SAN DIEGO — There is the catcher his senior research and development analyst kept bugging him about and one member of his inner circle’s dad vouched for.
There is the second baseman a couple of his scouts insisted was going to be better than people expected.
There is the young center fielder he and his staff believed was for real that they got in exchange for an infielder they no longer were certain about.
He tried to get the new left fielder a couple years ago. He met the newer left fielder 12 years ago in Curacao and brought him in this year to be an infielder. He was able to acquire the corner infielders because he knows how to convince his bosses to open their wallets a little wider and because the market was right.
And he listened to his director of baseball operations when he came back from seeing a 17-year-old shortstop and said, “He could be a big piece for us down the road.”
This is how a playoff team gets built. Or at least how A.J. Preller put the finishing touches on this one.
The Padres on Sunday passed the first marker on the road to where they said their process would take them. For all the twists and turns, they arrived about on schedule. The team with the second-worst record in baseball over the past nine years had been trending upward for a bit. So that they qualified for the playoffs is not all that surprising.
But who knew this new kind of Padres team would literally be so new?
No one. Not even the architect. No chance.
“When we started it, there’s no way to predict,” said Preller, who was hired as Padres general manager in August 2014. “We’ve had so many variations. … We’re constantly whiteboarding it, going to the next idea, the next idea in terms of what we’re trying to do big-picture wise.”
This is what he did know when the Padres embarked in late 2015 on a quest to build up an organization by tearing it down:
“The starting point is you try to build talent,” Preller said. “You need a lot of quality players. That was really the formula when we started out five years ago. That was the goal. We knew if you’re going to win at the major league level, you need a lot of talented players. From there, it gives you options, different paths you can go down.”
Preller says “we” a lot when talking about decision that get made concerning the Padres. His “we” is more vast than people might imagine, and it includes but is not limited to senior adviser Logan White; Chuck LaMar, the former Rays GM and a scout Preller relies on; scout Keith Boeck and R&D (analytics) analyst Dave Cameron. There is also international scouting director Chris Kemp, amateur scouting director Mark Conner and professional scouting director Pete DeYoung. And integral to the functioning of it all are baseball operations director Nick Ennis and assistant GMs Josh Stein and Fred Uhlman Jr., who pay attention to procedures and numbers that Preller doesn’t.
“It’s a fun group,” Preller said. “We like each other. We have spirited discussions.”
Where all that ink on the dry erase boards and the lists and hundreds of hours of debate and thousands of hours of scouting have led is a 28-man roster that as of Sunday had 17 players in their first season with the Padres. Seven have been in the organization for three weeks.
Dinelson Lamet (2017), Wil Myers (2015) and Craig Stammen are the only players who have been on the major league roster since before the 2018 season.
While the outside world was wondering how all those prospects were going to fit on the Padres in the future, Preller and his crew were figuring out how to turn some of them into players who could make an impact right now.
“The most valuable thing in the game today is quality young players and talent,” Preller said. “That’s always going to be our goal — to make sure we have as many good young players as we can have. One reason is it allows you to make trades. The bigger reason is we expect a lot of those guys to come up and be big parts of the Padres. … When you have attractive players, it gives you access to some of those type of deals. You identify guys and say, ‘What’s going to help us win at the major league level?’ ”
Here is a look at the roster (including players who have contributed this season and/or are expected to be on the postseason roster) and how it was assembled.
— RHP Craig Stammen (December 2016): After spending the 2016 in the minors while coming back from a shoulder injury, he signed to a minor league deal and earned a spot in spring training and has pitched in more games than all but five other relievers in the majors since then.
— 1B Eric Hosmer (February 2018): When he signed for eight years and $144 million, it was the most money the franchise had ever committed to a player. Landing the four-time Gold Glove winner and World Series champion was the first signal the Padres were trying to accelerate their rebuilding process.
— INF Greg Garcia (November 2018): Since joining his hometown team, his .429 on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter leads the majors (min. 50 plate appearances).
— RHP Garrett Richards (December 2018): Signed a two-year, $15.5 million deal while just 4 1/2 months into Tommy John rehab. This was before the emergence of Chris Paddack and the re-emergence of Lamet, so the thought was the investment was worth it for a pitcher who had been dominant before battling injuries.
— 3B Manny Machado (February 2019): The biggest investment (10 years, $300 million) in franchise history and one of the biggest by any U.S. professional sports team. The largest free-agent contract in history when he signed. As expensive as Machado was, the Padres pounced in a year when many of the big spenders were sitting out.
— LHP Drew Pomeranz (November 2019): The four-year, $34 million deal was seen as pretty steep, but the Padres knew they needed help at the back end of the bullpen. They knew him from his time here in 2016, when he was a starter, and got to see him up close as a reliever when the Padres played him in last September. Among the various factions on his staff for which Preller relies on for counsel, signing Pomeranz was unanimous.
— RHP Pierce Johnson (December 2019): He was headed back to Japan when the Padres called. Hideo Nomo was among the Padres employees that lobbied for the reliever, who had experienced an uptick in velocity to go with an improved curveball.
— LHP Joey Lucchesi (June 2016): The fourth-round pick became the first pitcher from his draft class to make the majors, in 2018.
