3 AJ Preller trades that have saved the Padres, 2 that set them back

Padres fans know.
San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants
San Diego Padres v San Francisco Giants / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages
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With regard to the idea that the baseball season is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, there's hardly a more exciting period than MLB's summer trade deadline. It rivals the flurry of action surrounding the winter meetings in December, holding us at the edge of our seats as we try to soak in all of the dramatics and rumors about which players will soon be on the move.

As the 2024 trade deadline slowly approaches, it's as good a time as any to look back at AJ Preller's recent track record and think about how his deals have impacted the Padres.

Preller has been with the club since August of 2014, the first and only General Manager job he's held in his career. In his time with San Diego, the Friars are 671-755. They've made the playoffs just twice in Preller's tenure and have yet to win the NL West, though they did reach the NLCS in 2022 as a wild card team.

Despite the lack of success, Preller has a long list of trades under his belt

Some of them have been wins, while others have been embarrassing losses. Padres fans are unlikely to forget Preller trading away superstar Trea Turner while he was still a young prospect, for instance.

However, we'll hold off on some of those decade-old trades. Let's stick to deals made within the last five years or so to try to get an idea of how these more recent moves are impacting the current Padres' roster.

Padres acquire RHP Dylan Cease from White Sox for RHP Drew Thorpe, OF Samuel Zavala, RHP Jairo Iriarte, RHP Steven Wilson

Earlier this year, Preller went all out in acquiring White Sox ace Dylan Cease to solidify the top of the rotation in San Diego. Cease has proven to be a life saver for the Padres, who have struggled with injuries in the rotation in 2024.

After losing lefty Blake Snell to free agency earlier in the winter, Preller recognized a hole in the Padres' rotation and went about addressing it.

Thankfully, Cease has answered the call. In 86.2 innings, the righty has pitched to a 3.95 ERA with an outstanding 3.33 FIP. His 106 strikeouts are good for third in MLB, and if he keeps up on this pace he'll find himself in the thick of the NL Cy Young race at the end of the year.

The prospects sent to Chicago are still unproven. Thorpe has been fast tracked to the majors but Iriarte is still pitching in Double-A and Zavala is a ways off and struggling at High-A.

It's possible that Preller gave away a star in this deal but the early returns on Cease have been so positive that it's easy to chalk this one up in favor of Preller and the Padres already.

Verdict: SAVED

Padres acquire RHP Mike Clevinger, OF Greg Allen, PTBNL from Guardians for INF Josh Naylor, C Austin Hedges, RHP Cal Quantrill, INF Gabriel Arias, INF Owen Miller, and LHP Joey Cantillo

The version of Mike Clevinger that the Padres traded for was not the one they received. Clevinger was a good pitcher in Cleveland, posting a 3.20 ERA in just over 500 innings. In parts of two seasons in San Diego, that figure jumped to 4.12 thanks to a severely diminished strikeout rate and multiple IL trips.

Preller not only acquired Clevinger on the downswing but gave up a haul to get him. Josh Naylor is one of the more underrated first basemen in the league right now. In his time in Cleveland, Naylor has hit .267/.325/.460 at a position where the Padres have struggled to find production.

Austin Hedges and Cal Quantrill have both been viable major leaguers since the trade, while Gabriel Arias is currently serving as a steady middle infield option for the Guardians. Owen Miller also had flashes of success before being traded to Milwaukee.

While Greg Allen never amounted to anything, the player to be named later turned into Matt Waldron, who is having a strong year on the mound in San Diego.

The trade wasn't a complete wash but was an overwhelming win for Cleveland, who were able to turn Clevinger into multiple major league assets just before he crashed.

Verdict: BUST

Padres acquire LHP Blake Snell from the Rays for RHP Luis Patiño, RHP Cole Wilcox, C Blake Hunt, C Fransisco Mejia

In hindsight, this is arguably one of the best trades Preller has ever made. While Snell's presence in the Padres rotation didn't lead to a World Series title, Snell was outstanding during his time in San Diego.

In three years with the Padres, Snell pitched to a 3.15 ERA in 436.2 innings and captured the NL Cy Young award for his performance in 2023.

Some will point to Snell's escalated walk rates and his lower than average innings totals, but the production on the mound was well worth the price.

Patiño unfortunately washed out thanks to an inability to find the strike zone or miss bats. He posted a respectable 15 innings with the White Sox down the stretch in 2023 but is on the shelf after undergoing Tommy John surgery and will miss all of 2024.

Mejia worked as the Rays' backup catcher for a couple years, never providing as much value as was expected of him when he was a prospect. Neither Wilcox nor Hunt have made their major league debuts, now four years removed from the deal.

Verdict: SAVED

Padres acquire OF Juan Soto and 1B Josh Bell from the Nationals for 1B Luke Voit, SS CJ Abrams, LHP Mackenzie Gore, OF Robert Hassell III, OF James Wood, RHP Jarlin Susana

Unfortunately for Preller and the Padres, the first Juan Soto trade didn't lead to much postseason success. Soto was acquired to bolster a star-studded lineup and help lead the Friars to a World Series championship, but it wasn't to be. The Pads lost in the NLCS in 2022 and fell shy of a postseason spot the following year.

In exchange for 18 months of service, Preller shipped away a strong shortstop in Abrams, a viable major league starter in Gore, and two top-line prospects in Wood and Hassell. The two prospects clocked in as Washington's Nos. 1 and 2 guys ahead of the 2023 season. While the shine has fallen off Hassell a bit, Wood remains the Nats' top prospect and is ranked 17 overall by MLB Pipeline.

As for Bell, he cratered in San Diego. He hit .192/.316/.271 in parts of two seasons as the power evaporated on him. Voit and Susana were tertiary pieces in the deal for Washington. The former is no longer in the organization and the latter is struggling in Single-A.

Of all the trades Preller has made, this one may have set the Padres back the furthest. Since they weren't able to keep Soto long term, they shipped away a franchise-altering package of prospects for an outfielder they traded away thanks to payroll concerns 18 months after acquiring him.

Verdict: BUST

Padres acquire RHP Joe Musgrove from Pirates for LHP Joey Lucchesi, OF Hudson Head, RHP David Bednar, LHP Omar Cruz, RHP Drake Fellows

Back in January 2021, Preller acquired the San Diego native Musgrove from Pittsburgh in a three-team trade that included Lucchesi going to the Mets. While Bednar turned out to be a pretty good closer for the Pirates, Musgrove was clearly the star in this deal.

Musgrove threw back-to-back 180 inning seasons in 2021 and 2022 with a combined 3.06 ERA, and earned an All Star appearance in 2022. He pitched well around injuries last year but is having trouble staying on the mound in 2024.

Despite the recent injury issues, Musgrove has been a strong presence when he's been available to pitch. The Padres signed him to a five-year, $100 million contract ahead of the 2023 season and he'll be under contract in San Diego until 2027.

Regardless of how he pitches moving forward, the performance the Padres got in the first two years was well worth the trade package Preller gave up to acquire him.

Verdict: SAVED

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