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The Padres are going for it again, but this time it’s different

A.J. Preller has learned from his past mistakes

Pittsburgh Pirates v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The San Diego Padres are the hot team this offseason. ‘Rockstar’ general manager AJ Preller is going for it. The Padres are for real. Look out, Dodgers! These are all things you may have heard being opined this offseason. If it all sounds familiar, it should—these headlines are merely echoes of the ones of the ones we heard in 2015.

That was the year Preller took over the Padres. In his first offseason as the team’s chief decision maker, he wasted no time embarking on the original ‘Prellerpalooza’ when he hoped to flip a 77 win team into a surefire contender almost overnight by bringing in big names like James Shields, Justin Upton, B.J. Upton, Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, Derek Norris and Wil Myers—that offseason’s lone remaining member.

At the time, things looked good for the Padres. Their strong start that spring made Preller look like a genius. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. By the end of the campaign, the Padres were a complete bust. Their offense was 7th worst in baseball, their pitching 5th worst. Their outfield defense was historically bad. Manager Bud Black was ousted. To put is charitably, It was an unmitigated disaster.

To be fair, some of the new players did have strong individual performances that year—Norris and J. Upton were both worth north of 3 fWAR each, and Kimbrel pitched to a 69 (nice) ERA- and had 39 saves. The rest of them, however, combined for just 4.4 fWAR. In all, the Padres scuffled to just 74 wins—three fewer wins than the year before.

It wasn’t long before the team pivoted into full tank mode, selling off the very players they hoped would turn the franchise around. Kimbrel was the first to get traded when he was dealt to the Red Sox, J. Upton was lost via free agency to the Tigers, Shields was dealt to the White Sox seemingly right after giving up that home run to Bartolo Colon, and B. Upton (Blue Jays) and Kemp (Braves) were traded not too long after. Norris actually lasted to the end of the 2016 season, but even he found himself wearing new laundry in 2017 (Rays).

While it’s easy to look back and look at the Padres ‘15 offseason as an obvious failure, many of the narratives that swirled the organization back then certainly rhyme with what is being touted now. Will the new and improved Padres suffer a similar fate?

Spoiler: No.

With the newest acquisition of starting pitcher Joe Musgrove earlier this week, the Friars now boast a rotation that also includes fellow acquirees Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and incumbents Dinelson Lamet and Chris Paddack. A substantial step above the past group which consisted of Shields, Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy and Odrisamer Despaigne. For some context, the rotation the team will be carrying into the ‘21 amassed more combined fWAR (7.3) in the pandemic shortened 60 game 2020 season than the ‘15 group did (5.8) in a perfectly normal, non-pandemic, non-shortened season.

But it’s not just the retooled pitching that is making the masses believers in the Padres. This is a team that just came off of a National League Championship appearance—albeit in an abbreviated, playoff expanded season. This is a team that already had some of the most exciting players in baseball, including the eclectic and budding superstar Fernando Tatis, Jr and $300MM man Manny Machado. Two of the many players brought in to head the new rebuild.

According to FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections, The Padres are the 3rd best team in baseball behind only the Dodgers and Yankees. Unsurprisingly, their starting rotation is projected as the best in baseball, ahead of the Dodgers and Yankees. Meanwhile, they have retained much of their top-tier farm system, including the frontline arm MacKenzie Gore.

Unlike other contending teams who have so far either stayed quiet this offseason or shed assets, the Padres are active. They are, once again, ‘going for it.’ But unlike the first time around, This has been a 5 year, highly calculated project that is reaching the climax, one that is going to be tons of fun to watch. This time, it is for real.

Look out, Dodgers!

Brian Menéndez is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a senior writer for DRaysBay. Additionally, he has been featured in The Hardball Times. You can find Brian on Twitter at @briantalksbsb.