Padres scout out their man and hire Preller as GM
Rangers assistant general manager respected for success in international markets
SAN DIEGO -- The Padres introduced new general manager A.J. Preller at Petco Park on Wednesday, signaling what the franchise hopes is the next step in its journey to capture a first World Series title.
Padres team president and CEO Mike Dee and Preller, the 37-year-old assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers, finalized a five-year deal on Wednesday morning in Dallas, then flew to San Diego to join executive chairman Ron Fowler and lead investor Peter Seidler to conduct Preller's introductory news conference.
"For the other teams in the division … today was a bad day," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels. "That may sound brash, but he's very good at what he does."
A COMPREHENSIVE SEARCH
|Larry Beinfest||June 27|
|Logan White||June 30|
|Ray Montgomery||July 2|
|Billy Eppler||July 3|
|A.J. Preller||July 7|
|Mike Hazen||July 8|
|Josh Stein||July 9|
|Kim Ng||July 11|
Preller's hiring concludes a six-week process that commenced on June 22 after San Diego dismissed Josh Byrnes following a 2 1/2-year tenure.
The Padres were seeking a top talent evaluator and someone who could make an impact in the international market. Preller, the Padres' fourth general manager since 2009, fits the bill on both counts.
"All along, the most important characteristic was who was going to be able to bring impact talent to the San Diego Padres organization," Dee said. "I think it was a unanimous consensus amongst Ron, Peter and I that A.J. Preller was the right guy for this organization based on that criteria."
Preller has extensive experience in scouting both at the amateur level and in the international market, and estimates he spent 320 days scouting away from home last year. He is a graduate of Cornell University and former college roommate of Daniels.
"In today's baseball, there's always a lot of talk, 'Are you an analytics guy, are you a player development guy, do you have a scouting background?' " Preller said. "What I hope to bring to this job is the ability to wear a lot of different hats."
Preller was in his 10th season in the Rangers organization, where his most-recent duties were overseeing the team's player-development and scouting departments, though it's in the international market -- Latin America, specifically -- where Preller has distinguished himself.
The Rangers' international program -- populated by such players as Yu Darvish, Rougned Odor, Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar -- ranks among the best in all of baseball. In fact, the Rangers' 40-man roster has Preller's fingerprints all over it.
Preller, who also spearheaded the creation of the Rangers' Dominican Baseball Academy, got his start in baseball as an intern with the Phillies. He worked for Major League Baseball and alongside Hall of Famer Frank Robinson for two seasons, assisting with discipline and time-of-game matters. It was during that time he also worked closely with the labor relations department on salary arbitration. Preller joined the Dodgers in 2003 as assistant for baseball operations, a position in which he got his first taste of the international market in addition to working with professional and amateur scouting and on salary arbitration.
"Over the last 10 years, specifically with the Rangers, I've had a chance to get involved in all areas of scouting and development in the big league club from the ground floor," Preller said. "You look at the best general managers of the past 20 years -- Pat Gillick, John Schuerholz, John Hart, Terry Ryan -- they have the ability to connect the organization from top to bottom."
Across the search process, which consisted of three rounds, eight candidates -- four of whom returned for second interviews -- and more than 100 hours of interviews, Padres executives were impressed with Preller's intimate knowledge of current baseball talent and personnel as well as his vision for the Padres' organizational structure.
"You have to have consistency throughout the organization in terms of how you're going to do things," Fowler said. "I've never been with an individual who understood personnel at all levels of baseball to the extent that A.J. Preller does. It was an unbelievable education in terms of who does what to whom, and how it gets done."
By all accounts, the team decided between Preller and Yankees assistant GM Billy Eppler, a San Diego native. The team chose Preller and Dee flew to Dallas on Tuesday. On Wednesday morning, they worked out the final details of Preller's five-year deal with the team and the two flew back to San Diego in time for his news conference.
Preller, like his longtime mentor, scout Don Welke, is someone who is described as a "field rat." He's an evaluator, through and through. You'd just as soon find him on a back field watching Minor League games as huddled around the backstop in a big league ballpark.
"I cannot think of another GM in baseball who can out-scout him," an industry source said of Preller.
The Padres moved quickly to find a replacement for Byrnes but didn't do so haphazardly.
When Fowler and Dee held a news conference at Petco Park that Sunday in June to announce Byrnes' dismissal, they already had a list of potential candidates, thanks to research conducted by Dee early in the season.
"I think that we have a good list," Fowler told MLB.com on June 24. "Mike has done a very good job talking to people the last two months to identify the bright general managers, assistant general managers and directors of player personnel, and others."
Preller decided to jump at the opportunity in part because of the unique challenge of bringing a World Series championship to the Padres, who entered the National League as an expansion club in 1969. They have reached the Fall Classic twice, losing to the Tigers in 1984 and the the Yankees in 1998.
"That's intriguing to me, honestly. ... I like the notion of that challenge," Preller said. "From the first day I sat down with Ron, Peter and Mike, they made it pretty apparent that they want to do whatever it takes to win a World Series. ... The big stage is not for our prospects to get to the big leagues. The big stage is playing in the World Series when the whole world is watching."
Preller experienced that big stage with the Rangers in 2010 and 2011, though Texas lost both times, to the Giants and then Cardinals. He's confident he can help the Padres take the big leap, though cautioned not to expect immediate, unequivocal success.
"I want Padres fans to understand that it's not going to be smooth sailing from Day 1," Preller said. "But I can promise you we're going to have the hungriest, hard-working group of employees in the game. I feel pretty confident that once we get going in that direction, we're going to be doing some pretty special things here."