San Diego Padres General Manager A.J. Preller was suspended by Major League Baseball on Thursday for 30 days without pay, and though MLB did not publicly specify the reasons why the 39-year-old Preller was hit with the disciplinary action, a report by ESPN.com says that Preller and the Padres systematically hid player medical records from other teams — a violation of standard MLB procedures.
According to ESPN.com reporter Buster Olney, teams feed medical information on players into a central database that becomes accessible to other teams looking to make trades or sign free agents. Any time a player receives treatment of any kind — even soaking in a therapeutic hot tub in the trainer’s room — that information is supposed to be recorded and uploaded to the centralized MLB database.
But under Preller, who was hired by the Padres in August of 2014, the Padres allegedly maintained two separate medical record-keeping systems — the central MLB database, and their own, internal database that was not shared with other teams.
Though he is the second-youngest GM in baseball, behind Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels — who was Preller’s college roommate at Cornell University — his suspension is not the first time Preller has been in trouble with MLB.
Here’s what you need to know about the Padres’ GM and the latest disciplinary action against him.
1. Preller Was Suspended Over The Trade Of Pitcher Drew Pomeranz
On July 14, Preller dealt 27-year-old lefty starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox in a one-to-one deal for Boston’s top minor-league pitching prospect, Anderson Espinoza, an 18-year-old righthander from Venezuela. Preller had only just acquired Pomeranz from the Oakland A’s in December, though he didn’t give up much to get Pomeranz, surrendering only journeyman pitcher Marc Rzepczynski and light-hitting first-baseman Yonder Alonso.
But according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, what Preller and the Padres did not disclose to Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski, or enter into the central MLB medical database, was that Pomeranz had been taking an oral medication of some kind — and that other Padres players were also taking medications without being listed in the MLB database.
On Saturday, September 17, ESPN.com reported that the medication was designed to treat “discomfort” in Pomeranz’s pitching elbow, but the Red Sox did not learn about the malady until after the lefty joined their staff — and Espinoza was gone to the Padres.
Pomeranz has been a mediocre performer for the Red Sox in his 11 starts since the trade from San Diego, compiling a 2-5 record with a 4.60 ERA — notably higher than his career ERA of 3.78 and even more markedly worse than his ERA in 17 San Diego starts of 2.47, a record that made him one of the most sought-after starting pitchers on the mid-season trade market this year.
Whether Pomeranz’s dropoff in Boston has anything to do with whatever condition the oral medication was treating is impossible to determine. The medicine was a “preventative” treatment, according to Olney’s earlier report.
The Red Sox are unlikely to receive any form of compensation for the Pomeranz trade, Rosenthal reports.
Dombrowski declined to comment on Preller’s suspension. However, Tom Werner, co-owner and chairman of the Red Sox, said on Friday that the club was “extremely disappointed” in the relative leniency of Preller’s suspension.
“We feel that some wrong was committed and it’s important to have a level playing field, and the Padres didn’t play on it,” Werner said.
2. This Is The Second Suspension For Preller
Preller, who grew up on Long Island, New York, as a fan of the New York Yankees, was the Texas Rangers’ director of international scouting before the Padres hired him as their general manager.
It was in that job that he was hit with his first suspension by MLB, for communicating with the agent of an overseas prospect who was himself under suspension for lying about his age, according to a CBS Sports account.
The Padres were also handed a reprimand by MLB in 2014, shortly after they hired Preller, for conducting a player workout that did not comply with baseball industry rules.
But Preller has always been a controversial figure in baseball, described as “odd” and “eccentric” by one fellow MLB exec who spoke to The San Diego Tribune, whose reporter Tom Krasovic said that while working for the Rangers, Preller “wouldn’t win a popularity contest among MLB scouts.”
Fox Sports’ Rosenthal described Preller, in a piece reporting on the GM’s latest suspension, as a baseball exec who “lived on the edge,” and said that the Padres “got what they paid for” with Preller, hiring him despite his past transgression.
