I Still Don’t Understand A.J. Preller

This has been a weird off-season. Because the gap between the end of the World Series and the start of the winter meetings was shorter than usual, we ended up with a pretty slow start, as teams ended up waiting until December to really kick the market into gear, and even then, most of the money ended up getting thrown at the available pitchers. The market for hitters dragged out, leaving guys like Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes, and Ian Desmond looking for long-term deals in January. And teams who should be looking to upgrade their rosters have largely sat out free agency, leaving the big spending to teams who aren’t traditionally players at the top of the market.

But maybe the weirdest part of the entire off-season is how rarely we’ve said A.J. Preller’s name. Last winter, the first-year GM dominated the news cycle like Donald Trump is now, making headlines with a frenetic series of moves to revamp his team’s roster and try to put together a contender. In the span of a week, he traded for Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, Wil Myers, and Justin Upton; a few months later, he’d also sign James Shields and trade for Craig Kimbrel. The always-boring Padres were anything but boring.

Of course, the net effect of all those moves was to put the organization in a far worse place than they’d been if they’d taken the boring approach, as the Kemp deal saddled them with a disaster of a contract for a mediocre player, the Myers deal cost them Trea Turner and Joe Ross, the Upton deal thinned out their farm system for a rental, and Kimbrel showed that even an elite closer doesn’t move the needle much on a bad team. The Padres stumbled to a 74-88 record, and without much in the way of prospects or a young core to build around, it became pretty clear that Preller was going to have to start over.

And as the off-season began, the Padres seemed to acknowledge that. They made a fantastic trade in sending Kimbrel to Boston for more than they gave up to get him a year ago, then shipped Joaquin Benoit to Seattle for a couple of low-level prospects, acknowledging that they didn’t really have a strong need for aging relievers. But since then, they’ve been oddly silent.

December brought the Yonder Alonso/Drew Pomeranz swap and the deal that sent Jedd Gyorko to St. Louis for Jon Jay, and then they made their crowded catching situation even more crowded by dealing for Christian Bethancourt. January has brought depth signings in Carlos Villanueva and Alexei Ramirez, a couple of stop-gap guys who make more sense for a contender trying to raise their floor than a rebuilding team looking towards the future, but as we get to a point where we’re about a month away from the start of Spring Training, the 2016 Padres roster looks an awful lot like the 2015 Padres roster. And that doesn’t make any sense.

The projections think that this roster, as constructed, is going to stink again. We currently have them forecast for the same 74-88 record as they put up a year ago, the fifth worst projected total in baseball, and that might even go down once the ZIPS projections — which hated the Padres even more than Steamer does — are incorporated into the projected standings. And it’s not even easy to see where there’s much upside to beat these by a significant amount, other than just getting lucky on sequencing. Sure, Wil Myers could break out, and maybe Kemp rejuvenates his career again, but most of the rest of the roster is filled with guys with limited abilities.

Most perplexingly, the Padres actually have a couple of highly desirable assets in Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, and in a winter where the price for starting pitching was shockingly high, both of them remain in San Diego. It is especially weird that the team has yet to deal Cashner, a free agent at season’s end.

With a guy like Ross, you can make a pretty good case for holding him until the trade deadline, when prices are higher due to reduced supply. He’s got two years of team control remaining, so the Padres could market him to a contender as more than a rental, and a team trading for him could expect to offset their acquisition cost by making him a qualifying offer after the 2017 season, if that’s still a thing in the next CBA. Ross could very well be the best pitcher available this summer, and if he pitches well for the first few months of 2016, the team could get a huge haul for a year and a half of his services. Keeping him until June or July is probably rational.

With Cashner, though? If you keep him past Opening Day, the acquiring team loses the chance to recoup a draft pick when he leaves, so his price might actually be higher now than it will be in the summer, when a team is only acquiring half a season of his services. And Cashner’s track record of poor health makes him significantly more likely to lose all of his trade value early in the season; he’s exactly the kind of guy whose trade value could go to zero on any given pitch. Sure, he’s coming off a superficially poor season by ERA, but a lot of teams are smart enough to look past ERA at this point; the Jeff Samardzija contract shows that the market isn’t going to punish good arms who had poor recent seasons if it’s reasonable to expect a bounce back, as it is with Cashner.

