Because the San Diego Padres play out the string in some of the disappointing campaigns in major-league historical past, a membership that spectacularly collapsed two years in the past should once more confront the shakiness of its basis.
Padres president of baseball operations and basic supervisor A.J. Preller continues to show himself to be a gifted evaluator and collector of high-end expertise. His default setting of merely attempting to outwork the competitors, nonetheless, has not at all times sat effectively with managers, gamers, coaches and different group officers.
Many who’ve labored for Preller reward him for his work ethic and eye for expertise. Many additionally criticize him for poor communication and a scarcity of really feel. As one former high-ranking official mentioned, the Padres’ guiding philosophy beneath Preller — if there may be one — would possibly boil all the way down to this: “Do more than everybody else at all times.”
Interviews over the previous a number of weeks with greater than two dozen present and former Padres staff and others in baseball, virtually all of whom spoke on the situation of anonymity in change for his or her candor, revealed deep cultural points that begin close to the highest of the group and, in some instances, filter all the way down to the gamers.
One participant referred to as the season an “institutional failure.” A number of members of the group spoke of a persistent environment of pessimism because the Padres watched their season slip away. And whereas quite a few individuals downplayed or rejected rumors of a dysfunctional clubhouse, the general atmosphere across the group garnered much less constructive critiques.
“It’s the most toxic,” one former staffer mentioned.
A repeated incapability to reside as much as expectations solely exacerbated divisions throughout the franchise. The Padres opened this season with a $249 million payroll — a franchise report and the third-highest within the majors — coming off a run to San Diego’s first look within the Nationwide League Championship Sequence since 1998.
However virtually from the start, the season unfolded like a nightmare. A group that got down to win its first World Sequence title has not been .500 or higher since Could 11. The Padres haven’t been inside 10 video games of the NL West lead since Aug. 5.
An official elimination from playoff competition seems inevitable. Much less clear is how the Padres intend to deal with a bunch of looming questions. What is going to occur with supervisor Bob Melvin, whose relationship with Preller one participant described as “unfixable”? Do the Padres, carrying a trio of mega-contracts, possess the management inside their clubhouse to maintain a profitable tradition? Can a mid-market franchise comparable to San Diego take up a season as disastrous and costly as this one?
The largest query, maybe, is how for much longer the Padres follow Preller, a favourite of proprietor Peter Seidler’s. If Melvin departs, and if Preller is permitted to rent one other supervisor, it could be the GM’s sixth in 10 full seasons, together with Pat Murphy, the interim who changed Bud Black in June 2015.
“You always take responsibility,” Preller mentioned. “You’re leading the group. It’s a results-based industry.”
Seidler offers larger monetary flexibility than some large-market homeowners give their prime baseball executives, but the Padres have had just one successful report in a full season beneath Preller. The Padres’ final three opening-day payrolls ranked in baseball’s prime 10, and the final two within the prime 5. Since 2015, Preller has spent near $200 million between newbie draft picks and worldwide signings, but all of that capital produced solely three All-Stars (infielder Ty France and relievers Emmanuel Clase and David Bednar), every of whom blossomed after being traded away.
Many different prospects have been moved for star-caliber performers comparable to Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Juan Soto. Whereas the arrivals of these gamers helped gasoline the 2022 postseason run, in addition they compromised upper-level organizational depth.
The Padres, by means of Sunday, have the second-best rotation ERA within the Nationwide League, however they’ve suffered from a near-historic mixture of unhealthy luck and poor clutch hitting. Their 6-22 report in one-run video games and 0-11 mark in extra-inning video games each are the worst within the majors. But the Padres’ expertise is such that some consider the group ought to merely strive once more with an identical roster.
“I really do think the same group could come back next year and be the complete opposite, win 100 games,” one participant mentioned.
“We got to see the absolute disaster scenario of this group of players,” a rival govt added.
Nonetheless, how a lot would actually change with no shakeup on the prime? Can the Padres obtain buy-in all through the group so long as Preller stays in cost?
“You can argue he’s one of the best talent evaluators ever in the game,” a former Padres participant mentioned. “But just because you can evaluate talent doesn’t mean you know how to handle people.”
The president of baseball operations
Quickly after the 2017 season ended, Preller made an uncommon rent. Don Tricker, the Padres’ new director of participant well being and efficiency, had come to San Diego from the opposite facet of the world.
