Major League Baseball is investigating the San Diego Padres and GM A.J. Preller to see if they have systematically been hiding medical information and potential injuries from the clubs with whom they’ve traded, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. If true, it would be an unforgivable betrayal of the code that teams rely on to deal fairly with one another.
When the Marlins discovered that Colin Rea, the second pitcher they acquired from the Padres in the trade for Andrew Cashner in July, had a strained elbow ligament (later upgraded to a torn UCL), they were furious. Preller maintained his innocence. A.J. Cassavell reported that “the Padres are adamant that Rea was healthy at the time of the trade. The Marlins had access to all of Rea’s medical records in advance, and, like the Padres, they saw nothing wrong with his elbow.”
Preller tried to spin the revised deal as a positive, “When it was presented that we could get Colin back – I said it publicly, I said it privately – he was a very tough part in making the deal…. We think a lot of him. So when it was presented by the Marlins [to re-exchange Rea for Luis Castillo], and we had a chance to get him back, we were glad to do so.”
Buster Olney reports, however, that “Padres officials instructed their organization‘s athletic trainers to maintain two distinct files of medical information on their players – one for industry consumption [as they were required to] and the other for the team’s internal use.” If it’s true, it would be a betrayal on par with the “hacking” scandal in 2015, that led to the felony charges against, and 46 months in prison for former Cardinals director of scouting Chris Correa.
Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser reports that Preller and team President Mike Dee’s jobs are in jeopardy over it:
Someone in the know told me this is serious enough A.J. Preller, Mike Dee may be forced out by MLB office. We'll see https://t.co/VZ8lbHKA5M— Kyle Glaser (@KyleAGlaser) September 15, 2016
Dee was hired in 2013 to oversee the club, and hired Preller prior to the 2015 season. Prior to taking the Padres job, Preller was an assistant GM for Texas who had been suspended for violating international signing rules. In his first season at the helm, Preller was ordered to acquire veteran talent and challenge for a division title. In this sophomore campaign, Preller was given the freedom to undo those decisions and rebuild the club from scratch.
According to Olney, the Padres came into the season planning to deceive other clubs, setting up the two-record system in Spring Training. Since then, the Padres have been very active on the trade market:
- June 4: Traded James Shields to the White Sox for Fernando Tatis and Erik Johnson. Since the trade, Shields has a 7.30 ERA.
- June 30: Traded Fernando Rodney to the Marlins for Chris Paddock. Since the trade, Rodney has a 6.30 ERA.
- July 14: Traded Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox for Anderson Espinoza. Since the deal, Pomeranz has a 4.60 ERA in 11 starts.
- July 26: Traded Melvin Upton to the Blue Jays for Hansel Rodriguez. Since the trade, Upton has hit .208/.266/.346.
- July 29: Traded Cashner, Rea and Tayron Guerrero to the Marlins for Luis Castillo, Josh Naylor, Carter Capps, and Jarred Cosart. Since the trade, Cashner has a 6.13 ERA in the majors, and Guerrero has a 1.93 ERA at Double-A. Rea, of course, is undergoing treatment for his torn elbow ligament.
- July 30: Traded Matt Kemp to the Braves for Hector Olivera. Since the trade, Kemp has hit .280/.332/.494.
There’s a pretty clear pattern here, with every significant player except Kemp going elsewhere and immediately falling apart. Boston, Chicago, and Miami are rightfully said to be fuming over the deception, which included instructing trainers to keep preventative treatments off of the league’s radar. According to Olney, “One source defined the distinction in this way: If a player was treated for a sore hamstring or shoulder without being placed on the disabled list, that sort of information was to be kept in-house, for use within the organization only.”
While teams have traded injured players in the past, and been accused of doing so knowingly, there is no precedent for such a wide-spread and systematic attempt to commit fraud on the rest of the league. If Major League Baseball finds the Padres at fault, and it certainly sounds like they will, there could be innumerable consequences.
Rob Manfred seems to have chosen not to punish the Cardinals for the actions of their rogue employee, probably because it would be impossible to connect his data theft to any individual move that benefited the club. But in this case, the Padres directly benefited from their deception. Not only could the top Padres brass be forced out and struggle to find work in the game again, but prospects could wind up going back to their original clubs both to compensate the defrauded teams and to dissuade anyone else from trying to do the same thing.
Indeed, that’s really the only solution here. The Commissioner has broad powers to act in the best interest of baseball. So don’t just fire and ban the wrongdoers, but return all the prospects the Padres acquired and/or force them to undo the trades they made that have proven disastrous. Let the White Sox rid themselves of Shields if they want. Give the Marlins and Soxes back the young players they were tricked into sending away for damaged goods. Cripple and punish the Padres. Restore trust.
As it stands, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling good about dealing with the Padres and Preller ever again.
UPDATE: Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the fallout has begun. It’s unclear just how much punishment the Padres could face from this, but for now: