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The Case for A.J. Preller as a "Teardown Artist"

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A piece on Grantland about A.J. Preller and the Padres helps us reflect on what happened to the Padres since the new GM started dealing.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The demise of the 2015 Padres hasn't got as much national attention as the building of them got in December. It doesn't make for sensational headlines, but it does make for some good long form essays on the topic. Rany Jazayerli took on the task for Grantland.com. His story covers everything Padres going back to December: all the trades, all the early returns for the Padres, and all the early returns for the teams they dealt with. The picture he paints shows how troublesome the whole rebuilding of the team turned out to be. Two paragraphs about 3/4 of the way through the article illustrates some of this quite well for me:

Add up the damage and it’s staggering. In one offseason, the Padres traded away one of the best catchers in baseball (Grandal); an above-average starting pitcher (Hahn); an above-average corner outfielder (Seth Smith); an above-average center fielder (Maybin); and pretty much their entire farm system. Per Baseball America, the Padres traded away their no. 1 (Wisler), no. 2 (Turner), no. 4 (Ross), no. 6 (Fried), no. 9 (Eflin), no. 10 (Jace Peterson), no. 15 (Bauers), no. 16 (Mallex Smith), no. 21 (Dustin Peterson), no. 23 (Burch Smith), and no. 30 (Barbato) prospects, along with the 41st pick in the draft.

In return, they got one of the best young outfielders in the sport, who can’t stay healthy, in Wil Myers. They got one year of Justin Upton. They got Matt Kemp and his bloated contract. They got a good young catcher in Derek Norris who isn’t nearly as good as the young catcher they traded. They got two very good relievers in Brandon Maurer and Craig Kimbrel. They inherited the misfortune of playing Will Middlebrooks.

The Kimbrel trade already looks like one of the worst trades any team has made in years — and it wasn’t the worst trade the Padres made this winter. That would be the Kemp trade, in which they took on a contract the Dodgers were desperate to unload and gave up arguably their most valuable commodity in Grandal. Years from now, the trade for Justin Upton might look as bad as these two. If it doesn’t, the trade for Wil Myers might.

The negativity he presents towards these trades doesn't come lightly. The previous paragraphs detail every reason why these deals aren't working out in the Padres' favor. There is no way around the fact that Preller tore down something. The Padres had talent and they had a low payroll and now they have less talent (at least in quantity and the major league talent doesn't equal a contender) and a much more bloated payroll.

He later tries to illustrate what it was the Padres did tear down by giving a picture of what the team would look like without the trades. It's hard to imagine much out of that team for a Padres fan perspective because we saw glimpses of those teams in years past. Going with Seth Smith, Cameron Maybin and Will Venable looks fine in hindsight, but the team had been counting on Maybin to be the CF for years with not much to show for it. The infield would be the same but minus Will Middlebrooks and plus Jace Peterson. Another upgrade in hindsight, but Peterson looked woeful in 2014 and Middlebrooks didn't cost much to take for a spin. Grandal had the potential to break out, but also had trouble taking the job from Rene Rivera. A shakeup there wasn't need, but you could make the argument that it had the potential to better diversify the team's assets. Adding to the bullpen seems prescient in hindsight given some if its struggles this year (sorry Rany, but ERA's in the 3s are good ones for a bullpen arm that calls Petco Park home), but predicting the 'pen would need such a boost wasn't well known and the costs to add Kimbrel and Brandon Maurer were high. While it's true that in hindsight all the moves did make the team worse, it was always hard to imagine that standing pat would produce a contender.

Standing pat would have also kept the Padres farm system intact. That certainly sounds nice given how barren it is as a result of all the wheeling and dealing. But, in my estimation, that farm system wasn't going to push the team towards contention either. The team could add Matt Wisler and eventually Trea Turner and Joe Ross along with working in a now productive Jace Peterson, but I don't think that would have been enough. Unless a couple of those guys are basically all stars upon promotion, you're left with guys filling in gaps and treading water as other players reach free agency or flame out. The Diamondbacks are probably a team you can point to that's in a similar situation. They have a decent farm, their payroll isn't bloated, but it doesn't look like the club has any potential to break out.

What it comes down to for me isn't that A.J. Preller was wrong to make moves and use the farm to try to do something. It's that the something he did was wrong. It had some flaws you could see when he made the moves (along with some upside) and it has even more flaws when looked at in hindsight. However, he'll get no do-over here. This was a card he could only play once. It's a hard lesson to learn about team building and perhaps also a lesson to be learned about making trades when you are still getting to know the staff that's advising you. Preller didn't set out to tear anything down, but what's done is now done. And something needed to be done. Now something else has to be tried and that something is probably going to take a while.