Tricker had spent the earlier a number of years as excessive efficiency supervisor for New Zealand’s famed All Blacks, probably the most profitable rugby group of all time. For the Padres, he was at first anticipated to supervise a number of departments, together with the medical and coaching employees and the analytics division.
His supposed function, in a way, was even broader. The Padres have been within the midst of a rebuild, and Preller sought the distinctive perspective of a person who additionally had performed and coached for the New Zealand males’s nationwide softball group and labored within the info expertise trade.
“He was brought in to change the culture,” one former Padres coach mentioned.
To many, although, Tricker grew to become an unsettling presence. He didn’t possess a medical background, and he was rapidly shifted away from analytics oversight as a result of he arrived with a rudimentary data of baseball.
“He may not be the content expert in those areas. That’s why we have … our strength coaches and we have our athletic trainers. That’s their job,” Preller mentioned. “His job is to make sure that they’re asking the right questions, they’re in communication with each other, they’re on the same page big picture-wise.”
Nonetheless, almost six years after his hiring, many present and former Padres gamers, coaches and different staff proceed to precise consternation about Tricker’s obligations. Tricker, particularly early on, frequented the clubhouse and sat in on participant and employees conferences, quietly taking notes. Some consider he’s successfully a spy for the entrance workplace. (The Padres don’t permit entrance workplace staff to talk to the media with out permission.)
“I don’t know what Don does, honestly,” one former entrance workplace staffer mentioned.
“All he was doing was judging,” the ex-coach mentioned. “He never provided any feedback to any coach or player.”
Not everybody had a poor expertise with Tricker. One former staffer mentioned Tricker, as an outsider to the game, commonly posed thought-provoking questions — why, for instance, did the Padres take batting observe that didn’t replicate the depth of in-game pitching?
In accordance with a number of members of the baseball operations division, Tricker initially mentioned he hoped to get staff extra time without work to spend with their households. Nevertheless, these staff mentioned such assurances regularly disappeared whereas Tricker’s boss exerted his affect all through the group.
“Ultimately, I think it all sounds appealing to A.J., and if you don’t get a win, he goes back to the way he’s naturally wired,” one former staffer mentioned. “He’s wired to outwork everybody on the planet.”
That mentality has taken a noticeable toll. Since 2015, Preller’s first full season as basic supervisor, 29 coaches and managers have departed his major-league employees, an irregular quantity of churn in an trade recognized for turnover. In the meantime, Tricker and plenty of different high-paid executives have remained, creating extra distance between the entrance workplace and people in uniform, who generally view Preller’s fixed push for extra pregame work as counter-productive.
A number of individuals interviewed for this story described a scarcity of a coherent message from the highest of the group. “There’s no consistency,” a former worker mentioned. One other former Padres staffer added, “I think the philosophy is, get a bunch of athletes and we’re just going to out-athlete the other team and out-ability the other team.”
Others consult with an absence of typical hierarchy beneath Preller, 46, who has a repute as a micromanager. “A.J. likes to be in charge of everything,” one participant mentioned, citing Preller’s occasional efforts to maneuver away from conventional batting observe and towards extra coaching towards pitching machines. Preller, one former Padres official mentioned, “wants to have a finger on the pulse of his team. He wants to believe in a velo machine before the game if you’re facing a guy throwing 100 mph. He wants to do things differently.”
Preller’s hands-on strategy elicits each irritation and admiration. “I think A.J.’s got just a brilliant mind,” an ex-staffer mentioned. “And it’s always on. It’s always like, how can I incrementally make this roster better?” One other former group official famous that lots of Preller’s ideas to the teaching employees — say, that an infielder take additional floor balls to enhance his vary — weren’t with out benefit. Stated one Padres participant: “Nobody cares about winning and trying to figure this out more than he does. … He’s obsessed.”
However when the Padres fail to win, individuals across the membership say, the identical hands-on strategy can foster a detrimental atmosphere. One former employees member mentioned he had by no means labored in a corporation the place gamers handled as a lot veiled criticism. Some Padres coaches, all through Preller’s tenure, have mentioned they felt nitpicked by the entrance workplace.
“It’s hard to be in a situation where you really want to celebrate with people and win with people who you know, when you’re not doing well, are constantly jumping off the boat,” one former Padres coach mentioned. “They’re blaming you for the leak in the raft.”
“I think A.J. is not great at recognizing the culture cost of him putting his finger on the thumb of the coaching staff,” a former group govt mentioned.
