Last offseason, rookie General Manager A.J. Preller made #bigmoves to put the Padres in a position to finish above .500 for the first time since 2010, and get to the postseason for the first time since 2006. He failed. The Padres lost 88 games with a confusing roster that included no one who could capably man centerfield, a truly awful infield, and a pitching staff that allowed the 10th most runs in the National League despite playing in one of the worst parks for offense in baseball. Then, at the trade deadline, the Padres refused to make any trades of consequence, despite finishing July below .500 and in fourth place in the NL West.
That said, I think every first-time GM should get at least one chance to fall on their face and to learn from their mistakes. Now that Preller has had a year to reflect and revise his practices, and has brought in his own manager in Andy Green, has he done better at moving the Padres in the right direction?
The Free Agents
The Padres have gone extremely low key on the free agent market. Once a potential landing spot for Ian Desmond, San Diego decided not to forfeit a draft pick, and instead signed Alexei Ramirez to a one-year deal. They also brought in Fernando Rodney and Carlos Villanueva on very reasonable one-year contracts to fill out the bullpen. Brandon Morrow was brought back, and promised he could try to start if he's healthy. Preller has decided not to play in the deep end of the free agent pool after the disappointing performance of James Shields last year.
So many trades. Preller has made eight since the start of the offseason, and 20 since taking the job to begin with. He's focused on trading relievers, whose market has never been hotter (a great idea!) and players who the team has soured on, whose market has never been worse (a not great idea!).
Early in the offseason, the former strategy injected some serious talent into the Padres organization, as Craig Kimbrel brought back two top 100 prospects (outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra) in addition to two other well-regarded minor leaguers. For Joaquin Benoit, he landed 20 year old Enyel De Los Santos, who profiles as a mid-rotation starter if he holds up physically, along with a middle infielder.
The later returns are somewhat more questionable. First baseman Yonder Alonso brought back oft-injured swingman Drew Pomeranz from the A's, and he might be able to thrive in San Diego. They also dealt Casey Kelly to the Braves for Christian Bethancourt, perhaps betraying a lack of confidence in Austin Hedges. Jedd Gyorko was sent to the Cardinals to try and revive his career in exchange for Jon Jay, whose performance took a huge hit in 2015. For some reason, Preller also gave up on Rymer Liriano, DFAing him before shuffling him to the Brewers for a minor league reliever. Finally, Odrisamer Despaigne was dealt to the Orioles for a 19 year old lottery ticket.
In total, the system's gotten better at the cost of the Major League club, suggesting the team is rebuilding. But then, why was Liriano traded? It's what caused Marc Normandin to point out "It feels like the Padres should have picked one direction or the other, and gone with a hardcore rebuild or tried to add, but instead, they seem to be doing neither."
Reasons to Worry
Well, there's the fact that the division rival Dodgers, Giants, and Diamondbacks all spent a lot of money to improve this offseason. Or that the Padres did nothing to replace Justin Upton, Kimbrel, or Benoit from what was already an underperforming squad. Or that Matt Kemp is going to be a whole year older running around in right field.
You know what? Worry implies uncertainty. This team will be bad, you can be sure of it.
Reasons to Hope
Preller looks like he found something he's good at, identifying players in other organizations who will improve the health of his franchise for the long term. He made deals that will help the Padres in a year or two, and some of those might see dividends before the year is out. Also, if any of his one-year deals plays well, they'll be a prime trade candidate this July, assuming Preller stops sitting on his hands. The future is brighter in San Diego, but it's still not clear that their sophomore GM is going to cut it over the long run.