Cashner and Samardzija have a lot in common, in fact, as both have better stuff than performance records, but still manage to be above average starters even if they aren’t as good as you might expect based on how hard they throw. In a winter where Samardzija got $90 million guaranteed, it’s reasonable to think there’d be a robust trade market for a one year commitment to Cashner at an arbitration salary of $7.2 million. For a budget-limited team like the Pirates, Cashner would be a very nice fit, especially given how much emphasis they put on velocity. But yet, it’s January 21st, and Cashner is still a Padre.

Obviously, we can’t know what kinds of offers the Padres have received this winter, and maybe no one’s shown enough interest in order to justify moving him now. But given the absurd prices some teams have paid for free agent pitching — you don’t think the Royals would have rather traded for Cashner than pony up $70 million for Ian Kennedy? — it seems hard to imagine that there hasn’t been real interest in acquiring an above-average 29 year old, especially one a one-year deal at the kind of salary that gets you a decent middle reliever these days. And while not trading Cashner yet doesn’t mean they can’t trade him eventually, it’s probably a less than ideal situation to be trying to trade Cashner, Ross, and Shields during the season; at some point, you’re oversupplying the market and making it more difficult for get fair value for each piece when you’re selling them all at the same time.

Last winter, A.J. Preller couldn’t stop making trades, even ones that didn’t really make sense for his team. This winter, in one of the best times to be selling pitching in recent history, the Padres have yet to move one of the most obvious pieces of trade bait in the game. Perhaps there’s still a deal to be made, and maybe they’ll find a team willing to pay more in Spring Training after one of their starters goes down, but given Cashner’s track record, they better hope that Cashner isn’t one of those guys who develops early-March arm soreness. For a team that desperately needs to add some young talent to the organization after last winter’s ill-advised attempt to contend, losing out on the potential return that Cashner could bring back would be another disaster.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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Deezy
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Deezy
4 months 4 days ago

Trading for Kemp was a terrible move, probably instigated by an aggressive FO, but did the other moves really set the farm back much? The one that might hurt the most is Ross and Turner for Myers, but Myers still has potential to take the next step, and he won’t be misused defensively this year. Wisler, Paroubeck, and the 41st pick essentially became Margot, Guerra, Auaje and Allen. Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, Jace Peterson, Mallex Smith, and the 4th spot in the international bonus pool slot essentially became Aaron Northcraft, and the 27th pick in this year’s draft. If Fried bounces back this might be a little lopsided, but none of these prospects are in the top 100. Upton also helped reenergize the fan base for a bit, and bring some relevancy to San Diego. They have the 8th, 26th, and 27th pick in the draft this year. Not sure what the plan is for Cashner. His mom was seriously ill last year, which could’ve affected his performance. The hope might be that he stays healthy and bounces back enough to warrant a comp pick in a weak FA market.

The Real McNulty
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The Real McNulty
4 months 4 days ago

so you’re saying that the Kemp trade sucked, the Myers/Turner/Ross trade sucked, and the Padres predicted that the Red Sox would vastly overpay for Kimbrel, and yet Preller’s time hasn’t been anything other than a disaster?

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth
4 months 4 days ago

The Myers/Ross/Turner trade isn’t looking good, but it wasn’t a bad deal at the time.

The Kemp and Upton deals were necessary from a marketing standpoint. They clearly don’t believe in Grandal’s framing, and their attendance was the highest it’s been since 2007, turning around a bad trend.

They bought low on Kimbrel, and sold high on him. Not sure how that’s due anything but unqualified praise.

realitypolice
Member
realitypolice
4 months 4 days ago

Acquiring Kemp was brutal, though the love that readers for Grandal have (currently putting a 4.4WAR prediction up for him) isn’t actually backed up by what’s happened on the field so far. And if the DH hits the NL next year, it’ll move Kemp from dreadful to so-so.

The Norris trade was a clear win.

The Kimbrel trade cost him a bounce-around #4/5 starter and some cash.

The Justin Upton trade was, at worst, a push for Preller. Fried, despite the draft pedigree, looked really mediocre in a TinCaps uniform, and will be trying to log 100 innings in Hi-A in 2016. The other stuff in the deal was just detritus (Mallex Smith didn’t even have a starting job waiting for him in San Antonio last spring and doesn’t have enough bat to be more than a 5th outfielder.)

It really comes down to what you think of the Myers trade in how you evaluate last winter. To me, even with Turner’s 2015, there is no doubt that Myers is the best overall player in the deal. Deploying him as a CF was awful, but in LF or 1B, he’s a building block. Ultimately, Ross will probably be the one that hurts more out of that trade the Turner.