In the meantime, Tricker is just not the one Preller rent whose presence continues to arouse suspicion amongst staffers. Earlier this summer season, former Miami Marlins govt Invoice Masse joined the group as a baseball operations advisor and has develop into a daily presence throughout batting observe and contained in the batting cages at Petco Park — despite the fact that the Padres already had three hitting coaches. Former St. Louis Cardinals supervisor Mike Shildt, now a Padres senior advisor for participant improvement and the key leagues, has been in uniform with the group for many of this season, an uncommon state of affairs for an advisor.
Preller, for his half, mentioned he values a wide range of views. However such preparations, some contained in the clubhouse say, nonetheless result in uncertainty and unease.
“In some senses here, I feel that the finger gets pointed at the next guy,” one participant mentioned. “Instead of, You’re the head of the organization. You need to take the reins of this, implement some sort of structure.”
Added one ex-staffer: “It’s probably more of a case study in management.”
And nowhere is that extra evident than in Preller’s relationship with Melvin.
Melvin, 61 years previous and recognized all through the sport as “BoMel,” was speculated to be the veteran answer, the antithesis of Preller’s earlier three managers — Murphy, Andy Inexperienced and Jayce Tingler — all of whom have been first-timers on the major-league degree.
That is Melvin’s twentieth season as an MLB supervisor. He’s a three-time Supervisor of the 12 months. Upon becoming a member of the Padres in 2022, he guided the group to a wild-card berth and playoff upsets of the New York Mets and archrival Dodgers.
The group’s success masked stylistic variations between Preller, a GM who thrusts himself into the group’s day-to-day operation, and Melvin, a supervisor who’s broadly revered by his present and former gamers for his consistency. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts referred to as Melvin, “a great manager, a great guy,” including that his communication “has been exceptional.” Different gamers echoed these sentiments.
But, because the Padres crumbled this season, the variations between Preller and Melvin created a serious disconnect. The rift between the 2 grew to become one of many worst-kept secrets and techniques in baseball. Melvin declined to remark for this story.
“I have a lot of respect for Bob,” mentioned Preller. “You know, you’re never going to agree on everything. You never have that with anyone in baseball operations. That’s healthy. I think there’s always a healthy debate.”
A number of Padres individuals interviewed for this story described circumstances through which Preller instructed gamers one factor and Melvin instructed them one other. One participant, whereas cautious to not absolve himself and his teammates of blame, likened the state of affairs to a poisonous relationship between dad and mom through which the youngsters endure.
“If nobody’s on the same page and you’re getting two stories from two different people, there is not trust there,” the participant mentioned. “The players are going to feel like, well, who can I confide in? Who can I talk to?”
Preller, within the view of 1 former staffer, tries to be virtually a good friend to gamers, leaving Melvin and his coaches to ship harder messages. An individual who beforehand labored with Preller mentioned, “in Oakland, you had a situation with a GM (Billy Beane) who was at 40,000 feet and let the manager manage. A.J. gets to 40,000 feet, and then he’s down at 10,000 and almost like he’s in the dugout on an ongoing basis. And you can’t be that way.”
Preller’s roster development additionally created difficulties for Melvin. The Padres performed a lot of the primary half with basically just one position-player reserve past the backup catcher. Melvin didn’t have many levers to tug. A lot of the Padres’ regulars play each recreation, and their lineup was basically cemented as soon as Fernando Tatis returned on April 20 from his 80-game suspension for testing constructive for a banned performance-enhancing substance.
That workload maybe contributed to a different divide between the entrance workplace and Melvin’s teaching employees. Preller has lengthy confused the significance of pregame and early work on the sector and within the batting cages, saying, “It’s just about having set game plans and purposeful work and intentful work.” This season, particularly because the Padres spiraled, was no completely different. However that emphasis, in keeping with a number of present and former group members, has been a frequent supply of competition in San Diego — together with earlier than Melvin was employed. With pregame work, particularly within the latter phases of a six-month season, much less typically is extra.
“Sometimes guys run out of gas,” one Padres participant mentioned. “I see it. And sometimes the sad part is they (club officials) see it, too. Why don’t you make adjustments?”
The dearth of total depth was maybe extra of a problem within the bullpen, anchored by its personal star, nearer Josh Hader. Setup man Robert Suarez missed the primary half with elbow irritation. Nick Martinez wanted to maneuver from the rotation to the bullpen in April. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz has not pitched since 2021 due to a number of accidents.
