SAN DIEGO -- For the third time in his seven-plus years as Padres GM, A.J. Preller has a managerial vacancy to fill.
For perhaps the first time, however, Preller will be approaching that decision with nothing less than a win-now urgency.
"There's a belief that this is a team that's capable of winning a world championship," Preller said Wednesday. "It's my responsibility ultimately to put a product on the field that can deliver on those world championship aspirations. A big part of that responsibility for me is hiring a manager and a staff that is able to execute the organization's vision."
So who will be tasked with executing that vision? Here's a look at some of the most pressing questions surrounding the Padres' managerial search.
Whose decision is it?
It's Preller's. And considering the circumstances, it could be the last managerial hire he gets to make.
The Padres have reached the postseason only once since Preller took over in August 2014, and that came in the shortened ‘20 campaign. Then again, Preller has put a core in place that ownership views as a perennial contender -- a core built around Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham among others.
With that group in place, Padres chairman Peter Seidler has repeatedly expressed his belief in Preller’s vision. Seidler has always been willing to let Preller make his own decisions, and that will almost certainly continue with the next managerial hire (though Seidler’s voice will be heard, and he may be involved in some parts of the process).
In any case, Preller seems to understand the importance of this decision. On Wednesday he was asked whether the blame falls on him for the Padres' shortcomings under his previous two hires, Tingler and Andy Green.
"Ultimately, the responsibility for the baseball product and our team falls on my shoulders," Preller said. "The coaching staff and the manager, that’s all part of it."
What is Preller looking for in his next hire?
The Padres dismissed Green after a second-half freefall in 2019, which prompted many to wonder whether San Diego was in need of an experienced hand to get the most out of its veteran players. Instead, Preller hired Tingler who boasted even less managerial experience than Green.
Two years later, the Padres endured a similar second-half meltdown, in which their veteran players mostly underperformed. Considering those results, it seems likely that Preller would be looking for a manager with previous big league experience who could weather the ebbs and flows of a 162-game season.
Of course, that also seemed likely in 2019, and Preller surprised the baseball world by hiring Tingler. On Wednesday, Preller said managerial experience would factor into his search, though he wouldn’t lock himself into any particular set of candidates.
"Experience is always important," Preller said. "We'll get more into this over the next couple weeks, the factors we'll be looking at. Leadership. Guys that get players to perform. Guys that have expertise. There will be a list of things that the best leaders have. Ultimately we'll be looking at the best and the brightest here over the next few weeks to get this right."
What happens to the rest of the Padres' coaching staff?
Preller said Wednesday that he informed the coaching staff they were free to pursue other opportunities and interview with other teams. That doesn’t necessarily mean the entire coaching staff will be let go. Here’s what it does mean:
Right now, the Padres’ entire focus is on finding their next manager. When they do, their new manager will have the say in hiring the next coaching staff.
“The main focus right now will be on getting a manager and then allowing that manager to look at putting a staff together,” Preller said. “I’m sure there will be coaches that we have in-house that we’ll look at. But ultimately the focus right now is on getting a manager.”
Third-base coach Bobby Dickerson was the only Padres coach under contract for next season. It remains unclear if Dickerson would return. Associate manager Skip Schumaker, hitting coach Damion Easley, first-base coach Wayne Kirby and bullpen coach Ben Fritz (who served as interim pitching coach after Larry Rothschild’s dismissal) are among those whose contracts expired.
Which candidates are being mentioned?
Externally, it's mostly been a rehashing of the same names that were discussed in 2019. Braves third-base coach Ron Washington was a finalist then, and his history with Preller in the Texas Rangers' organization could play a factor.
On the extreme end of the experience spectrum: Future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy is the Padres' all-time wins leader. He hasn't ruled out a return to the dugout after leaving the Giants in 2019. Meanwhile, Buck Showalter led Manny Machado in Baltimore through the ‘18 season.
There's also a possibility that Aaron Boone, a Southern California native with plenty of San Diego ties, is let go by the Yankees. In New York, Boone endured plenty of ups and downs to reach the playoffs in five consecutive years. His experience weathering storms might be appealing, even if his tactics often come into question.
The reality is: On Wednesday, it was far too early to say where the search might lead. Preller will assess all of those possibilities. And a whole lot more.
What is the timetable?
No timetable, Preller says.
"It's more of a situation of just being thorough, going through the process, getting in front of some people we think are quality candidates and making that decision,” he said.
The Padres interviewed about a dozen candidates in 2019, before narrowing it down to a few finalists, which included Tingler and Washington. A decision was made on Oct. 24, and Tingler was finalized as the team’s 21st manager four days later.
It's unclear whether the process will unfold the same way in 2021. The Padres have no major player personnel decisions looming for early November. That could buy them some time. Preller made it clear he doesn't feel constrained.
"It's not anything that we're looking at and saying: It has to be three weeks or it has to be 10 days,” Preller said. “We're going to do what we have to do to get it right."