By far, the most surprising result of the MLB Daily Dish Front Office Survey that we released yesterday is where the San Diego Padres wound up. The Padres are 50-68 this year, their second full season with A.J. Preller at the helm. Last year, despite making major trades to bring in Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Craig Kimbrel, Melvin Upton, and Derek Noris, and signing James Shields as a free agent, the club still lost 88 games, fired longtime skipper Bud Black, and finished fourth in the NL West. Given that, you might understandably expect San Diego fans to be fed up with Preller.
The thing is, they totally aren’t. The Padres, who received 53 votes in the survey, finished seventh overall with a composite score of 4.4. Interestingly, the Padres were one of only two teams (the Phillies were the other) whose GM did not receive a single rating of either 2 or 1, suggesting that Preller doesn’t have any real detractors. And, in fact, as he’s given up any illusions of fielding a competitive team, Padres fans have become more enamored of him:
And the narrative answers in our survey bear that out. Fans seemed eager to put last year’s misstep behind them and embrace the team’s new direction:
“The front office has quickly accepted the mistake of trying to go all in last season, The philosophical and financial commitment towards building for the future is something that has never been seen before in San Diego, The quality and quantity of prospects they have acquired in the last few months has been very impressive.” – anonymous
“Preller took a mediocre farm system and turned it into a team that had a chance at competing in 2015. When that team didn't work out, he sold of the veterans for a younger and more talented farm system. Bright future in SD.” – @ryancohen24
“Flexible. Able to fluidly shift from 1 plan to the next and gain maximum value for assets. Not afraid to shift gears when mistakes are made and make changes to players, coaches, and management personel.” - Nbkoy2c
“After betting big that high priced free agents and blockbuster trades would bring some W's back to San Diego, Preller has reversed course and has started to restock the farm system. I can't blame a dude for hackin'. Kemp, the Uptons, Kimbrel & co. were fun for a bit. But he's righted the ship (I think) and I'm cautiously optimistic. 4, not 5, because no Padres GM gets a 5. Like ever.” - @gnarlyball
“He [Preller]'s finally doing what he is known for, and so far, has been going in the right direction” – anonymous
“There's no question that Preller has done a great job of rebuilding the Padres' farm system and clearing a lot of money after the disastrous '14-15 offseason. Having so much of the young talent focused on young arms is somewhat worrisome given the Padres' awful history with the TJ surgeries, but my bigger concern is the recent probe by the MLB. This whole "trading damaged goods" accusation/issue feels like it might have been handled poorly, and considering Preller's reputation and his prior run ins with MLB authority, I wouldn't be surprised if this results in fines, lost draft picks, and possibly even a major suspension of Preller.” - @gamrdave
“After a 2015 where we gutted the system and got little to nothing but hype. Were back on track with a strong draft, trade season, and international signing period the front office seems to have a definitive direction.” - @vintista8
Fans also believed the 2015 misstep wasn’t Preller’s fault, but a strategy foisted on him by a meddlesome ownership team:
“I have confidence in AJ Preller of the Padres in his rebuilding effort. I am skeptical of the owners to be patient through the process.” - @lybargerbrewery
“If not for the presence of Mike Dee as team President, the score would be 5. In fairness, he seems to be acting at the behest of team owner Ron Fowler.” – anonymous
“After being pressured by the Padres F.O. to build a quick winner, they've now bought in to Preller's long-term rebuild. They've traded a ton of veterans, shed payroll, and made big investments in the international market.” - @MarcusSDTX
“Preller and his team have a track record of finding and developing young talent, and it appears the focus has rightfully returned here. There's strong evidence to suggest the bad MLB deals were heavily influenced by ownership/CEO Mike Dee, but it won't be until the Padres are competing again that we'll see whether or not Preller is actually as rash as last year's moves made him look. For now, I'm mostly satisfied since the club dropped the facade of competing right now.” – anonymous
These are all reasonable points, actually. And certainly, the trades Preller has made since convincing his bosses to give him free rein have been largely positive. Preller got good and great returns for relievers Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel, respectively. Drew Pomeranz was a brilliant acquisition for Yonder Alonso and change. Then he got an excellent pitching prospect for Pomeranz from the Red Sox. Preller also got strong returns for James Shields, Andrew Cashner, Melvin Upton and Fernando Rodney at the trade deadline, and managed to unload Matt Kemp.
Rebuilding teams, in general, got some surprisingly high marks in this poll. The Brewers, Yankees, Phillies, and Braves all also finished with a composite score higher than 4.0. That said, the Reds, Twins, Rays, and Athletics finished near the bottom. And it’s amazing that the response from Padres fans has been this swift and this positive after falling on their faces so recently.
Maybe Padres fans are simply smart enough to see the direction the club is going and are eager to jump on the bandwagon now. Perhaps there’s an innate optimism that comes from living in such a beautiful climate and watching games in an amazing ballpark. Or maybe the Padres are simply better at communicating with their fans about their expectations and how those moves fit into the team’s rebuild. Whatever the reason, it will be interesting to see what happens when some of these prospects inevitably hit bumps in the road and don’t develop as expected. Will that optimism survive, or will those fans (and Preller’s bosses) be patient enough to let him see this through.