SAN DIEGO (AP) — A.J. Preller has set the bar high for the San Diego Padres — World Series high.
Preller was hired as general manager on Wednesday after developing a reputation as a hard-working, hard-charging scouting and player development executive the last 10 years with the Texas Rangers. He has extensive international scouting experience, particularly in Latin America.
Preller said at his introductory press conference that it was “intriguing to me that the Padres have had some tremendous players over their history, some All-Stars, some Hall of Fame players, some good clubs, but have never won a World Series.”
The Padres played in the World Series in 1984 and 1998, losing both times.
They’ve been back to the playoffs only twice since 1998, winning the NL West title in 2005-06. They were swept by St. Louis in the playoffs in 2005 and won just one game in the postseason the following year.
Since then, they’ve had only two winning seasons.
Preller joined the Rangers in November 2004 and helped build teams that became perennial contenders. They reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011, losing both times.
Preller, most recently the Rangers’ assistant GM, said it was apparent that the Padres’ top executives, Ron Fowler, Peter Seidler and Mike Dee, want to do whatever it takes to win a World Series.
“It’s a challenge for everyone in the organization, something to look forward to,” Preller said. “You talk about it all the time: You want to play on the big stage. The big stage is not Lake Elsinore, the big stage is not for our prospects to get to El Paso, or our prospects to get to Petco. The big stage is not to get to the big leagues. The big stage is playing in the World Series, with the whole world watching.”
Preller replaces Josh Byrnes, who was fired June 22.
He beat out a field of finalists that included assistant GMs Mike Hazen of the Boston Red Sox and Billy Eppler of the New York Yankees, and Kim Ng, senior vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball. Ng is one of the highest-ranking women in baseball. There has never been a female GM in MLB or any of the other major sports. Ng also interviewed for the Padres’ GM job in 2009 after Kevin Towers was fired. The job eventually went to Jed Hoyer.
The Padres are looking for stability. They’re on their third ownership group since 2009 and Preller is their fourth general manager since then.
Preller said he’s heard himself portrayed “as this maverick out in the middle of nowhere, doing my job. The biggest thing is, can you connect people. That’s what we did with the Rangers and that’s what I want to do with the Padres.”
He said he wants his staff to be “cutting edge, next wave, ahead of the curve.”
Preller confirmed what some in baseball have known, that he was investigated by Major League Baseball for something that happened while scouting in Latin America.
He didn’t want to go into specifics, calling it a “disagreement” between the Rangers and MLB, and that he received what MLB termed “a slap on the wrist.”
“Ultimately MLB cleared us,” he said. “They told me I didn’t violate any rule or anything like that.”
Dee said the Padres looked into the situation before their first interview with Preller. “It was a minor infraction. MLB has completely cleared him and there is no strike on his record whatsoever,” Dee said.
Dee said that whatever the perception is about Preller, his new GM simply works hard and that his passion stood out in all three interviews he had with the Padres.
“This is a guy that eats, sleeps and breathes baseball, and baseball at every level,” Dee said.
In the interview process, Preller was the “difference maker” among the candidates when it came to deciding who would be the best at bringing “impact talent, championship-level talent” to the organization, Dee said.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels said Preller is “about as well-rounded a candidate as you could find” and “a tremendously talented talent evaluator.”
“That’s probably one of the most unique skills in the game,” Daniels said. ” But I think what that misses is just how gifted he is at kind of building a staff, hiring people, creating a philosophy and getting everyone to buy in and feel good about it. He’s done an amazing job here the various departments that he’s run. So I think on a big-picture scale that he’d be a tremendous hire as a GM.”
Daniels said there are “some strong restrictions” on Preller bringing other Rangers executives with him.
Preller and Daniels went to college together at Cornell. Preller played JV basketball at Cornell, and last played organized baseball in high school.
Although the Padres increased their payroll to $90 million this season, they still lag far behind big-spending division rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Although the Padres have been playing better since the All-Star break, they began the day 10 games under .500 and 12 games behind Los Angeles in the NL West.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Grapevine, Texas, contributed.
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