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Preller made name for himself at '14 Meetings

Rookie GM laid groundwork for three blockbuster deals ahead of 2015 season
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Evidently A.J. Preller wasn't interested in lying low during his first Winter Meetings as general manager of the Padres in 2014.

Sure, Preller and the San Diego front office left their hometown Hilton Bayfront hotel in mid-December without much to show for their efforts. But the moves came fast and furious after that.

SAN DIEGO -- Evidently A.J. Preller wasn't interested in lying low during his first Winter Meetings as general manager of the Padres in 2014.

Sure, Preller and the San Diego front office left their hometown Hilton Bayfront hotel in mid-December without much to show for their efforts. But the moves came fast and furious after that.

Rumors that had begun to surface at the Meetings came to fruition in the next week: Wil Myers to San Diego in a three-team blockbuster with Tampa Bay and Washington. Matt Kemp to the Padres in a five-player swap with the Dodgers. Justin Upton arriving from Atlanta, and Derek Norris from Oakland.

Video: A.J. Preller discusses his extension with the Padres

In a two-day span, all four trades were finalized. Preller, hired that August, had used the 2014 Winter Meetings to set the framework for the busiest week in Padres Hot Stove history.

"Every year is busy -- you always have the five whiteboards going, the different bulletin boards going, you have your room cranking with guys looking at reports and talking about different possibilities," said Preller, discussing that fateful fortnight, which still has a tangible impact on the Padres roster. "You have meetings with agents, with your own baseball ops group, with other clubs, talking about trade possibilities. It's exciting every year, and each year is a little different. '14 resulted in a ton of activity, so that was obviously a little unique."

This week, MLB.com is looking at the most eventful Winter Meetings in history for each club. For the Padres, it's hard to overlook the 2014 edition -- in large part because they went from a roster devoid of stars to one of the offseason's most talked about teams.

The Padres ended the 2014 season with serious question marks, mostly on offense. Over the first two months of Preller's first offseason, he explored a number of minor trades involving players on his current roster. He wasn't impressed by the return in any of them.

By the Winter Meetings, the Padres had added Clint Barmes at shortstop but done little else. That changed rather quickly with the acquisitions of Myers, Kemp, Upton and Norris, all coming Dec. 18 and 19.

"We made a decision that we were going to build with those guys for what was going to be a shorter-term window, understanding that hopefully it worked out," Preller said. "We knew the No. 1 thing was always going to be building the farm system, whether those trades worked or they didn't. We knew we were going to move prospects, but we were also going to get big league value that we could move later on for prospects."

Collectively, those moves never panned out for the Padres, even after they added Craig Kimbrel, Melvin Upton Jr. and James Shields later in the offseason. Only Myers remains in San Diego, and the Padres won just 74 games the following year, parting with former manager Bud Black in the process.

Myers open to move back to OF for good of club

"You learn from everything," Preller said. "The general concept and idea of what we were doing, we still kind of like. We still like the idea of what we were trying to do."

At the time, Preller reiterated that the Padres needed to "trade talent to get talent." A number of their top youngsters went out the door in the process. Trea Turner has thrived in Washington while the Padres remain in search of their shortstop of the future. Max Fried and Zach Eflin were also dealt that week, and both have bright futures on the mound.

But regardless of the opportunity cost, credit Preller for knowing when to cash out. Kemp, Shields, Norris, Kimbrel and both Uptons are gone. In return, the Padres netted big leaguers Manuel Margot and Carlos Asuaje, along with prospects Fernando Tatis Jr., Javier Guerra, Pedro Avila and Hansel Rodriguez, among others.

The questions around that busy offseason linger. But Preller has quieted them by taking a depleted system and turning it into one of the best in the Majors in about 18 months.

"Ultimately, three years later, we're in a position that we knew we were going to have to get to, which was building a foundation and having some quality coming through the system and having some financial flexibility," Preller said. "We got there a little different way than some other teams have done it. But hopefully we're positioned for some success here in the future because of it."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres