For a guy who was crucified for standing pat, he’s still sitting up straight.
“We had some deals that were intriguing but it didn’t cross the line for us,” A.J. Preller said.
The Padres’ general manager was holding court, justifying why he held on to his underachieving players.
While most thought Preller would go all swap meet at the trading deadline, he decided keeping this bunch was keen. I disagree, as did others making a living second-guessing folks who probably know better.
But at first blush, Preller isn’t ticked that the clock wound down without a significant move.
He decided getting prospects was for others. He decided shedding bloated contracts for financial flexibility wasn’t worth it.
My two cents says otherwise. So I can’t wait either to see how Preller escapes the corner he’s painted the organization into.
“I still like the core pieces that we have,” said Preller, his piercing blue eyes matching San Diego’s stunning sky. “A lot of players didn’t have career, normal years and that’s why we are where we are.”
The Padres have settled into fourth place in the NL West, similar to someone plopping a towel on a crowded Mission Beach closer to the parking lot than the ocean.
It’s not the view Preller prefers. But like another GM from these parts sharing Preller’s initials once said, it is what it is.
“Obviously we would have loved to see a healthy Wil Myers all year,” he said of his outfielder with the wrecked wrist. “And for others to do what is on the back of their baseball cards.”
Preller’s calling card transformed from bold to not-so-beautiful. The one-time rock star was relegated to a Las Vegas lounge act, playing songs few want to hear.
But Preller reminds that Rome wasn’t build in an afternoon and the Padres’ transformation from folly to fantastic isn’t a quick fix.
“(The owners) have been very supportive,” Preller said. “They understand when we came in here last year that it was a deal where I don’t think anybody said, ‘Hey, this team was 10 minutes away from being a dynasty’ or anything like that. There was worked that needed to be done. You’re not going to make 10 moves and be set for the next 10 years.”
But the Padres 15 minutes of fame flamed out before the first summer barbecue was lit.
Matt Kemp had one home run in the opening nine weeks, the pitching and defense was seemingly caught in traffic and manager Bud Black was shoved out the door.
“I don’t want to put the pressure on him, like as Matt Kemp goes the Padres go,” Preller said. “But every team’s 3-4-5 guys, your big players, your elite players, have to play like elite players. We’ve seen it in stretches and we got to find a way to see it more consistently.”
Not much to ask from Kemp, who’ll bank $72 million over the next four years.
James Shields? He was touted as an ace and was paid accordingly. But he’s known as Five-Frame James in the press box as his next complete game will be his first this season.
“For whatever reason this year he has struggled keeping the ball in the ballpark, struggled against left-handed hitters for the first time in career,” Preller said. “He’s thrown a lot in the last year, including the postseason with Kansas City.”
“Look at pitchers who’ve done that before and it catches up with you the next year. He would never say that because he is such a competitor. But I think James has brought a lot of the things that we want to the table.”
It’s what he hauls to his ATM which is noteworthy: $63 million through 2018.
For a club which once stared at payroll like Donald Trump does a mirror, that’s key.
But the new Padres aren’t the old Padres even if looking the part. Unless substitute manager Pat Murphy has some magic in his cap, the local nine is sprinting toward its fifth straight losing season.
Then there’s Justin Upton, the one Upton that hits and hustles. He’s soon a free agent, likely to command a $120-140 million contract.
That neighborhood, considering the club’s other obligations, is too rich for the Padres. Or is it?
“You get to the offseason and that’s when you really lay it out and say, ‘Here is our budget, here are the options that are available,'” Preller said. “He definitely will be one of the options we talk about. He’s made a positive impression here.”
So has Preller, even if sporting the scars baseball gods deliver after chuckling at those winning the offseason.
“There is definitely an excitement level and an attendance increase,” Preller said. “But ultimately the fans and everybody wants to see a winning team. That is how you are judged. Did you win or lose and did you do that over a period of time?”
“That is what we are trying to get built, a consistent winner.”
Preller swears the foundation was laid. Like others, we can’t wait to see the finishing touches.