Earlier tonight, Jesse Agler hosted a conference call for Padres season ticket holders with club President Mike Dee and General Manager A.J. Preller. The discussion covered a wide range of subjects, like power hitters and payroll and power hitters and free agents and something about power hitters.
Preller opened the conversation by praising the new front office hires, mentioning (in no particular order) Don Welke, Sam Geany, and newest hire Logan White. "It's a blend of youth and experience," he said, explaining that the goal of his team was to identify talent on every market, amateur, international, and professional. The first question he fielded was about finding some of that talent and brining some sorely needed power hitting to the club. "Power is at a premium right now." Preller knows everybody is looking for power, and that offense is down across baseball, but he still wants a big bat in the lineup. "It's going to be tough to acquire, but it's going to be an area of focus."
After that, a fan asked about moving in the fences. Again. Really. Mike Dee handled that one, saying that they were pretty happy with the changes made two years ago. He noted that the left field fence was coming in slightly, but that it wasn't related to the way the park plays. "I think there are other parks that play similarly," he noted, comparing the way Petco plays now to the the Giants' AT&T Park.
The next question was about the free agent market, an area Preller's recent predecessors never made a big splash in. "We've definitely got a target list." He didn't say who was on that list (for obvious reasons), but said, "There's definitely good value out there. It's our job to find it."
Somebody stole my question and asked about Yasmany Tomas. "We're still in the process of making our evaluation of what we think his value is." Tomas and his agent will be doing the same, as will the other clubs showing interest in the young Cuban outfielder. "We're in the game. We've seen the player. We've had eyes on him." Preller was playing his cards close to the vest, but in my head I pictured him salivating like a hungry wolf.
Dee fielded the next question, which anticipated fans criticizing the decision to spend money on a fancy new scoreboard instead of high-priced on-field talent. He put that idea to rest pretty quickly. "These are not buckets of resources that are intermingled. We have increased payroll significantly over the last two years, and we're prepared to do that again this year." Some will scoff at that idea, but there is a big difference between a onetime capital expense and recurring labor costs. Or, in Dee's words, "It's not a question of either-or. I think we can do both."
If you're not talking about the ballpark or the players, you want to know about the hitting coach. The way Preller talked about it, it sounded like it was Black's decision to make. "I know Buddy has had a chance to sit down and talk to a few candidates." The team expects to announce Plantier's replacement in the next week or so.
With the Winter Meetings coming to town in one short month, there was some conversation about what actually happens. It was pretty boring. Something about every team having a suite that they use as a base of operations. Scouts might mingle in the lobby. Meetings, business, blah blah blah.
The All-Star Game is, as always, a hot topic. Dee seemed optimistic. "Hopefully we'll have some news this year on that front. Rest assured we've been the squeaky wheel." The latest round of improvements to the ballpark should definitely help get the notice of MLB.
What's the team's biggest need? "Improving the position player quality is the top area of need," according to Preller. Other teams look at the Padres and see pitching and catching depth, while A.J. is looking for offense and defense, so there are deals that can be made.
Asked who he liked growing up, Preller talked a lot about stability. "You had the Cal Ripken's and the Kirby Puckett's. For me growing up in New York it was Don Mattingly." He wants somebody to fill that kind of role in San Diego. As to which color uniforms he'd prefer, he was diplomatic. "As far as the brown or the blue, I'll probably leave that to Mike." Dee joked, "Whichever jersey we win in."
The final question of the evening compared Preller and Dee to the numerous predecessors they've had in the last few years: What are you doing differently than everybody before you? "You need people with ability, and then you need stability. That's going to be our focus." It's why Preller has brought so many highly regarded talent evaluators to his front office. "It really just starts with good evaluation."
With the hot stove season starting up, we may not hear much from the new GM for a while, so it was nice to get some time with him tonight.