“We tried to explain he’s not going to be one of one,” General Manager A.J. Preller said during Machado’s introductory news conference. “It’s not going to be Manny Machado and the Padres. We feel like we’ve got a lot of talent in that room. … He’s going to be surrounded by some guys that are on his level here in the next few years.”
A few hours later, Preller wanted to make sure the rest of the Padres knew how he felt.
The capper of an emotionally charged Friday at the Padres’ training complex was a rare clubhouse address by Preller that stunned players, leaving them impressed and excited.
It happened after the news conference and the photo shoots and after Machado had walked the halls and the clubhouse and met almost as many people as he hadn’t.
With the new face of the franchise sitting at his locker between Franchy Cordero and Franmil Reyes, Preller spoke to the group he and his staff have assembled.
He spoke of purpose, with purpose.
He told them they are all here for a reason, all have a role to play, all were selected by the Padres to accomplish something great and accomplish it starting now.
“It showed he believes in every single person he put in this clubhouse,” reliever Craig Stammen said. “We just didn’t get here randomly. Sometimes you feel that way, especially the last couple years where we’re just rebuilding and rebuilding. You look around and say, ‘Well, why is everybody here? Why is Craig Stammen in the locker room? Was it because they need somebody on the team? Did they just need to fill a roster spot?’ But him talking (Friday) showed he legitimately put effort into putting every single one of us in this clubhouse for a reason.”
Players who at first were wondering what was happening — and why — were amazed by the depth and breadth of the GM’s knowledge.
“We really haven’t heard him talk like that,” pitcher Eric Lauer said. “It showed his passion he’s put into it for so long is really starting to come out and he can’t hold it in anymore and he has to get it out and push it on us. It’s like he’s telling us, ‘We’ve got trust in you take the reins from us. Run with it and be winners.’ ”
Talking to the team as a group is something Preller doesn’t usually do. He generally portions his insight in occasional individual conversations with players, and his brief orations to the team have usually been to address a specific issue. He had never done anything like this.
“Ever since I’ve been here he’s kind of been the man in the back,” pitcher Matt Strahm said. “To hear him talk to us like that was exciting — just to know how much they believe in this and what they’ve put into it. … It was amazing.”
Said catcher Austin Hedges: “It meant more because he doesn’t do it.”
Players were struck by the confidence and conviction in his voice.
“I just felt it was time,” Preller said when asked about his speech.
The theme of camp has essentially been just that, even before the team signed one of the best players in the game to the largest contract ever awarded a free agent in any American sport.
“We’ve been in the big leagues for three years learning and grinding,” Hedges said two weeks ago. “… We’ve all gone through that phase. When we want to start doing it right and have fun with it, the only way to have fun is to win. How much fun do you think the Boston Red Sox had last year? That’s what we want to do. We want to show up ready to dominate every day.”
After Preller spoke, Hedges said, “We knew it. But when the GM actually tells everybody publicly how highly he thinks of you. And he didn’t hold anything back. He was very direct. He didn’t stutter. Everyone walked out of there going, ‘All right! That’s what we’re talking about!’ ”
Preller talked about individuals and how and when and where they had won at various levels of the minor leagues and in college and the majors.
“It was impressive,” outfielder Travis Jankowski said. “He wasn’t just listing off the top-tier guys. He was throwing guys in here that are journeymen — how good they are defensively, how good they are on the mound.”
Preller spoke of the intent in bringing in 13-year veteran Ian Kinsler and the effect of Eric Hosmer. Both of them are World Series winners. Utility infielder Greg Garcia came from a winning organization in St. Louis. Lauer was the national college player of the year for a winning program at Kent State. Joey Lucchesi led Southeast Missouri to its first NCAA regional in 14 years. Hedges, Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe won a Triple-A title with El Paso.
His message was there are winners in the Padres clubhouse, a place that hasn’t seen a champagne shower to celebrate a postseason berth since 2006. Preller laid out his argument of why Padres players have shown they know how to win. They have been leaders on championship teams, whatever the level. They can win here, and they can win now.
Some players found themselves with bumps on their arms and moisture in their eyes. All were rapt. Hours later, they were still talking about it among themselves.
When Preller was finished there were cheers and shouts of “Let’s go!” among other adjective-laced exclamations.
“Everybody got fired up about what he was saying,” pitcher Robbie Erlin said.
The idea of this being a different kind of season has been the message imparted since the offseason.
There has been an intentional edge to manager Andy Green as he talked about transitioning from a developmental mindset to an expectation of winning.
The people in uniform have been trying to win every night. But they knew what everybody knew. The future was the thing. But now, the thing is, they believe the future is upon them.
“You want to flip the page to the winning process,” Green said early last week. “We’re dead set on winning — and winning as quickly as possible. … That’s the mentality. We’ve talked to our veteran players, guys who have been around. That’s the way every player wants to go through the season, every coach wants to go through the season — (believing) what exists in that clubhouse is enough to go win baseball games.”
But to have it earnestly laid out by the actual architect how important every piece is and how it is all part of the championship blueprint was different.
The message the past couple years has been about individual growth. Last season, veterans such as Stammen, Hosmer, Freddy Galvis and A.J. Ellis deliberately and liberally demonstrated and verbalized the ethic required to succeed in the big leagues.
Preller’s talk was simply meant to drive home the belief the organization has that the team can take the next step sooner than later.
The talk hit its mark, not just in the immediate reaction it got but in what players carried away, as summed up by Erlin: “Individually, it’s, ‘What can I do every day to make this happen, to be a part of this whole thing going forward and to win?’ ”
They were left with a new appreciation and knowledge.
“A.J. had a plan all along,” reliever Kirby Yates said. “Now everybody is starting to see his mind and his plan and what he had in his picture. I’m sitting here as a player loving it. I know a lot of other people do too. As a whole, we’re excited to be part of it.”