In the midst of a lackluster 2014 season, the San Diego Padres hired a new general manager in early August. The 37-year-old hire was in his tenth season with the Texas Rangers, at the time serving as the director of player development and scouting. The international program in the organization, which was led by this executive, had acquired perennial ace Yu Darvish and former top prospect Jurickson Profar. The man’s name is A.J. Preller.
Preller graduated from Cornell University in 1999 alongside fraternity brother Jon Daniels, who later became his boss with the Rangers. Preller spent the better part of ten years with the Rangers, reaching assistant general manager status working directly under Daniels.
The Padres interviewed numerous candidates, including Red Sox Assistant GM Mike Hazen and Yankees Assistant GM Billy Eppler, but eventually settled in with Preller as their man. He was signed to a five-year deal and has made a big splash this offseason, acquiring some premium talent in a flurry of risky major moves.
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In December, Preller finalized multiple deals, one in which he acquired Matt Kemp in a five-player deal that shipped catcher Yasmani Grandal out of town. The outfield would end up being totally revamped, as he sent a few prospects to Tampa Bay in exchange for Wil Myers and obtained Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves. The trades came at a steep cost, as Preller was forced to give up top prospects like Max Fried, Tyson Ross, and Trea Turner.
Although the acquisition of that aforementioned outfield trio garnered headlines, Preller made a few less-heralded moves that may be crucial to the organization’s future success as well.
The Friars flipped backstop Ryan Hanigan to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks, a third baseman, burst onto the scene in 2012 with Boston, displaying some power. Since then, he has struggled to stay healthy and productive, but his upside remains evident. San Diego also capitalized on Oakland’s fire sale, picking up All-Star catcher Derek Norris.
Rumors have swirled in recent weeks tying the Padres to Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels. While no deal is imminent, at this point it is–at the very least–within the realm of possibility given the fact that Preller hasn’t been shy to pull the trigger on major trades during his short tenure as general manager in San Diego.
If the talent that Preller traded for in the offseason can stay on the field and live up to expectations, a playoff berth may be in the cards for a team that won just 77 games in 2014. If not, a losing season could immediately put Preller on the hot seat, given that he has parted ways with numerous future assets to adopt a “win-now” philosophy.
San Diego took a chance in hiring a first-time general manager, and the man entrusted with assembling the 2015 San Diego Padres has shown, like ownership, that he is not afraid to take a risk. Whether or not that risk pays off remains to be seen, but if it does, there is potential for the baseball world to hold A.J. Preller’s name in the same breath as Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington, Brian Cashman, and the other elite general managers in Major League Baseball.