Certainly this winter, his returns on all three trades have been a win as well (I particularly like getting Pomeranz for two guys he was going to non-tender.)

aaronsteindler
Member
aaronsteindler
4 months 4 days ago

I do find it interesting that despite losing Upton and Kimbrel, and the projected decline of Kemp, they are still projected to be just as good as last year.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC
4 months 4 days ago

They were projected to be better in 2015 than they ended up being.

RayTSB
Member
4 months 4 days ago

Preller doesn’t seem to hard to figure out. He holds out for the best trade possible, even if that means taking the draft pick instead. We’ve been hearing since the trade deadline that teams aren’t dying to get Cashner so it fits Preller’s M.O. to hold onto him.

bdhudson
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Member
bdhudson
4 months 4 days ago

Best trades possible? Which would those be, again?

RayTSB
Member
4 months 4 days ago

The Astros offered two Double-A arms for Kimbrel and the Yankees offered Mateo for Kimbrel and Gyorko with the Padres picking up part of Gyorko’s contract. Preller turned them both down, then got Margot and Guerra.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
4 months 4 days ago

What percentage of GMs would have also turned down those proposed deals, in that situation?

StroShow
Member
4 months 4 days ago

As opposed to last year where Preller held out for the worst trade possible.

Deezy
Member
Deezy
4 months 4 days ago

The Kemp trade sucked. I can only hope that was partly pushed by the FO. I don’t think the Myers/Turner/Ross trade sucked. I think it was a trade that could work well for both teams. Speculation is that Turner might not have the arm to stick at SS. Preller prefers Latin players and should excel in the international market. I don’t think he really valued the Padres’ farm. He held onto 2 of the 3 top prospects. He held onto Kimbrel because the rumored best offer he got was Kimbrel and Gyorko with most of Gyorko’s and Mateo. He thought he could do better in the offseason, and he did. Cashner had a bad year probably somewhat affected by his mom’s health. Preller is dangling him, but doesn’t like the offers, so he will probably go into the season and reevaluate at the trade deadline if the Padres are out of it, or turn Cashner into a comp pick that he values more than what he is being offered back in trades right now. The next year will tell us a lot about him, but his time hasn’t been a disaster.

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17
4 months 4 days ago

AJ Preller is the worst GM I have ever seen.

Jaack
Member
4 months 4 days ago

This is where I would have changed by user name to Ruben Amaro Jr. and drop some snarky comment, but I can’t do that anymore.

An acceptable loss for improved commenting, but a loss nonetheless.

Ruben Amaro Jr.
Member
Ruben Amaro Jr.
4 months 4 days ago

johansantana17 doesn’t know Jaack about bad GM’s.

Johan Santa
Member
4 months 4 days ago

Why aren’t the first ten letters in his user name bold?

MonkeyMan
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Member
MonkeyMan
4 months 4 days ago

In case you’re not aware, you can add a second display name if you go to your Profile page and scroll down to “Display name publicly as.” But choose wisely, cuz it won’t let you add a third.

Zonk
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Member
Zonk
4 months 4 days ago

Dave Littlefield says hi

Brian Reinhart
Member
Member
4 months 4 days ago

Somewhere, I like to imagine that Amaro, Littlefield, Preller, Dave Stewart, and Jim Bowden have a keeper fantasy league together.

Cool Lester Smooth
Member
Cool Lester Smooth
4 months 4 days ago

Preller really hasn’t earned placement in that category, yet.

Brians Sticky Sock
Member
Brians Sticky Sock
4 months 4 days ago

Hawk Harrelson was the Sox GM for one season. True story…

Kind of interesting how they bounced him after one season for being horrible at his job, yet they’ve given him 30 years at another job that he’s been horrible at.

He’s like the dog shit stuck to the bottom of your shoe that you can’t get rid of.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
4 months 4 days ago

The weird thing about Hawk is he is actually a good broadcaster. He’s one a lot of people don’t like, for valid reasons, but I don’t think he’s bad.

Brians Sticky Sock
Member
Brians Sticky Sock
4 months 4 days ago

When things are going poorly, he stops paying attention and zones out completely. He dominates Stone… who actually is very good at his job. He’s completely unprofessional. He makes up stats because he doesn’t understand sabermetrics. Compare him to Vin Scully who’s even older, but still lucid.

I get if you’re a fan and like him, but how is he good? Seriously, I honestly don’t see it.

Shirtless George Brett
Member
Shirtless George Brett
4 months 4 days ago

The thing about Hawk is that when he is bad he is really, really, really bad which overrides everything else. But he actually is a decent enough broadcaster to listen to from time to time.

For being an unabashed homer he is one of the few broadcasters, at least that I listen to, that will actually talk about the other team for extended periods of time. He seems to genuinely like talking baseball.

tz
Member
tz
4 months 4 days ago

@Shirtless George Brett: That’s exactly how I remember Hawk when he was calling Red Sox games. In a lot of ways, he’s the polar opposite of Joe Buck.

Brians Sticky Sock
Member
Brians Sticky Sock
4 months 4 days ago

Thanks guys… it’s good to hear a different point of view. Sincerely…

I’m not a Sox fan, but living in Chicago obviously I run into their broadcasts from time to time. I like Stone. I’ve grown to appreciate Farmer… but I can’t take more than 15 minutes of either Hawk or Darrin Jackson, so I usually end up changing the station. OF course, this is just my opinion.

Thanks again guys for the different point of view!

AF
Member
AF
4 months 4 days ago

I’m confused why you’re confused. Unlike last year, Preller’s moves this year have been pretty good and have reflected an appropriate strategy of containing costs and selling short-term assets. The fact that he hasn’t made additional trades, yet, is easily explainable by some combination of two things: (1) he hasn’t yet received an offer he considers excellent, and (2) he believes there is value in keeping good players even if the team is unlikely to contend because the better the team, the better the product your business is offering its customers.

Billy Denning
Member
Billy Denning
4 months 4 days ago

I agree that the Padres got a haul for Craig Kimbrel. Boston could afford to make this trade because Margot and Guerra were blocked by Betts and Bogaerts. People criticize the Red Sox for making this deal but Craig Kimbrel is under their control for three seasons. Dombrowski never gets fleeced on trades.

Preller is approaching this situation the right way. The market is sky high for SP and the prices will only go up as the trade deadline approaches. However it makes sense to trade Cashner now because of the draft pick compensation. Ross is a pitcher that could bring in a haul. Ross had the 16th highest WAR last season and 15th in FIP. Ross is young and cost controlled which will bring in a king’s ransom at the trade deadline.

At least Preller is moving on from his disaster of a season. It’s always better to start the rebuild sooner rather than later.

talloptician
Member
talloptician
4 months 4 days ago

Dombrowski never gets fleeced on trades..

He traded Doug Fisher, coming off a fantastic year.. For what again?

Right. Ian Krol.. Steve Lombardozzi (who immediately became a super washed up Alex Gonzalez – next awful trade) and Robbie Ray.. Who turned into Shane Greene.

So a solid #3 starter into 3 trades for negative WAR players.

Billy Denning
Member
Billy Denning
4 months 4 days ago

How did Dombrowski do in the Miguel Cabrera trade? He traded Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Mike Rabelo, Eulogio De La Cruz, Dallas Trahern, and Burke Badenhop for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis.

Since the trade Miggy has had a WAR of 43.4 with the Tigers. Since the trade Maybin (9.4 WAR since), Miller (6.8 WAR since), Rabelo (-2.4 WAR since), De La Cruz (-0.2 WAR since), Trahern (Never made MLB Roster), and Badenhop (3.6 WAR since) have a collective WAR of 17.2.

Talk about fleecing someone.

Some others come to mind.

-Max Scherzer (28 WAR since), Austin Jackson (18.1 WAR since), Daniel Schlereth (-0.8 WAR since), and Phil Coke (2.2 WAR since) in a three tam deal with Curtis Grandson (21.3 WAR since) and Edwin Jackson (11.3 WAR since).

Scherzer turned out pretty good for the Tigers.

-Anibal Sanchez (13.5 WAR since) and Omar Infante (5.7 WAR since) for Brian Flynn (-0.2 since), Jacob Turner (0.7 since) , and Rob Brantly (-0.6).

19.2 WAR for Sanchez and Infante

-Traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler

Kinsler since trade 9.4 WAR
Fielder since trade 1.3 WAR

Got better production out of Kinsler and got out of that contract.

