We have this steadfast belief in our society that we can reduce crime by increasing the penalties for that crime. It’s what led to the mass incarceration of so many drug offenders during the Clinton Administration in the 1990s and what props up arguments in favor of the death penalty today. It’s called the Deterrence Hypothesis. Most social scientists, however, recognize it as bunk. Most people who commit crimes simply don’t think about the consequences in the face of an opportunity.
We expect the rest of us to be better than that. To think through the consequences of their actions. But yesterday, Padres GM A.J. Preller reminded us that occasionally very smart people will ignore the potential consequences of doing a bad thing, and do it anyway if they see a way to get ahead. And it’s because of this that A.J. Preller needs to be fired.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, he deserves to be fired for being a lying, cheating, untrustworthy scam artist who attempted to defraud the other 29 teams in baseball by maintaining separate health records for his players. He ordered his club’s medical staff not to share those records with the rest of the league, as the league mandates all teams do, and thereby broke the trust that’s required between any two parties trying to work out a trade. No one can believe anything A.J. Preller says right now, and even hard evidence he may have to back up his claim would be suspect, and it’s hard to see how he can improve those relationships enough in the short term to help the Padres bounce back from their extended mediocrity.
Moreover, he’s potentially done damage to all those who work under him, who may have their own career prospects tainted by their knowledge of and association with his misdeeds. And for betraying their trust, he also deserves to be enthusiastically kicked to the curb.
But, as much as anything else, A.J. Preller deserves to be fired for being stupid. Oh, he’s a smart guy. Unquestionably. A.J. Preller is a bright baseball mind and could be an excellent General Manager if he was also smart enough to stay out of his own way.
But he’s also an unforgivably thoughtless one. He deserves to be fired for not thinking about the consequences of what he was doing. And I don’t mean the one month suspension that he received yesterday; I mean the damage that he did to the Padres and their standing. He deserves to be fired because he didn’t foresee that he would inevitably get caught. Was he dumb enough to think that he was just that much smarter than the rest of the league?
Apparently so, because this isn’t the first time Preller’s been caught doing shady stuff. In 2010, he was suspended by Major League Baseball for negotiating with Dominican amateur Rafael de Paula while he was suspended for lying about his age. While this does happen in MLB clubs’ efforts to sign Latino ballplayers, the fact that Preller was disciplined for it should have made him even more hesitant to do more mischievousness in the future. It at least should have made him more wary and cautious.
But instead he cavalierly set up this elaborate house of cards that relied on the silence of everyone involved. It was so easy for the whole thing to topple into ruin. I mean, what did this dummy think was going to happen when Drew Pomeranz, and Colin Rea went to their new clubs? Did he think they wouldn’t mention all the treatment they’d been receiving for sore elbows and forearms and shoulders and legs? They certainly weren’t a party to this deception.
Did he think no one would mind or get upset? “That Preller, he got me. Good prank, buddy, I’ll just keep paying James Shields tens of millions of dollars.” The fact that he didn’t game out the results of his fraud is reason enough to send him packing.
Look, I’m not saying that Preller is somehow more special than more traditional criminals, frauds, and hucksters who regularly disprove the deterrence hypothesis. Or that he’s more special than any of the rest of us in how he disregards the potential consequences of his wrongdoing. But I am saying that he needed to be. His job required him to be. And he wasn’t up to that challenge. And because of that, now the Padres are both reviled and a laughingstock. Now they will face additional hurdles as they try and rebuild. Now no one trusts them.
Preller’s direct actions and poor decision-making led to that, as much as his fundamental dishonesty. For that, the Padres should fire him, and anyone who helped him concoct this scheme, the moment his suspension is over and hire someone who is smart enough to know he might not be the smartest person in the room and has a healthy respect for the notion that they might get caught.