Video Game GM: This Winter We Are All A.J. Preller

In the name of efficiency, I am the world’s greatest general manager. Back in the days of MVP Baseball 2004 2005 — when the concept of a franchise mode was first being introduced on non-N64 consoles — I was always the one to get a new team, immediately sell off expensive, aging veterans, and replace them with Baseball America top-100 prospects (which they featured in video games ten years ago!). When the consoles began to advance from Play Station 2 and XBox to the ones we know today, and, when the MVP Baseball franchise died off and MLB: The Show and the 2K series jumped off, my concept of running a video game franchise remained the same. Simple.

I sold off veterans, tanked for a year, then those young 5-star potential players got older and better and I would dominate the league. Five or six seasons down the road, they would get expensive, and I would trade them too.

Even as a teenager I didn’t look at what I was doing like it was postmodern. I just liked to have money, and I’ve always liked prospects more than the actual players. Once my teams were good I got bored. I wanted all the first round picks and I wanted 30 of the top-100 prospects. My teams were always really fucking good.

A.J. Preller, the new San Diego Padres GM, is applying the opposite blueprint. Forced into a shitty major league franchise with annual bottom-third payrolls, he is selling off almost all of his expendable prospects parts to get proven, more expensive big league entities.

At the beginning of August I wrote about Preller, as he was one of Rangers’ GM Jon Daniels’s right-hand men in the front office, saying:

In the meantime, the Padres made an excellent hire, and Jon Daniels now has himself an ally on the west coast in the opposing league. It would have been ideal to keep this juggernaut front office together as long as possible, but Preller’s hire is a national sign to what many of us have been thinking for quite a while now: Texas have an extremely intelligent, high-level front office, filled by a plethora of coveted minds and personalities.

It’s only been a shade over four months, and Preller is already leaving his mark.

Thus far he’s acquired outfielders Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Wil Myers (Tampa Bay), Justin Upton (Atlanta), 3B Will Middlebrooks (Boston), and went hard after big-ticket free agent Pablo Sandoval and hot Cuban name Yosmany Tomas.

When nearly all of the baseball world was under the assumption Preller would strip down the Padres to its bear-bones form, start over completely, he has crafted San Diego into a club with at least a shot at competing for one of the two NL Wild Card spots.

The best part, at least for impatient baseball fans like me who love seeing trades, is A.J. isn’t close to being finished. With the additions of Kemp, Myers and Upton, the Padres have a ridiculous surplus of outfielders. At least two of Cameron Maybin, Seth Smith and Carlos Quentin will be on the move at some point between now and opening day, helping Preller restock some of the farm system he has lost.

However, like Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News tweeted earlier, it isn’t that much of a surprise that A.J. has shipped off so many prospects so early on in the process. Since they aren’t his prospects. With the benefit of a semi-formidable top-3 in his rotation (Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, Ian Kennedy), Preller has also retained his top-3 prospects (Hunter Renfroe, Matt Wisler, Austin Hedges), meaning he still has parts to deal to improve the club if he wants to make a run at a top-of-the-rotation pitcher like Cole Hamels.

I think Preller has already brought San Diego into the low end of 80-plus win territory, but there are still holes to fill, notably at shortstop and first base, depending on how the franchise decides to organize their bundle of outfielders. If they choose to keep Maybin in center, they could get creative and play Kemp and Upton at the corners and eat some defense with Wil Myers at 1st base, who would be a significant offensive upgrade over the inept Yonder Alonso (.240/.285/.397, 93 wRC+).

Either way, more deals are to come.

It isn’t how I would operate in a video game, but it’s effective in symbolizing a return to relevance for the Padres. And let’s face it, fans love this shit.