September 19, 2016

ELDEN | Exploring Conflicting Views of A.J. Preller ’99

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When I began the college search process, during the middle of sophomore year, I started to look for schools in big cities. I have always had an affinity for cities, and I decided that I wanted to find somewhere urban to spend my college years. My poor knowledge of New York geography combined with my urge to go to an academically elite school brought me to Cornell University — which at the time I thought was in New York City. Soon after, I realized it was not where I thought it was, but the school stayed on the list. The Applied Economics and Management (AEM) program at Cornell struck my interest. The youngest person ever hired to my dream job — the general manager of a Major League Baseball team — was AEM alumnus Jon Daniels ’99. Eventually, I compiled my list of universities, and narrowed it down to 20 schools by the end of my junior year.

Days before my senior year started, my hometown baseball team, the San Diego Padres, hired a graduate of Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) program to be their next general manager — A.J. Preller ’99. With Cornell producing several top baseball executives, my desire to attend strengthened. Preller was lauded as one of the most intelligent hires in the game — holding a very aggressive approach that allowed him to skyrocket to relevance. Within the next month, I decided that I wanted to apply to Cornell early decision. I visited and fell in love with the campus, I knew the school was where I wanted to be. The night before the application was due, I changed my mind about what program I wanted to apply to. I had written the majority of my essay for AEM, but I had the epiphany that ILR was a better fit for me.

I had to start my essay from scratch, because I was applying to a different college (within Cornell). This upset my parents, but I finished in under eight hours and submitted it before the deadline. Miraculously, I was admitted to the ILR program at Cornell. In hindsight, I don’t believe that I would have been admitted to the AEM program (and therefore… Cornell in general) if that’s what I had applied for. A.J. Preller and his position with the Padres is the seed that was planted in my head that brought me to the idea to apply to ILR. Arguably, A.J. Preller is the reason that I ended up at Cornell, heavily shaping the last two years of my life.

Preller followed his hiring with two massive overhauls of a consistently mediocre Padres team, first acquiring and signing many experienced and expensive players to try to win immediately. This approach failed in a way. But in another way, it renewed fan interest in the sense that the owners spent enough money to build a sense of trust that had eluded ownership for almost two decades. He flipped the veterans for prospects, building a reserve that far exceeded the talent that he inherited. He became my idol, in terms of how I wanted to shape my career. For the first time as a Padres fan, I felt that the front office was extremely competent.

Preller’s aggressive approach has ruffled some feathers in the past — he served a different one month suspension in the late 2000’s because he attempted to negotiate with an international free agent serving a suspension for lying about his age. The Padres hired him with full knowledge of the situation. This brings us to today. A.J. Preller was suspended for 30 days for concerns surrounding a trade with the Red Sox that sent pitcher Drew Pomeranz to Boston. This is what we know about the situation:

The issue with the transactions had to do with medical records reported to teams in trades.
The Padres and Marlins made a six-player trade at the trade deadline, but part of the deal was reversed after pitcher Colin Rea came out of his first start with the Marlins with an arm injury. Rea was sent back to San Diego in exchange for just-traded pitching prospect Luis Castillo.
The Padres fired long-time trainer Todd Hutcheson before the season, and hired former minor league trainer and sports medicine director for the San Diego Navy SEALS Mark Rogow as a replacement.
After hiring Rogow, the way that the Padres recorded injuries changed. Allegedly, they were keeping two logs of player injuries — an internal log in which minor treatments (such as massages, over-the-counter pain relievers, or acupuncture) were recorded along with the more significant injuries that were reported in the external log. A report by Buster Olney stated that “front office people” from San Diego instructed Rogow to do this.
San Diego did not report to Boston that pitcher Drew Pomeranz was taking an oral medication before the trade, likely Tylenol. The Red Sox (and a few other teams that made trades with the Padres) complained to the commissioners office.

The result of this scandal was that A.J. Preller was suspended for 30 days without pay. He has taken at least some of the blame for this, although it is unclear his direct involvement in the situation. It has personally been hard to stomach, regardless of how much involvement Preller had, that the man I have modelled my entire academic and career focuses after is involved in a scandal that has dragged his reputation through the mud.

Indirectly, I owe so much to A.J. Preller — he inspired me to spend these last two years at Cornell University. I still aim to emulate many qualities of his in my professional career, but I sit here, hoping that his involvement in these possibly underhanded maneuvers was either not intentional or nonexistent. It is very possible that I am wearing rose-colored glasses, as a dedicated Padres fan, a fan of Preller and a student at Cornell. It is my opinion that there currently is not enough information to realistically know where to place the blame at this point.