-David Price (12.5 WAR since) in three team deal giving up Austin Jackson (3.2 WAR since), Drew Smyly (3.1 WAR since), and Willy Adames

-Yoenis Cespedes (6.7 WAR since), Alex Wilson (0.6 WAR since) , and Gabe Speier for Rick Porcello (1.6 WAR since)

– 1/3 season of David Price for Daniel Norris, Jairo Labourt, and Matt Boyd

Pretty good track record if you ask me.

talloptician
Member
talloptician
4 months 4 days ago

Never argued that. Argued that your post was he never gets fleeced. Clearly wrong. It’s OK. You’re a big boy. You’ll be able to admit it one day.

Billy Denning
Member
Billy Denning
4 months 4 days ago

I was simply saying that he usually gets the better of the deal. The Fister trade obviously didn’t work out but he has a track record of getting the better players.

Hopefully you’ll be able to realize that someday, big boy.

Brians Sticky Sock
Member
Brians Sticky Sock
4 months 3 days ago

Your use of “never” is why there are comments… it’s one of those words, like “literally”, that people should avoid using.

Runaway Toaster
Member
Member
Runaway Toaster
4 months 3 days ago

Wait a minute. You can’t just count up WAR that way and say “wow, he won the trade!”

Take the Miggy one for instance: Dombrowski didn’t trade for Cabrera from 2008 until now. He traded for 1 year of control, then he gave Cabrera a huge extension buying out a year of arbitration. That’s very different. He could have in theory given up NONE of those players, gone Cabrera-less in 2008, then given him that contract (I know, that’s a very different situation).

I don’t disagree with you that DD did really well in many of these trades, but you can’t distill them down to “WAR since trade”.

Billy Denning
Member
Billy Denning
4 months 3 days ago

Toaster I see what you mean haha

rpmckay
Member
rpmckay
4 months 4 days ago

As far as his first season goes the outfield was in shambles if we look back on who was out there in 2014. Preller did a great job to improve it and Myers was fine for the time that he was healthy and if Kemp clicked a little sooner it would have been one of the better offensive outfields in the NL.

Hindsight is always 20/20 but if the Padres SP’s pitched like they did in 2014 and the OF guys hit like they were supposed too in 2015 things could have been different.

Preller got slammed for not improving the infield and now he has done that in the short term and the long term. with Alexei Ramirez and the prospects from the Kimbrel trade. Getting rid of Gyorko was primarily a salary dump and one of the many SS prospects in the farm system could easily be moved to 2b if need be in a couple years.

Give him time and let him work some more moves. It’s not hte initial moves that we should judge him by but how he learns from the lousy moves he has made (turner/myers/ross). And it seems with the Kimbrel trade he’s nearly reversed the negative affects from the ross/myers/turner trade.

Paul22
Member
Paul22
4 months 4 days ago

I think people overvalue draft pick compensation. Its a 30ish pick. The market was flush with SPing in the FA market which likely depressed the trade market. The trade market for RP’ers was pretty good because it was a thin FA market.

If the Padres have a miserable first half, they will have plenty of pieces to sell off in Ross, Cashner and Shields where they can get top dollar from teams willing to sell the future for a run at this year playoffs. Then the Padres can make a run at a top 5 pick in the 2017 draft

As for Kemp, maybe the NL gets a DH in 2017 which will increase the demand for someone like him and reduce the amount of salary they have to eat

beyou02215
Member
beyou02215
4 months 4 days ago

I couldn’t agree more with the premise of this article. I was hyper-critical of the Kemp trade last winter and unfortunately, it looks like I was right for once. Why the Padres traded for and decided to commit 5 years and more than $80 million dollars to a 30+ year-old outfielder with poor defensive metrics, a rich injury history and arthritic hips, I’ll never know. But that’s not why I write. I write because this whole ‘competing while rebuilding’ mantra that the Padrs have been peddling is just plain silly. They can’t even believe that themselves. At least I hope they don’t.

Tanned Tom
Member
Tanned Tom
4 months 3 days ago

Granted last year was a disaster, but we’re forgetting that Preller probably got this job by convincing ownership the club could compete in 2015, and if they didn’t that he could off load the salaries and undertake a normal rebuild. The club was more watchable last year, attendance did go up, so all was not lost. They get a pick for Upton, and Kennedy; dumped Benoit’s salary; fleeced Dombrowski for Kimbrel; off loaded Gyorko and Alonso for roster space that could be used for true MLBers. All good. The bad is of course being stuck with Kemp, but who knows they could still trade him, and I’m guessing they’re trying to.
So for what the plan was (try to catch lightning in a bottle for 2015, then a true rebuild beginning in 2016) this looks okay.

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