Major League Baseball’s 30-day suspension of Padres general manager A.J. Preller for a failure to disclose medical information in the Drew Pomeranz/Anderson Espinoza trade has led to controversy both around the league and in San Diego’s front office. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney (subscription required), “there is a split of opinion” within Padres upper management about Preller. Owner Peter Seidler and team president/CEO Mike Dee both strongly support Preller, while executive chairman Ron Fowler supports Preller publicly but is “asking hard questions about him behind the scenes.”
Questions arose about Preller’s job security in the wake of the suspension, though a club official told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that Preller wouldn’t face any further punishment from the Padres, nor was he in danger of being fired. Nonetheless, it isn’t surprising that the Padres are taking some degree of self-analysis of their baseball operations department, given how (as Olney puts it), “this situation has caused enormous tension and concern” within the club.
Fowler made headlines earlier this summer when he described the Padres’ play as “very embarrassing” during a radio interview. Fowler took responsibility on behalf of management for the Padres’ struggles in recent years, assigning a share of the blame to Preller while also praising him at the same time. “I don’t think there’s a brighter GM out there. I don’t think anyone works harder, but the results are not there, and I think A.J. would be the first one to tell you that,” Fowler said.
It would be unusual for a team to fire a GM after slightly more than two years on the job, though it could be argued that little has been normal about Preller’s entire tenure in San Diego, ranging from the payroll splurge in the 2014-15 offseason, to the lack of movement at the 2015 trade deadline to his current suspension. As Fowler noted during his interview, however, Preller was hired in part because of his ability to acquire young talent — the Padres had a wide array of picks in last June’s amateur draft and they have already far exceeded their international spending limits to land several highly-touted names from this year’s international class.
Of course, it was the acquisition of Espinoza (one of the game’s top pitching prospects) that eventually led to Preller’s suspension. Several executives and evaluators from around baseball, however, tell Olney that the punishment was insufficient. One evaluator said that despite the controversy, Preller still “won” because at the end of the day, Espinoza is still a Padre. As both Olney and Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron observed, there appears to be little explanation for the Padres’ system of internal medical records for their own use and separate records to be shared with other teams unless there was some intentional gamesmanship at play. “The Padres basically got told to stop reaching into the cookie jar while being allowed to continue eating the cookie they were already holding,” Cameron writes.