A.J. Preller has been gifted with time and millions of dollars since he was hired as general manager of the San Diego Padres in August 2014. The franchise valued his eye for young talent and lured him away from the Texas Rangers with a five-year contract that has been extended. Since then, the team has produced just one winning record in a full season (2022--89-73).
It appears that owner Peter Seidler trusts Preller so much that he is willing to flush millions of dollars down the commode. When the new GM arrived in 2014, the Padres had a payroll of $90 million. Gradually, the output has moved up to 10th in 2020, 6th in 202, 5th last year at $209 million. This year, the Padres trail only the perennial big spenders, the New York Mets and Yankees, at $236 million. But ownership sure hasn't gotten much bang for the buck.
When Preller first arrived in San Diego, he spent little time becoming familiar with the existing players and prospects. Instead, he set to work on what was called a Preller-palooza--revamping the team and the front office. Since then, he has cycled through managers and players at an exhaustive pace. The results have been an extreme disappointment and the equivalent of tearing up thousands of dollar bills in the shower.
So far, the local newspaper has refrained from going behind the scenes and reporting the state of the team and the front office, perhaps to maintain access. However. Other outlets like The Athletic have honed in on the troubling details--"The Padres' disastrous season reveals shaky foundation and "institutional failure."
No one denies the fact that Preller works long and hard or that he has a talent for identifying young players. Aside from pickup basketball, he concentrates on the Padres. However, reports indicate that he's created a dysfunctional front office and that he and his staff have become a closed circle that has been described as "a toxic echo chamber."
Last year's trip to the postseason and the return of Fernando Tatis Jr. in late April of this year have filled the stands at Petco Park and injected a feeling of hope for the future. Of course, it helps that pro basketball and football have left, and the Padres are the only game in town.
Armed with money, stars like Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Xander Bogaerts, and Tatis and an experienced, respected, and successful manager, Bob Melvin aka BoMel) the Padres should have been destined for the playoffs, at the very least. (Admittedly, the addition of Bogaerts is a bit of a head-scratcher as the Padres did not need a shortstop when Preller signed him to a 14-year, $280 million contract.)
Last year, Melvin's team reached the playoffs for the first time (not counting the COVID-shortened season) since 2006 when the Padres lost to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL division series. Pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Mike Piazza, center fielder Dave Roberts, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and shortstop Khalil Greene were instrumental in helping the team reach the playoffs. John Moores still owned the franchise with Kevin Towers as general manager and Bruce Bochy as manager.
Before turning to a manager with a track record, Preller depended on rookies Pat Murphy, Andy Green, and Jayce Tingler with predictable results. Those experiences finally led him to Melvin, but even he can't get the team to achieve as expected. Injuries don't help, of course, and the loss of Joe Musgrove, Ha-Seong Kim, Yu Darvish, Gary Sanchez, and Jake Cronenworth are partly responsible for this fiasco.
However, no one expected that this team would be under .500 since mid-May, that rumors of a toxic environment would spread, or that highly paid players would underperform to this degree.
Team owner Peter Seidler obviously still has faith in his GM/President. Preller has undoubtedly assembled an enviable cast of characters. However, according to The Athletic, an executive of a rival team called this season "the absolute disaster scenario of this group of players." Even more damning, one player compared the situation to a rift "between parents in which the kids suffer."
Other problems loom. Fans flocked to Petco Park after last year's exciting season, but they may not be as eager to spend their hard-earned money next year. The Padres will most likely not receive the $50 million in television revenue they did this year in the future. Several important players like stars Blake Snell and Josh Hader, as well as Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha) may take off for brighter pastures.
A.J. Preller has been gifted nine years and hundreds of millions of dollars but has presided over just one winning season. It's past time for a change.