MLB announced that Padres general manager A.J. Preller has been suspended without pay for 30 days following the league’s investigation into his team’s shady handling of player medical data. What’s remarkable about this isn’t that a GM has been suspended for concealing medical information about his players from trade partners, but that Preller thought the perceived advantages he gained from doing so were worth ruining his reputation over.
Preller was hired to be the Padres GM in August 2014. Almost immediately, Preller and the Padres went about crafting his image as a young, disruptive, cutting-edge executive. Matt Kemp called Preller a “rock-star GM” during his introductory press conference, Preller referred to himself as a “maverick in the middle of nowhere,” and delivered slick soundbites that could have come from the mouth of someone trying to pitch you on their hot new startup. For example:
“I really want our staff to think about being cutting edge,” Preller said Wednesday at Petco Park. “I look forward to being that type of group, being next-wave, being ahead of the curve. ... Usually when you get an idea or thought that works, within a year 10 other teams are copying that or doing the same thing. That’s why you constantly have to hit on ideas that give you a competitive advantage and, when the competition catches up, hopefully hit on the next idea to take us where we need to get to.”
That quote was given a little over two years ago, and since then the “next-wave” Padres have achieved a record of 136-172. It’s usually fair to reserve judgment on a GM’s performance until he’s had at least five years to reshape the team, but the Padres team that has done nothing but suck shit for two straight seasons is very much Preller’s creation.
So what does being ahead of the curve look like, other than signing James Shields and trading for Melvin Upton and Matt Kemp? For Preller, it seems to involve stupidly breaking rules in pursuit of insignificant advantages. When he was the scouting director for the Texas Rangers, he was suspended for negotiating with a Latin prospect who was himself suspended for lying about his age. And now, he’s lying to trade partners about what sorts of medical treatment his players are receiving.
This sort of thing is stupid in its own right, because baseball is a very small industry, in which trust is very important. Whatever edge Preller picked up with his sketchy behavior has to be weighed against the fact that rival executives are going to be wary of him going forward, something that will have real costs for his team.
What makes it even dumber is how small the edges here seem to be. Sure, sure, information is power and all that, but take the trade that MLB zeroed in on when deciding how to punish Preller was the deal that sent Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox. What was the big medical issue that Preller hid from the Red Sox in order to hoodwink them? Pomeranz was taking “oral medications,” according to Fox Sports.
This is the kind of thing that happens to dipshit GMs who get way too high off their own reputations as forward-thinking innovators: They come to the conclusion that the disruptive, bleeding-edge technique that will take their team to the promised land is lying about the fact that some guy is taking Advil.