Padres General Manager A.J. Preller was suspended 30 days last night following a MLB investigation into Preller’s practice of withholding player health information during trade negotiations. The story initially broke yesterday when ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Padres have been maintaining separate medical records of players. One limited set that is uploaded to the MLB shared database, and one more detailed set kept internally.
Trainers were told in meetings during spring training that the distinction was meant to better position the team for trades, according to two sources with direct knowledge of what was said.
The Padres were involved in three mid-season trades this year, including deals with the Red Sox (Drew Pomeranz), the Marlins (Colin Rea) , and the White Sox (James Shields). Each incident is being investigated separately.
Yesterday’s announced suspension was for the Pomeranz trade which angered the Red Sox when they learned after the trade that Pomeranz was receiving undocumented treatment.
Immediately after getting traded to Miami, Colin Rea suffered an injury for which he had been receiving treatment for weeks, which infuriated Miami. Rea was eventually traded back to San Diego after MLB executives were involved. A separate investigation into that trade is still underway.
All MLB teams feed medical information into a central database known as the Sutton Medical System, designed to both maintain the privacy of individual players and to be accessible to teams when needed — such as when trades are made.
Any time a player goes into the training room and receives treatment — down to hot tubs, aspirin and anti-inflammatories — those details are supposed to be entered into records.
When teams close in on trades, the athletic trainers usually exchange codes needed to access the medical information stored on the players in question so inquiring teams can learn about a player’s physical condition.
The average number of entries into the system was around 60 at the All-Star break. The Padres had fewer than 10 which alone is enough to rouse suspicion.
The athletic trainers were told to split information among two databases. If a player was treated for something that landed them on the DL, to upload that to the shared MLB database. If the player was given preventative treatment, to keep that on the private database.
At the annual get-together of athletic trainers at baseball’s winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, in 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, some Padres staffers were uncomfortable, according to sources, and some expressed that discomfort, with athletic trainers saying there would be backlash for this type of filing system.
When you ask people to lie and to do so in a way that makes them uncomfortable, chances are someone is going to talk. This plan to split the information was not exactly brilliantly conceived and was bound to fail sooner rather than later. In the end, the Padres maybe received a better end of a deal with the Red Sox, possibly got something more out of the White Sox, and was a wash if not a loss in the Marlins deal. And going forward, you have to wonder if anyone is going be willing to put themselves into a situation where they have to rely on Preller’s word during future negotiations. These actions yielded little to no positive benefit for San Diego all while completely demolishing their reputation.
“The whole system has to be built on trust, to some degree,” one official familiar with the situation said. “You can’t have teams withholding medical information in a baseball trade any more than you have a car salesman not disclosing vehicle history. It can’t work. It’s about the integrity of the system.”
This is probably not the last we’ve heard of this. Preller is still under investigation for the Rae and Shields trades and who knows what other violations MLB will uncover. It is interesting to note that while there does not appear to be any specific rule that Preller violated in refusing to report information, MLB still felt his actions egregious enough to warrant discipline. Some executives are equating Preller’s actions to fraud. I suspect MLB will also be making a change in the off-season requiring specific information to be uploaded to their central database going forward. It is also important to note that the Padres have backed Preller through this investigation and suspension.