During the winter of 2015, two teams in the westernmost division of the Senior Circuit put up "Under New Management" signs.
The San Diego Padres recruited the highly touted, highly regarded, well-respected, and generally revered A.J. Preller: The mastermind behind the transformation in Texas from laughing stock to perennial playoff participants.
The Colorado Rockies promoted Jeff Bridich from within an organization that far too many of it's fans have lost faith in, making the task that lay before him that much more daunting. Add to that the fact that this is his first time as the general manager of a major league ballclub, the fact that he is young for the job, and the persistent chorus of voices who deem him a Dan O'Dowd clone -- and deem Dan O'Dowd the devil -- and you begin to understand the pressure there was on Bridich to do ... something.
Meanwhile, a whole lot of something was going on in San Diego.
Immediately, it became clear to their respective fan-bases and to the baseball world that these two men would be taking very different approaches: Preller trying to win now, Bridich focusing on the future.
Preller quickly dismantled the farm system, erasing more than two generations of work by failed General Managers. He wasn't shy in moving former Tommy John survivor Joe Wieland and Single A standout Zach Eflin, two of his top 20 prospects. Next to go was top bullpen prospect RJ Alvarez, the crowned jewel of the Huston Street trade. MiLB Offensive Player of the Year (as voted by the fans), Mallex Smith, and #35 of the MLB's top 100 prospects, Max Fried, Dustin Peterson, and Jace Peterson were all dealt in exchange for a one year rental in Justin Upton. To top things off, four more top 10 prospects in Burch Smith, Joe Ross, Jake Bauers, and Trea Turner were all sent packing in the Wil Myers deal.
This "dismantling" doesn't even include the shipping out of Reymond Fuentes, Jesse Hahn, Jordan Paroubeck, and Matt Wisler.
In exchange for what appears to be the the entire farm system (hyperbole) the Padres received Matt Kemp, Craig Kimbrel, Derek Norris, Justin Upton, Wil Myers, Will Middlebrooks, Shawn Kelley, and Brandon Maurer.
The team also signed Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, and James Shields and took on the contract of Melvin Upton Jr, adding a massive financial weight to the depleted farm issue.
Those players acquired in the off-season have combined for a 3.6 fWAR this season, including Kemp's -0.7.
Nolan Arenado has 3.1 fWAR.
Preller wheeled and dealed with a resounding message that the new direction of the San Diego Fathers was to win and to win right monster-trucking now. And so he monster-trucked the farm.
To be fair, he did hang on to Hunter Renfroe, Austin Hedges, and Rymer Lirano, so the farm is not a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It would be like if the Rockies traded Eddie Butler, Trevor Story, Raimel Tapia, Tom Murphy, Antonio Senzatela, Forrest Wall, and a few Jordan Patterson/Dom Nunez types for about 8 WAR (assuming pace holds) in one season.
Sure we could say they still had Jon Gray, David Dahl, Kyle Freeland, and Ryan McMahon but I don't think too many Rockies prospects hounds would be happy with that trade-off.
The Padres knew they were taking a risk and the reason why could all be summed up in this ESPN piece written just after Preller took over:
As of the writing of this article, the San Diego Padres sit at 39-48, two-and-a-half games ahead of the Rockies.
Amidst growing clamor for Colorado's GM to take big swings like his San Diego counterpart, Bridich instead opted to make more marginal moves.
The Kyle Kendrick and Daniel Descalso signings may drive you crazy when you watch their performances on the field, but at the very least they cost the Rockies nothing in the long term, or even next season.
The John Axford and Nick Hundley signings, on the other hand, could very well have a decent long-term impact ,but if not, even they come with little to no risk.
Bridich has grown the farm with another excellent draft -- the team's fifth in a row -- and some under the radar trades and signings. He added guys like Shane Carle, Jairo Diaz, Noel Cuevas, Pedro Gonzalez, and Daniel Montano
Our recent PuRPs voting poll revealed a general consensus among the staff at Purple Row that the Rockies farm system is as strong as is has been in the history of this site, meaning just over a decade.
The voices will grow louder again for Bridich to do something as the trade deadline arrives. The vultures appear to already be circling in San Diego.
The time has likely come to trade many of the current major league players, but I maintain that the team should keep Troy Tulowitzki and that belief is largely bolstered by a belief that the current crop of high-pedigree minor league talent can boost the team into contention in the next two years if he and Nolan Arenado remain.
And that is the case because of a system Bridich helped build and has wisely kept intact.
We will learn a lot about Bridich over this deadline, but at this point, he should at least be given credit for stepping into a new position as a relatively young GM and acting with a measured approach.
It's easier to prove you're willing to do drastic things than it is to do them wisely.
Now, some GM could bail Preller out by making the exact same mistake he did and trading young, team-controlled, cheap and promising talent for highly paid, volatile, and aging veterans, but it remains that even doing so still puts him back at square one at best.
Their central dilemma is captured in this piece written by Craig Calcaterra just after all the maneuvering for the Padres:
Maybe what the Padres did this winter is not enough to make the playoffs — the Giants and Dodgers aren't going anywhere any time soon, after all — but they have certainly taken some much needed steps to kick up some excitement in San Diego.
I hope the excitement was worth it. I also hope it serves as a warning to those who just want Jeff Bridich to do something -- to prove he is trying. Let it also be a warning to those who wish merely for a new era, for anything different.
Preller emptied his minor league system in search of such an era and may have set his team back five years. Bridich continues to strengthen his minor league system slowly but almost assuredly ushering in a much more sustainable era.
Making splashy moves and rearranging big pieces shows a clear sign that you are not happy with the status quo, but as the Padres are proving, it doesn't guarantee success and it can severely limit your options.
None of this is to say that Bridich is definitively the better GM. There is something to be said for dealing with a whole new set of problems whereas the Rockies seem consistently incapable of solving the exact same ones. And waiting on prospects is a slow burn that can be infuriating when the MLB product is ... lacking.
The Rockies are having a tough season. There are reasons for this and there are excuses. Deciphering which is which often feels an exercise in vanity. But for whatever our frustrations of the present, at least the guy in charge of our beloved team has not yet mortgaged the future.