After a two-month search, the San Diego Padres on Wednesday introduced AJ Preller as their new general manager, tasked with taking the organization in a new direction that will culminate in a World Series victory.
Preller spent 10 years in the Texas Rangers' front office, the last year and a half as assistant GM. His specialty has been scouting in the international arena; signings of such standouts as pitcher Yu Darvish helped the Rangers reach two recent World Series.
At 37, Preller will be the youngest GM in the major leagues. He's the 10th GM in franchise history, but the fourth in six years. He replaces Josh Byrnes, who was relieved of his duties in June as the team floundered, especially on offense.
The Padres have generally been characterized as a small market team struggling to compete with deep-pocket rivals like the Dodgers and Giants. But new ownership has raised the current payroll to above $90 million, and Preller said it doesn't matter to him.
"Payroll is not an excuse, ever," he said. Preller told Padres ownership his expectations are to compete with bigger budget teams and that his goal is to compete "on the big stage."
"The big stage is to play in the World Series," he said. "That's going to be the mantra here."
Ownership front man Ron Fowler said that was what they wanted to hear. "There was an energy that came through loud and clear," Fowler said of interviews with Preller. "He convinced us he's ready to compete with the big guys,"
Preller, a 1999 honors graduate of Cornell University, has been called a stats geek, ruthless, but also endearing and a maverick. He tried to downplay any of those descriptions.
"I feel like I've had to opportunity to wear a lot of hats," he said, including a stint in the Commissioner's Office. "I think those experiences will serve me very well."
He made clear that he's not into analytics at the expense of scouting, or into scouting at the expense of people skills. His style, he said, will be to combine all those qualities. The best GMs, he said, have had the ability to "connect an organization from top to bottom."
"It's a people game, understanding the makeup of players," he said. Preller added that one of his duties will be to bring in players and front office types "who are championship-level people."
Knowing the Padres' struggles in recent years, Preller said he looks forward to the challenge. It sounds like he'll be busy over the next two months as well as over the winter looking "to add as much talent as possible" to a franchise that hasn't really produced an all-star quality everyday player in years.
"We wanted someone who would be able to bring impact talent to San Diego," team CEO Mike Dee said. "The unanimous consensus (among ownership) was that AJ was the right guy."
Let the games begin.