A.J. Preller is Cleaning Up the Padres


After years of turning a blind eye to the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, while large-headed men with even larger biceps blasted home run after home run, shattering every power record previously held dear by baseball fans, Major League Baseball finally started to get serious about putting an end to PED abuse a few years ago. Random drug testing, suspensions of increasing length without pay, and larger fines seem to have dramatically reduced the number of players relying on drugs to gain a competitive advantage.

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But this has not necessarily had a negative impact on individual players who have been found to be using steroids. High-profile players such as Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez have continued to collect tens of millions of dollars per year since admitting their steroid use.

Baseball is a business, and in the business world, men who excel at their craft tend to be given additional chances, even after their character flaws are exposed, whether the industry is banking, politics, or baseball.

But this is not always the case.

The Padres, and in particular, General Manager A.J. Preller, don’t seem to have any tolerance for cheaters.

Preller came to the Padres in the middle of the 2014 season, and was handed the reins to a roster on which two starters, shortstop Everth Cabrera and catcher Yasmani Grandal, had been suspended the previous year for PED use.

Both are gone now.

Cabrera was the first to go. One might have expected the Padres’ All-Star leadoff man to be extra careful about his behavior and his image after being suspended by Major League Baseball the previous year, then promising to “work harder than ever” in 2014. Instead, after a disappointing season at the plate, Cabrera was arrested in September for driving under the influence of marijuana.

Cabrera did not play another game that season, and was not tendered a contract after the season was over.

Grandal missed 50 games in the 2013 season, serving his suspension after testing positive for testosterone. The talented young catcher was coming off a promising rookie season in which he hit .297 with eight homers in 60 games. After missing the first 50 games of the following season, Grandal played only 28 games due to injuries. Nevertheless, Grandal was handed the starting catcher job in 2014. But his disappointing performance at the plate, combined with the emergence of Rene Rivera as a superior defensive catcher, had the Padres using Grandal as a backup catcher and first baseman for the rest of the year. Although his 15 homers did lead the woeful Padres offense, Grandal finished with another disappointing season, and he was traded to the Dodgers this past week.

So two players with a history of steroid use were released and traded after disappointing seasons. Isn’t it possible that it was their lack of performance, rather than their troubled histories, was responsible for the Padres parting company with them? Or is it possible that others in the Padres front office are responsible for the team’s purge of PED-users?

Perhaps. But there are other indicators that Preller is the driving force behind these actions, and that he has little tolerance for those who have sought a competitive advantage through drugs.

In May, 2014, the Padres traded Nick Hundley to the Orioles in exchange for left-handed relief pitcher Troy Patton. In December of the previous year, Patton had served a 25-game suspension for amphetamine use. Suspensions for amphetamine use indicate that a player has tested positive twice for the substance.

Trading for Patton seemed to indicate that the Padres’ leadership at the time was less concerned with PED-use than the current leadership, especially when viewed in conjunction with the prominent positions of Cabrera and Grandal on the team at the start of the season.

Two months after trading for Patton, Preller was hired. And less than a month after that, the team designated Patton for assignment, leading to his ultimately electing free agency. A month after leaving the team, Patton was suspended for his third violation of MLB drug policy, this time for 80 games.

In five months since Preller has taken the helm, three of the four Padres who have violated the drug policy are gone.

The only remaining player is Cameron Maybin. Maybin’s situation may be a little different. In July of this year, Maybin was suspended, like Patton, for amphetamine use, and served a 25-game suspension. But unlike Patton, Maybin was on the drug under the advisement of a physician, taking the drug to help manage his Attention Deficit Disorder. Maybin’s error was not in taking a banned substance; he previously had a “therapeutic use exemption” from MLB allowing him to take the specific drug to manage the disorder. After switching to a different drug and getting a second exemption for the new drug, Maybin switched back to the first drug, for which the exemption was no longer in place, according to the explanation from Maybin’s agent.

It will be interesting to see how the team handles Maybin’s situation. With this week’s trade for Matt Kemp, the team has a surplus of outfielders, and Preller is still working hard to bring more offense to the team. One wonders if Maybin’s history may have him higher on the GM’s list of trade pieces.

The most recent indicator that Preller’s Padres have no interest in players who have used PEDs shows up in the approach the team has taken to this year’s pool of free agents and trade prospects. The Padres, who are obviously looking for help on offense, have been linked to just about every good hitter on the market, and have shown substantial interest in Pablo Sandoval, Yasmany Tomas, Justin Upton, and Yoenis Cespedes, in addition to Kemp. But those who follow the rumor mills closely may have noticed that there haven’t been any rumors linking the Padres to either Melky Cabrera or Nelson Cruz. Both Cabrera and Cruz have been suspended for PED use.

Even the urgent need for offense has not had Preller chasing players like Cruz, who led the majors with 40 homers this season, or the .300-hitting Cabrera.

It appears that the general manager wants the Padres to field a clean team. And after watching how steroids and other substances have negatively affected the game in general, and the Padres specifically, it seems like an admirable goal.