Preller preps for crucial offseason as Padres' manager hunt begins

October 25th, 2023

SAN DIEGO -- Hardly an hour after Bob Melvin first donned a Giants jersey at his introductory press conference in San Francisco on Wednesday, Padres general manager A.J. Preller addressed reporters from his Petco Park office via Zoom.

Last week, Preller had permitted the Giants to interview Melvin for their managerial vacancy. When those two sides came to an agreement, Preller suddenly had his own vacancy to fill. And while Preller was peppered with questions about why things didn't work with Melvin, he clearly aimed to shift the focus forward.

"We're super excited about the process,” Preller said. “We know we've got a really talented roster and some great players. Our attention shifts, as soon as today, to going and finding a manager that we feel is going to connect with those players and shares the passion and thirst that our fanbase has to bringing a championship here to San Diego."

Who are the early candidates?
Two names have already risen to the forefront: Mike Shildt and Ryan Flaherty.

Shildt has spent the past two seasons as an advisor in the organization, and he worked very closely with the big league club in 2023. He spent three-plus seasons as manager in St. Louis -- including an NL Manager of the Year Award in 2019 and a playoff run in '21 in which the Cardinals overtook the Padres late in the season. Shildt is clearly highly regarded within the organization and has expressed a desire to manage again.

Flaherty, meanwhile, is in search of his first managerial job, though he's been viewed as a potential future manager since his arrival in San Diego. After an eight-year big league career, the bulk of which was spent playing alongside Manny Machado in Baltimore, he's spent the past four seasons on the Padres' staff. Most recently, Flaherty served as Melvin's bench coach and hitting coordinator, in charge of running the team's offense.

Sources confirmed that the team plans to interview both in the coming days.

Will the Padres look at external candidates?
Yes. And while much speculation is that the hire will come internally, Preller left open the possibility that it might not.

“We have some candidates that we're going to sit down with here as soon as today that we feel strongly about and are really well-qualified,” Preller said. “I can just tell in the first 24 hours, though, there's a lot of interest in this job. We've had some very interesting names and some people that are very accomplished that have expressed interest in this job. Really, it's a testament to our team, our roster, the talent that's here.”

It's unclear which outside candidates are on the Padres' interview list. (Worth noting that Shildt was among the external candidates interviewed for the manager's job in 2021 before San Diego ultimately hired Melvin.)

How are things different with this hire?
As reports of discord between Preller and Melvin emerged, Preller downplayed the idea that he wasn’t on the same page with his manager. On Wednesday, for the first time, Preller seemed to acknowledge that the fit between the two was never quite right (though he still pushed back on the idea of major disharmony).

So where did it go wrong? Preller noted that he felt Melvin never quite fully adapted to his new organization after his time in Oakland. Perhaps Melvin never felt fully comfortable working with the team’s front office. For that, Preller shouldered some blame.

“From my own standpoint, did I make it easier? How can I do it a little bit different to make sure that the manager feels comfortable?” Preller said. “… Making sure that everybody’s on the same page and communicating, that’s probably my biggest job. As we go forward to the next manager, we’ve got to make sure we have somebody that, from that standpoint, is wanting the best information, wanting to use our resources. … That’s something we’ve got to really focus on to make sure we nail that.”

With Preller set to hire a third manager in five offseasons, he says there are lessons to be learned.

“I’ll constantly look back and say, ‘Hey, how can you do this different and what does it look like?’” Preller said. “Because you want to hire a really talented person, and hopefully they’re here for a decade.”

What are the stakes for Preller?
In no uncertain terms, it's a critical hire for Preller, whose current contract runs through the 2026 season. And not only because his next manager will be his fifth in 10 full seasons in San Diego. While Preller undoubtedly understands the personal stakes, he insists the real stakes are organization-wide.

"We have players that are capable of playing on the big stage and taking this franchise to its first championship," Preller said. "So there's always that urgency. There will be urgency in the process this offseason about wanting to get it right."

Indeed, the Padres will bring back the core of a roster that they feel can contend for a World Series. Preller is now tasked with finding the right person to lead that group.

"Somebody that, when we look up here at the end of the year, we're back here playing in October," Preller said. "That pursuit starts today. We're looking forward to getting started."