Rule 5 draft
— RHP Luis Perdomo (December 2015): A holdover from Preller’s experimental phase. Perdomo continues to tease with period of being highly effective followed by bouts of being unable to get outs.
— RHP Dinelson Lamet (June 2014): A little more than a month and a half before Preller was hired, the Padres signed the 22-year-old out of the Dominican. Lamet, who this year seems headed for a top-three finish in the National League Cy Young voting, is the lone remaining player to not have been brought into the organization by Preller.
— LHP Adrian Morejon (July 2016): The Cuban was the marquee signing the team’s 2016 international spending spree, Morejon’s $11 million bonus was almost three times more than the club had ever given an international free agent.
— OF Jorge Ona (July 2016): Another Cuban component in the 2016 haul, signed for $7 million.
— OF Wil Myers (December 2014): Among the first deals made by Preller, this three-team trade sent Trea Turner to Washington.
— RHP Javy Guerra (November 2015): The only remaining player from the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox. Logan Allen, Carlos Asuaje and Manuel Margot are gone. Guerra has been converted from shortstop to one of eight pitchers in the majors to top 101 mph this season.
— SS Fernando Tatis Jr. (June 2016): The Padres sent starting pitcher James Shields and the promise of $31 million to the White Sox. What they got was $28 million in relief from the remainder of Shields’ contract, a minor league starter named Erik Johnson and the son of a former major leaguer who had yet to play in the minor leagues. Preller had not seen Tatis play since the team scouted him a year earlier before the international signing period. Ennis, DeYoung and scout Spencer Graham went to watch him work out and Ennis reported back that the kid would fit in well in their plans.
— RHP Chris Paddack (June 2016): The Marlins were desperate for a closer. The Padres had Fernando Rodney.
— LHP Matt Strahm (July 2017): The Padres sent a decent cache of pitchers to the Royals to get Strahm, who was recovering from knee surgery and wouldn’t pitch until the next season.
— CF Trent Grisham and RHP Zach Davies (November 2019): The Padres had a young infielder named Luis Urias for whom they no longer had a place. The Brewers felt their outfield was set with veterans, and they didn’t really see Grisham as a center fielder. The Brewers also wanted a left-handed pitcher, and the Padres had an extra one. So the deal got done to send Eric Lauer to Milwaukee while Davies joined Grisham on the way to San Diego.
— INF/OF Jurickson Profar (December 2019): As an assistant GM with the Rangers, Preller was instrumental in signing Profar in 2009. Tingler worked with Profar in Texas as well, and they got him from Oakland in exchange for catcher Austin Allen.
— LF/DH Tommy Pham and INF Jake Cronenworth (December 2019): Entrenched in Cooperstown after Trevor Hoffman’s induction ceremony at the trade deadline in 2018, the Padres almost had a deal with the Cardinals that included Pham. The Rays got him instead. Watching him post a .385 on-base percentage made the Padres want him even more. So they packaged Hunter Renfroe, highly touted prospect Xavier Edwards and minor leaguer Esteban Quiroz to the Rays for Pham and Cronenworth. It was Boeck who pushed hardest to get Cronenworth, now the leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year.
— RHP Emilio Pagan (February 2020): With Grisham having rendered Margot a utility outfielder, the Padres found a trade partner in reliever-rich Tampa Bay.
— INF/OF Jorge Mateo (2020): The player the Padres gave up to take a flier on the longtime minor leaguer has not been announced.
— LHP Tim Hill (July 2020): The reliever was acquired from Kansas City days after left-hander Jose Castillo went down in summer camp with a lat strain. The Padres sent outfielder Franchy Cordero to the Royals.
— RHP Trevor Rosenthal (2020): With Kirby Yates shelved by elbow surgery, the Padres needed a closer. So they moved another of their excess outfielders, Edward Olivares, to Kansas City.
— 1B/DH Mitch Moreland (August 2020): The Padres sent two of their top 30 prospects, Jeisson Rosario and Hudson Potts, to Boston for the veteran.
— C Jason Castro (August 2020): The cost for a new backup catcher was hard-throwing, strike-challenged reliever Gerardo Reyes.
— C Austin Nola, RHPs Dan Altavilla and RHP Austin Adams (August 2020): The Padres wanted to upgrade offensively at catcher and had been eyeing Nola for some time. Cameron had been particularly adamant he would be a good fit. Further, special assistant A.J. Ellis was a catcher for the Marlins when that organization was converting Nola to catcher. And for some final fact checking, Preller leaned on pro scouting manager Preston Mattingly, whose father, Don, is the Marlins manager. In the deal that got them two intriguing bullpen arms, the Padres parted with top-five prospect Taylor Trammell and major leaguers Ty France, Luis Torrens and Andres Munoz.
— RHP Mike Clevinger and OF Greg Allen (August 2020): In the kind of trade that can define a GM’s tenure, because of its potential to be the difference between contending and championship, the Padres sent three prospects ranked among their top 11 (Gabe Arias, Joey Cantillo and Owen Miller) along with three major leaguers (Austin Hedges, Josh Naylor and Cal Quantrill) to the Indians for a starting pitcher who has ranked among the top 10 in the majors in virtually every category over the past three seasons.
©2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune