A.J. Preller and the San Diego Padres Just Pulled Off a Stunning Coup

A.J. Preller
A.J. Preller, Seattle Mariners v San Diego Padres | Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

MLB analyst and former big league general manager Jim Bowden took to Twitter on Monday and declared San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller a "rock star" for what he pulled off over the past few days. It's hard to argue with that characterization.

Preller and the Padres spent the last four-plus years carefully stockpiling young talent to form baseball's top farm system. Over the last few days he dealt from the tremendous depth he built to fundamentally remake the Padres in stunning fashion with several enormous deals. The crazy part? Preller and the Padres didn't surrender any of their top four prospects and still likely possess a top-five system.

The Padres landed the top catcher (Austin Nola), and starting pitcher (Mike Clevinger) on the trade market, while also adding a veteran defensive catcher (Jason Castro), upgrading the designated hitter spot (Mitch Moreland) and getting bullpen help (Trevor Rosenthal, Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla). For all of that, they surrendered just one top 100 prospect, 22-year-old outfielder Taylor Trammell. That's simply incredible, especially considering Nola, Clevinger, Moreland, Altavilla and Adams are all under team control beyond this season. This wasn't just about 2020-- most of the guys San Diego landed will be there for a while.

The Padres finished their massive overhaul on Monday by acquiring Clevinger from the Cleveland Indians. Clevinger has an ace-level arm, and he's under team control for two more years. The 29-year-old righty can go toe-to-toe with any frontline starter in the big leagues. He was stellar in 2019, going 13-4 with a 2.71 ERA across 21 starts. That followed a 2018 campaign where he went 13-8 with a 3.02 ERA and 207 strikeouts in 200 innings. He'll immediately slot in as the Padres' No. 1 starter.

While San Diego sent a lot of players east in exchange for him, there were no top 100 prospects involved. That's not to say the Indians gave Clevinger away, but the haul didn't include a true top prospect. San Diego's farm system was so deep the Indians wound up getting some solid pieces regardless.

Somehow through all these deals with a ton of players shuttling in and out, Preller managed to hold on to all the real value on his major league roster, while shielding his blue chip prospects. MacKenzie Gore, the top pitching prospect in baseball (No. 5 overall on MLB Pipeline's top 100), C.J. Abrams (No. 26), Luis Patino (No. 28) and Luis Campusano (No. 54) are all still in the system. As are Robert Hassell (No. 85), and fringe top 100 guys like lefties Adrian Morejon and Ryan Weathers.

In the end, the depth of San Diego's farm system facilitated all of this. This is why Preller spent so much time over the past few seasons trading for prospects, making international signings and taking risks during the draft. He built an absolute juggernaut of a system he could deal from when the time came. He certainly gave up a lot of talent over the past three days, but other than Trammell, no one truly fit into the team's future plans.

The Padres currently have the third-best record in the National League and Preller made them much better this weekend. This was the plan all along: build depth then deal from it when needed. The stunning part is that he didn't need to deal the best pieces he had.

The Padres are making a World Series push for 2020 and beyond, and it's all because of the careful planning and execution of A.J. Preller. Rock star indeed.