Last offseason, San Diego Padres general manager AJ Preller made big moves to improve his roster following their playoff appearance in 2020. He traded much of his prospect capital, landing Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove in the process. This season, he traded for Adam Frazier at the peak of his value, giving up Tucupita Marcano, Jack Suwinski, and Michell Miliano. In 2021, the Padres went just 79-83 despite his efforts.
Preller is known for his aggressiveness in pulling the trigger, as demonstrated throughout the past few years. While this can be exciting for the fans, he has made some terrible decisions in trades and free agency. It is fun to see teams dedicate themselves to winning, as many owners do not spend enough on their rosters to build consistent winners. In the Padres case, their disappointing season in 2021 cannot be blamed on ownership, as Peter Seidler has shown willingness to spend.
The Padres have spent big money on their infield, with Eric Hosmer, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Manny Machado all signed to nine-figure contracts, and have built a great pitching staff on the trade market. Despite all of this and another great season from Jake Cronenworth, the Padres won just 79 games in 2021.
Before we get to the negatives, let us take a look at the good (some even great) moves that AJ Preller has made since taking over as general manager in 2014. In June 2016, Preller landed 17-year-old shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. from the White Sox, who developed into baseball’s flashiest young star. Five years later, Tatis Jr. finished in the top four in Most Valuable Player voting for the second straight season. His extension, which will keep him in San Diego through 2034, is another one of Preller’s best moves.
The latter stages of the Padres’ rebuild included some of Preller’s best work, as he acquired Trent Grisham and Jake Cronenworth, two young players who will lock down their respective positions for the next five years. They acquired both players at relatively low prices, as Cronenworth was acquired from Tampa Bay alongside Tommy Pham for Xavier Edwards and Hunter Renfroe while Grisham was acquired from Milwaukee alongside Zach Davies (who was in the package for Yu Darvish) for Eric Lauer and Luis Urias.
The trade for Joe Musgrove also turned out well for San Diego, as he turned in a 3.18 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 3.69 SIERA season in a career-high 181.1 innings of work. He’s also under contract for 2022, and the Padres gave up just Hudson Head, David Bednar, and Joey Lucchesi. While Bednar had an incredible season out of the Pirates bullpen, Head won’t make an impact for years, and Lucchesi went down with an injury early on in the season.
Mismanagement of Assets
Perhaps the worst move made by Preller was giving up Luis Patino and Francisco Mejia for 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. The trade looked good at the time, especially since Snell is on a great contract, but he really struggled in his first year with the Friars. He is always been inefficient, but Snell only averaged 4.8 innings per start in 2021. In the first half, Snell had a 5.63 ERA in 70.1 innings. His second half numbers were better, as he put up a 3.24 ERA, 3.20 FIP, and 3.59 xFIP after the all-star break. There is hope that Snell is back to his normal form in 2022, but the Rays gave up a lot for him.
Patino has not been great in his first MLB appearances, but he is still a 60 FV prospect who graduated as the 11th overall prospect per FanGraphs. Patino has worked as a long-reliever and as a starter for Tampa Bay, as he will continue to develop command of his electric stuff. He had a 22.2% K% and 4.31 ERA in 77.1 innings in 2021. Francisco Mejia was once a top prospect and finally put it together this year for the Rays. He was just a platoon player but had a 108 wRC+ in his 84 games in 2021.
Possibly the worst of Preller’s moves was his most recent, as he traded deadline acquisition and 2021 MLB All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier to Seattle after giving up three prospects including Tucupita Marcano, who ranks as the Pirates ninth prospect with a 55 hit tool. Marcano profiles similarly to Frazier, although he struggled in his limited MLB time in 2021. In return, they got half a season of Frazier, in which he had an 83 wRC+ with just a .323 OBP. Following his struggles in San Diego, he was traded once again for two very low-level prospects.
Buy High, Sell Low?
Throughout Preller’s time in San Diego, he’s shown a tendency to buy high on players, then sell them at their lowest. He traded for Adam Frazier at the absolute peak of his value, then traded him away for next-to-nothing instead of capitalizing on his potential. Frazier is not a different player than he was in the first half of 2021, and they could have held on him in an attempt to maximize his value.
Their trades for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell were also at the peak of their trade value, and they have lost a ton of value since being sent to San Diego. The same goes for Mike Clevinger, but Preller can’t be blamed for his injury.
In just one year, San Diego has gone from a young playoff team with a top-3 farm system to a .500 team with the 17th ranked farm system in baseball. They still have the pieces to make a World Series run in 2022, but they still have to deal with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West. They still have the top prospects with star potential, keeping CJ Abrams, Luis Campusano, and Robert Hassell III despite all their trades.
AJ Preller deserves his credit for bringing the Padres back to the playoffs, but his mismanagement of their assets in the past calendar year has stymied their future. Again, they still may win a world series in 2022 or beyond, but they no longer look poised to compete for championships throughout Fernando Tatis Jr.’s whole tenure with the organization.
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