SAN DIEGO -- A fascinating managerial search looms in San Diego this offseason, and Padres interim manager Rod Barajas has an eight-game head start on the competition.
Barajas took over managerial duties on Saturday, when Andy Green was dismissed after four years at the helm. There's every indication that Barajas will be among the candidates interviewed by the Padres after the season.
In the wake of Green's departure, Barajas wouldn't look too far into the future. The two are close friends, and Barajas touted Green's impact, particularly on Barajas' game preparation.
"I'm thinking about today right now," Barajas said. "This is kind of a shock to me. I'm still trying to wrap my arms around what’s going on. ... For down the road, I haven’t really thought about it. It’d be an honor if my name were in there. But right now it's day to day with these guys, grinding and getting back to what the Padres are all about."
That being said, Barajas has long been considered a big league managerial candidate. He spent 14 seasons in the Majors as a catcher and spent the past six years in the Padres' organization. From 2016-18, Barajas served as manager at Triple-A El Paso, winning three straight division titles and the '16 Pacific Coast League championship.
Perhaps most importantly, Barajas has already managed more than half of the players on the Padres' active roster, and he's widely revered in San Diego's clubhouse. On Saturday, Barajas did at least concede that he has big league managerial aspirations.
"That was always something that was one of the goals," Barajas said. "I was excited being the bench coach, though. I wasn’t out searching or out trying to find that opportunity. I was all about learning and being in the now, in the moment, and being Andy’s bench coach was how I was going to learn. I’ve learned a ton from him, and I’m excited about my growth as maybe a future manager. But that wasn’t on my mind.
"I’m sure in the offseason when I get to reflect a little bit, I can sit down, I can talk about it. But right now it’s just about taking care of what we need to take care of, these eight games."
This much is clear: There's already a wave of support for Barajas in the Padres' clubhouse.
"He's a team guy," said right fielder Hunter Renfroe, who helped lead El Paso to its 2016 PCL crown before Renfroe's September callup that year. "He loves having fun, he loves competing and he loves his players. That's not saying anything bad about Andy. He loves his players as well. But Rod is a great dude, and I love him to death, and I'm happy to play under him."
Those who know him best described Barajas' managerial style as “smart,” “positive” and “personal.” Barajas, they say, has been an affable presence, even during the team's struggles.
"He's just positive all the time," said catcher Austin Hedges. "He knows how to work with guys. Being a catcher, he knows how to lead, and he knows how to work with people. He did a great job for me when I was in Triple-A, and he's done a great job as bench coach."
Luis Urias -- who has struggled in the big leagues after a wildly successful 2018 season under Barajas -- touted the cross-cultural impact of the Padres' interim skipper.
"He speaks both languages, and I think that's good for the team," Urias said. "For me, as a Mexican guy, I always feel really comfortable going to him and talking to him."
In their exit meetings, Preller said the Padres' staff will listen to the players' concerns regarding their next manager. But those concerns will not necessarily be at the forefront of Preller’s decision making. San Diego has slumped 17 games below .500, and perhaps there's something to be gained from bringing a new voice into the equation.
Plus, Barajas had no big league managerial experience until Saturday night. The Padres expect no shortage of seasoned candidates to be in the mix this offseason -- including perhaps Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon and Bruce Bochy.
It's unclear whether Barajas would remain in San Diego next season if he weren't named manager, but several Padres expressed their desire to have him on board in some capacity.
On Saturday, hours after Green's ouster, Preller wouldn't delve too deeply into the possibilities for next season -- Barajas included.
"We'll sit down here as a group over the next week or so and start to make a candidates list," Preller said. "Rod has obviously had a lot of success in the Minor Leagues and has been a big part of the coaching staff this year."
Perhaps next year, Barajas will find himself at the head of it.