San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller was suspended Thursday for 30 games without pay by Major League Baseball, hours after news hit that the Padres allegedly withheld player health information in hopes of getting the upper hand in trade discussions.
Details of the Padres’ wrongdoing landed in a story by ESPN’s Buster Olney, which said the Padres allegedly built a special database to document player health details while skirting MLB’s rules about injury information. In essence, the Padres kept two sets of records: One that was incomplete and shared with other teams and another that was complete and kept in-house.
The Padres were called into question because of their July trades with the Boston Red Sox and Miami Marlins, which according to Olney, left teams thinking the Padres were using “strategic deception.”
In its announcement of Preller’s punishment, MLB didn’t comment on the specifics of its probe, saying only:
Major League Baseball has completed an investigation into the July 14th transaction in which pitcher Drew Pomeranz was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Boston Red Sox. MLB’s Department of Investigations conducted the thorough review, which included interviews with relevant individuals from both Clubs. The findings were submitted to Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr.
As a result of this matter, Major League Baseball announced today that A.J. Preller, Executive Vice President and General Manager of the Padres, has received a 30-day suspension without pay.
MLB considers the matter closed and will have no further comment.
Major League Baseball has a central database for player health information, where teams are supposed to keep their notes on injuries. In the event of a trade, doctors for each team trade codes and look at player notes. According to Olney, the Padres started keeping all the important notes in their separate database this year.
At the trade deadline, the Padres traded Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox and Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea to the Miami Marlins. Rea was hurt in his first start with the Marlins and actually returned to the Padres. The Red Sox were angered when they learned about preventative treatment Pomeranz was going through that wasn’t in his Padres notes.
At least three teams complained to MLB, according to Olney, to spur the investigation. It’s the second database scandal in baseball in the last two seasons, as the St. Louis Cardinals were investigated by the F.B.I. for hacking into the Houston Astros’ database that included notes on trade proposals.
How and why did this Padres scandal happen? Olney explains:
Todd Hutcheson had been the Padres’ athletic trainer for 18 years, but the Padres replaced him in February with a new department leader, Mark Rogow, who had previously worked with the U.S. Department of Defense. After Rogow’s hiring, there were a handful of meetings during spring training with the organization’s athletic trainers, for the major and minor leagues.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of those meetings, the staffers were instructed by front office officials to document medical details about players into two separate systems.
The athletic trainers were told to post the details of any disabled-list-related medical situations on MLB’s central system, but they also were instructed to keep the specifics about preventive treatments only on the Padres’ internal notes. One source defined the distinction in this way: If a player was treated for a sore hamstring or shoulder without being placed on the disabled list, that sort of information was to be kept in-house, for use within the organization only.
According to the two sources with direct knowledge of the meetings, the athletic trainers were told that by splitting the medical files into two categories, the Padres would benefit in trade discussions.
At the annual get-together of athletic trainers at the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville last December, MLB officials had informed those in the room that they wanted more medical documentation. Months later, when the Padres’ directive to split the documentation was handed down, there were Padres staffers uncomfortable, according to sources, and within the room, that displeasure was expressed, with athletic trainers saying there would be backlash for this type of filing system.
In a statement to Ken Rosenthal at Fox Sports after his suspension was handed down, Preller said there was no malicious intent on his part and said this will be a “learning process”:
“I accept full responsibility for issues related to the oversight of our medical administration and record keeping. 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.”
This isn’t the first time Preller has been suspended by MLB. When he was in charge of scouting for the Texas Rangers, he was suspended for 90 games after an international player negotiation that broke MLB rules. The suspension was appealed down to the 30 games, but to this day, the details on what caused the suspension are limited.
This new suspension won’t help Preller’s image in San Diego, where he took the GM job before the 2015 season. Preller did a whirlwind rebuild before last season, emptying the farm system to acquire players such as Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and Wil Myers. The Padres disappointed, finishing 74-88. Preller eventually traded a number of the players he acquired before the season.
The Padres front office still believes in Preller, though, telling USA Today’s Bob Nightengale that Preller will return with their “full support” and no further punishment. In a statement of their own, Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler, managing partner Peter Seidler and president/CEO Mike Dee said:
“We accept the discipline handed down from Major League Baseball earlier today and will fully comply with Commissioner Manfred’s recommendations pertaining to changes with our medical administration and record keeping. Rest assured, we will leave no stone unturned in developing comprehensive processes to remediate this unintentional, but inexcusable, occurrence. To be clear, 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. We are obviously disappointed that we will lose A.J.’s services for 30 days, but will work closely with him upon his reinstatement to ensure that this unfortunate set of circumstances does not happen again.”
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