Nonetheless, Melvin has drawn inside criticism for his bullpen administration, in keeping with one former official. The Padres rank twelfth within the majors in bullpen ERA and twenty fifth in save proportion. Their one-run and extra-inning information are maybe attributable to poor luck, however a supervisor’s decision-making can also affect these outcomes. Then once more, Melvin’s groups entered 2023 with a 414-380 report in one-run video games, a .521 successful proportion. In his first season in San Diego, the Padres led the majors with a 30-17 report in these video games.
“It’s hard. Probably the hardest (season) I’ve had because of the expectations that we had as a team,” Melvin instructed reporters final weekend in Oakland. “I feel responsible. I feel accountable for what goes on here.”
The bigger query, maybe, is how Preller pertains to his managers, and whether or not he creates a platform for them to achieve success. The overwhelming proof suggests the reply is not any.
Preller’s relationships with Inexperienced and Tingler additionally deteriorated late of their respective tenures. Now Melvin is likely to be the subsequent to go.
“A.J. is looking for the guy to push the superstars that he acquired,” one former Padres coach mentioned. “And I don’t know who the right guy is to do that. If it’s not BoMel, then who is it?”
Round baseball, the Padres’ clubhouse is perceived to be a fractured mess, residence to massive salaries and larger egos. However group members say the gamers coexist effectively.
“I thought the locker room was going to be a complete s—show,” mentioned one participant who joined the group this season. “That is not the case.”
“We get along together pretty good,” Soto mentioned. “It’s not like people think.”
But, even when gamers usually are not squabbling, a group can lack offensive chemistry. The Padres, for all their potential on the plate, by no means noticed their lineup click on over lengthy stretches. And management questions persist, as they typically do with shedding golf equipment.
To the suggestion the Padres don’t have any chief, one group member mentioned, “Or there’s four and they can’t figure out which one it’s supposed to be and therefore none of them are doing it, so it’s like, ‘Who’s the guy here?’”
The Padres’ “Big Four” all are at completely different phases of their careers. Manny Machado, initially signed in 2019, is within the first 12 months of an 11-year, $350 million extension. Bogaerts, a free-agent addition, is within the first 12 months of an 11-year, $280 million deal.
Tatis, within the third 12 months of a 14-year, $340 million contract, is attempting to revive his repute coming off his suspension. And Soto, acquired in a commerce on the 2022 deadline after he turned down a 15-year, $440 million provide from the Washington Nationals, is eligible totally free company after subsequent season.
Soto, 24, is the one performing the very best on offense, however his unsure future with the membership has left him “guarded,” in keeping with one teammate, and “trying to figure out where he’s at,” in keeping with one other member of the membership. Tatis, 69 days youthful than Soto, is in no place to take command, contemplating his age and the standing he misplaced along with his suspension. Bogaerts, who turns 31 on Oct. 1, can’t be anticipated to personal the room in his first 12 months with a brand new group.
Which leaves Machado, the oldest and most established of the group.
Machado, 31, is just not a basic chief, some teammates say. He’s too temperamental, inconsistent in his habits — versus, say, Adrián Beltré, a participant whom Preller knew effectively from his time with the Texas Rangers. Beltré was a guidepost for his teammates, “cleaning up” no matter points arose within the clubhouse.
Few such gamers exist in right now’s recreation, and Machado serves as a constructive instance in his personal approach. Since 2015, he’s second within the majors solely to Paul Goldschmidt in video games performed.
“I personally think Manny is an exceptional leader,” one former Padre mentioned. “He puts in the work every single day and plays through ticky-tack injuries and shows how important it is just to be on the field.”
“Ultimately, it’s my responsibility that I didn’t play (to the best of my abilities),” Machado instructed reporters Monday at Petco Park. “The real point of this is we didn’t play good baseball, I didn’t play good baseball and we let a lot of people down in the city.”
No matter one’s view of Machado, the Padres absolutely have been conscious of his strengths and weaknesses as a pacesetter after they awarded him his extension in February. Machado already had performed 4 years with the membership, by means of good occasions and unhealthy. As was the case with Melvin, few complained about him in 2022, when the Padres got here inside three wins of reaching the World Sequence.
Management, some with the Padres say, can be a lot much less of a problem if the Massive 4 had simply carried out to their profession norms.
