A.J. Preller: Artist at Work, Do Not Disturb


Here in the Padres’ first season with new General Manager A.J. Preller at the helm, we are starting to learn an important lesson: He isn’t finished until he’s finished.

It’s like watching one of those amazing painters at the beach. As they create their works of art, we watch and try to guess what the final product will be, but we just have no idea. Then, only when the product is complete, do we finally see the masterpiece that they have created.

Sitting here in our little Padres world, we’ve worked under the same paradigm for years. We sign free agents who were pretty good a few years ago, and are coming off an injury. We get them cheap, and hope they pan out. More often than not, they don’t. Think Josh Johnson and Mark Prior. We trade minor pieces for minor pieces. It rarely has much affect on the team. Think Kyle Blanks for Jake Goebbert. We hope our prospects pan out, and we give them spots on the major league roster hoping they’ll turn into stars. Very few of them do. See Tim Stauffer, Nick Hundley, Sean Burroughs, Will Venable, Jedd Gyorko, etc, ad infinitum.

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Preller’s first moves didn’t do a lot to make us think things had changed. When problem-child Everth Cabrera was cut, past-his-prime veteran Clint Barmes was brought in on a one-year deal. We wondered if he would be given the starting shortstop role over Alexi Amarista. Choosing between two lousy options. As long-time Padres fans, we do that without giving it a second thought.

Then, of course, Preller orchestrated the trade for All-Star Matt Kemp. And our world turned upside down.

In the hours after the trade for Kemp, we discussed how he would become the focal point of the offense, wondered whether he would be allowed to play center field, and tried to figure out how current Padres like Yonder Alonso and Rene Rivera would fit into the lineup around him.

Then, only a week later, Preller struck again, completing a handful of major transactions in a single day. We were now looking at a lineup with Wil Myers and Justin Upton and Derek Norris in addition to Kemp, Alonso was no longer a possibility for the middle of the order, and Rivera was gone, a Padre no more.

We immediately started trying to learn about new Padres like catcher Ryan Hanigan, acquired from the Rays in the Myers trade, and thinking about how he fit into the Padres picture. But then Hanigan was swept out of town a matter of hours later, traded to Boston.

And after only a few brief days of dreaming about a lineup featuring Myers, Kemp, and Upton, we hear that Myers may go the same road as Hanigan, as rumors of a trade for Myers and others in exchange for Phillies ace and Rancho Bernardo native Cole Hamels swirl around the circuit.

Who saw the Padres trying to trade the centerpiece of an 11-player trade less than a week later? Not me, that’s for sure. But Preller did. He sees things that the rest of us do not.

The current roster has seven experienced outfielders, no good shortstops, and an underachieving first baseman. Take a snapshot today, and it’s easy to see that Preller isn’t finished yet. But the route the Padres take from here to Opening Day is bound to be filled with unexpected turns.

We can try to guess what the final product will be, but A.J. Preller sees the baseball world from a different perspective. He is creating his masterpiece with a vision that few others possess.  So while we mere mortals are free to try to make sense of his incomplete work, it is wise to remember that, in the blink of an eye, Preller can turn our expectations upside down.