decent start with the pitching staff.” It’s worth noting that, although young pitchers with under a year of service time like Jesse Hahn, Burch Smith, and R.J. Alvarez have been dealt away from San Diego, their rotation including Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy, and Odrisamer Despaigne has remained intact. Last year’s Padres also had a truly elite bullpen, and its core, including Joaquin Benoit, Kevin Quackenbush, and Nick Vincent has also been essentially untouched. For all of the Padres’ moves, they really just involve the offensive half of their team. Which was, you know, really bad last year. 3. “At the end of the day, we’re just looking to make good decisions and good deals. If that ends up being a deal with the team in the National League West, so be it.” With hindsight, this is basically a siren that the Kemp trade is about to go down. Whatever other moves the Padres have made between the time I’ve typed these words, and the time these words come across your eyes, one new fact is for sure: we’re no longer surprised that Preller will surprise us.