“The damage to Preller’s reputation — and by extension, to the Padres’ image — will be difficult to repair,” Rosenthal wrote.
The Padres were fined an undisclosed sum by Major League Baseball over the Pomeranz deal, as well.
3. He Denies Any Intentional Wrongdoing In The Pomeranz Trade
“I accept full responsibility for issues related to the oversight of our medical administration and record keeping,” Preller said in a prepared statement on Thursday. “I want to emphasize that there was no malicious intent on the part of me, or anyone on my staff, to conceal information or disregard MLB’s recommended guidelines. This has been a learning process for me. I will serve my punishment and look forward to being back on the job in 30 days.”
“To be clear,” the team added in its own, separate statement, “we believe that there was no intent on the part of A.J. Preller or other members of our baseball operations staff to mislead other clubs.”
Major League Baseball, in its own statement, said that it considers the “the matter closed” in its investigation of the Pomeranz-for-Espinoza deal. But according to Olney’s report, Preller and the Padres may not be out of hot water with the MLB Commissioner’s office just yet.
At least three teams who have made deals with the Padres were described by the veteran ESPN reporter as “enraged” after dealing with the Padres, over what they perceived as “strategic deception” by Preller and other Padres team officials, who were not transparent with players’ medical records, the other teams believe.
Most teams will have an average of 60 entries in the central MLB medical database by the All-Star break each season, according to Olney. But this year under Preller, the Padres had only 10.
4. Another Preller Trade This Year Was Also Mired In Controversy
On July 29, three days before this year’s MLB non-waiver trading deadline, Preller dealt 26-year-old right-handed pitcher Colin Rea to the Florida Marlins as part of a seven-player swap. But in his first start for the Marlins, Rea didn’t even make it through four innings, forced out of the game by an elbow injury.
And in an even more curious development, on August 1, the Padres agreed to take Rea back — technically as part of another trade that returned righty Luis Castillo to the Marlins. But Marlins President of Baseball Operations Mike Hill said that both teams had swapped medical records on the players in the initial trade. Preller faced no discipline despite the highly unusual step of reacquiring an injured player just three days after trading him away.
“The whole system has to be built on trust, to some degree,” an unnamed baseball official told ESPN.com. “You can’t have teams withholding medical information in a baseball trade any more than you have a car salesman not disclosing vehicle history. It can’t work. It’s about the integrity of the system.”
No MLB general manager has ever been suspended for withholding medical records, Rosenthal reported.
5. He Is Described As ‘Born To Be A General Manager’
When the Padres signed Preller to a five-year contract in 2014, though he had never served as a GM before, it was the culmination of a remarkably focused career path, according to those who know him.
While still in college at Cornell, Preller in 1998 took a job as an intern in the ticket sales department for the Philadelphia Phillies. After graduating, he took an unpaid position with the Arizona Fall League and after quick stops working for the MLB offices and for the Los Angeles Dodgers, joined the Rangers organization just five years out of school, becoming international scouting director and assistant GM.
But even as a kid, according to a profile in the Long Island newspaper Newsday, Preller was obsessed with the inner workings of baseball, videotaping Yankee games and watching while filling out a scorecard and taking meticulous notes.
“It was just something I liked doing,” Preller told Newsday. “It may sound strange, but I just felt like I was more into the game if I was keeping score and taking notes.”
The Newsday profile described Preller as “born to be a general manager.”
Unmarried and with no children of his own, Preller has four nephews — but rarely makes time for visits back to Long Island. His major form of recreation is early-morning pickup basketball.
So has Preller ruined his lifelong dream with his unprecedented 30-day unpaid suspension? Baseball experts say no. Though other teams may be wary of Preller, the impact of his discipline over the Pomeranz trade will be little if any for the simple reason that, as one exec told Rosenthal, “teams need good players.”