When the San Diego Padres hired AJ Preller back in August of 2014, the hope was that he would be able to bring his lengthy experience as a scouting director and assistant general manager with Texas to help turn Padres into an organization that sustains success over time. However, no one foresaw what came next as Preller immediately began the wheeling and dealing ways that he is very well-known for today.
From that first offseason when Preller-palooza was in full effect ($) through the start of last season, he has been arguably the most aggressive general manager in all of baseball. He brought in Matt Kemp, Juan Soto, Craig Kimbrel, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Upton, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove, among many others, in trades, and signed Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. If you are looking for the most consequential general manager over the last decade, Preller is at least near the top of the list.
Unfortunately, times for the Padres have changed with a good bit of it being completely outside Preller's and the team's control. The Padres made their push, fell just short, and the future is such that moving on from Preller may be the most sensible solution.
AJ Preller's triumphs were offset by numerous missteps with Padres
As many of Preller's deals made the front page, one would have thought the Padres had more to show for it. They had the best farm system in the league for a few years, they were incredibly active in the trade market as well as in free agency, and they had an owner and general manager that wanted to continue to push to bring a World Series to San Diego.
The end result? Two playoff appearances in 2020 and 2022. That's it.
The problem has been that while Preller's Padres made a lot of sexy moves, the follow-through on actually getting the value they received has been decidedly lacking. San Diego brought in a ton of young talent early on, but their player development system failed to produce enough homegrown guys that were good enough to put the Padres over the top, and many just busted completely. A lot of his trades were spicy when it came to name recognition, but the results were hit-and-miss and came at the cost of guys like Trea Turner and Max Fried, both of whom turned into studs with their new teams.
At the end of the day, Preller clearly has been hustling since day one to turn the Padres into a contender. When he has a lot of resources at his disposal, he will go out there and muscle his way into finding roster upgrades and fight with the big market teams to land stars. Sadly, that isn't who the Padres are going to be moving forward, and that begs some fundamental questions.
AJ Preller isn't the GM the Padres need right now
After the death of owner Peter Seidler, the uncertainty of the Padres' TV deal, and the ultimate failure of San Diego's big push over the last few years, the Padres are at a turning point as a franchise. It isn't Preller's fault that the baseball TV revenue landscape basically changed overnight or that the ownership situation changed. Hell, most of the moves he made were widely considered to be great at the time only to have a few too many of them not quite pay off.
What the Padres need is a reset. They still have Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado under contract and there are a lot of good things about San Diego's roster going forward despite all of the departures this offseason. There is a path forward for the Padres to make noise in the coming years.
To do so, San Diego needs a front office that's more adept at developing young players, especially on the pitching side. And one that can also operate effectively in the player marketplace with more limited resources. That just isn't who AJ Preller is. He needs to be able to be aggressive to make the best impact, and his track record when it comes to player development is sketchy at best.
We'll know soon enough if Preller can transition as a GM along with the Padres, but it feels like a new voice at the top as the team enters a new era might be what's really needed.