Their collective underachievement, nonetheless, doesn’t totally clarify the Padres’ offensive shortcomings. Some with the membership consider that as a result of the Padres are so star-laden, they don’t play as a unit offensively, focusing extra on particular person efficiency than team-oriented targets. The outline by one group member — “all superstars and no role players” — is likely to be an oversimplification. However quite a few statistics reveal the group’s lack of offensive chemistry:
|Batting common||OPS||OPS rank|
Shut and late
(All statistics by means of Sunday)
Situational baseball is just not their energy.
“That’s what (good offense) is — go up there and try to put the ball in play, try to bring that guy in instead of hit 500-foot homers,” Soto mentioned. “That’s what’s been lacking a little bit, just knowing the moment and the situation.”
“We’ve talked about it, addressed it. Everyone’s aware of it. We’re trying,” one other participant mentioned. “For me it’s almost like, these guys don’t really know how to do it.”
The longer term
Because the Padres accelerated their spending, baseball individuals started asking each other, “How the heck is a team in the nation’s 30th-ranked TV market pulling this off?” The questions persist. The rumors are steady: The Padres are brief on money. Seidler is promoting off items of the membership. The group’s restricted companions are resisting extra capital calls.
Staff officers say none of these statements is true. (Seidler, who’s recovering from a medical process, didn’t reply to a request for remark.) The Padres’ big investments in payroll, they are saying, produced big spikes in native income, fueled largely by booming attendance at Petco Park. The group, commissioner Rob Manfred mentioned in February, can be a revenue-sharing payor for the primary time this 12 months. And whereas payroll is anticipated to drop within the coming seasons, the Padres’ plan remains to be to spend greater than they did up to now. As lately as 2019, their Opening Day payroll was solely $97.2 million.
However for the Padres to maintain attendance excessive, the group doubtless will should be extra aggressive than it was this season. San Diego ranks third within the majors with a mean residence attendance of 40,372, however its surge stemmed no less than partly from the group’s 2022 NLCS look and one other star acquisition in Bogaerts final offseason.
One other concern: The Padres’ native tv income is just about sure to scale back as they shift from a regional sports activities community that was paying them greater than $50 million per 12 months to a nationwide subscription mannequin. Main League Baseball, in response to the Padres’ broadcast associate, Diamond Sports activities Group, declaring chapter, assured the group 80 p.c of its proper charges for this season. However the league’s help solely applies for 2023.
Towards this backdrop, the Padres face a number of potential defections from their pitching employees this offseason, beginning with Cy Younger front-runner Blake Snell, a possible free agent. Hader is also eligible totally free company, and Seth Lugo will be a part of him on the open market if he declines his $7.5 million participant choice. Michael Wacha and Nick Martinez additionally may develop into free brokers.
The Padres have already got $128.4 million in payroll dedicated for 2024, not together with gamers like Soto who’re eligible for wage arbitration. Their annual commitments, in keeping with FanGraphs’ projections, will stay above $100 million by means of 2029. And whereas Preller and Co. proceed to seek out younger expertise — the Padres’ farm system ranked seventh in Baseball America’s midseason rankings — the group might want to hold spending. The system consists of two of Keith Legislation’s top-10 prospects, however its depth stays questionable, in keeping with rival evaluators.
In some unspecified time in the future, the Padres will doubtless have to stability their payroll by conserving extra of their prospects, displaying larger restraint of their spending, or each. Preller, backed by Seidler, has not been inclined to observe both path. And as he completes his ninth full season, the Padres stay extra of a shiny object than a profitable major-league operation.
Preller is the fourth-longest tenured head of baseball operations behind the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, St. Louis Cardinals’ John Mozeliak and Nationals’ Mike Rizzo, every of whom has gained no less than one World Sequence. The 2023 season is just not but over, and two groups have already got made adjustments atop their entrance workplaces.
Seidler, so far, has but to betray even a touch of frustration with Preller. However for the Padres to succeed, former and present gamers and staffers say one thing within the group’s dynamic wants to alter, and that constructing a tradition of belief can be place to start out.
“Every day, it’s something,” one former Padres participant mentioned. “There is an aura of looking over your shoulder there.”
(Prime picture: John Bradford / The Athletic; Photographs: Michael Reaves / Getty Photos; Denis Poroy / Getty Photos; Ronald Martinez / Getty Photos)