The Moonlight Beach guy burned the candles at both ends to make the San Diego Padres the talk of baseball.
Encinitas’ A.J. Preller, the Padres’ frenetic general manager, pulled multiple rabbits from his brown-and-gold hat.
With a flurry of moves this week, the Padres won Major League Baseball’s annual swap meet.
Now their aim is to reach the World Series and beyond.
Preller sent the Padres fans over, well, the moon by acquiring outfielder Juan Soto, first baseman Josh Bell, closer Josh Hader and all-everything Brandon Drury.
With Preller’s wheeling and dealing, the Padres excited a region without ace Joe Musgrove throwing a pitch.
Musgrove signing a five-year, $100 million deal had the shelf life of a fish taco when Preller stunned the industry.
When you heard that the sensational Soto was San Diego-bound, it was a remember-where-you-were moment if sports is in your orbit. With the Soto rumors turning to speculation and then becoming breaking news, Soto’s arrival delivered a jolt through San Diego County.
If you know, you know what it felt like.
The Soto acquisition was like recalling the moment when linebacker Dennis Gibson swatted down a pass to advance the San Diego Chargers to Super Bowl 29?
Remember Tony Gwynn slapping his 3,000th hit in Montreal? The team’s greatest hitter reached the decorated milestone with his backers leaning on every pitch.
The Soto deal brought back the feelings that those significant San Diego sports moments delivered then and now. Preller’s aggressive play was that grand in snatching Soto, an unbelievable young player the likes of which seldom become available.
The Padres’ moves with the Washington Nationals for Soto and Bell, and with the Milwaukee Brewers for Hader, and the Cincinnati Reds for Drury, weren’t cheap. A boatload of prospects with high ceilings and proven major leaguers went the other direction. And the Padres, if judging by their actions, could care less.
That’s a bit of a stretch because it was a big-time haul that Preller relinquished. But Preller is content to settle with a future Hall of Famer in the 23-year-old Soto, and All-Stars in Bell and Hader. He’s pushed all of the team’s chips to the middle of the table, as well as convincing owner Peter Seidler to keep churning the roster.
Preller shrugged about the expenditure of personnel, asked Seidler to sit down as he explained how much all this would cost, and rolled the dice.
Not only was Preller’s eight-player deal for Soto solid, he went above and beyond to guard against the Los Angeles Dodgers swooping in to snatch Soto. The Padres were set to welcome All-Star pitcher Max Scherzer last summer, only to watch the Dodgers present a sweeter pot.
Maybe Preller overpaid so he didn’t get undercut. That’s to be determined, but what isn’t a mystery is what he’s delivered to title-starved San Diego. It’s nothing short of a summer miracle, which has the Padres dreaming about late October.
The pure-swinging Soto is a world champion, a batting champion and the recent winner of the Home Run Derby. He has career offensive numbers that at this stage fall in line with Hall of Famers.
He’s a generational player and he belongs to the Padres for at least through 2024, so let the good times roll.
The Padres have their rock in manager Bob Melvin.
They have their foundation in All-Star third baseman Manny Machado and the electric Fernardo Tatis Jr., with all indications he’ll return soon.
The rotation is why the Padres have remained relevant. The bullpen woes have been addressed.
Add this up and instead of duplicating last summer’s collapse, the Padres enter the dog days with some pep in their step.
Preller, the guy a couple steps from Moonlight Beach, brought in stars with transactions that will long be remembered.