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Padres, GM A.J. Preller under pressure to produce despite an expected lower payroll

PEORIA, Ariz. (AP) — A.J. Preller had the benefit of a free-spending and patient owner during his past few seasons as general manager of the San Diego Padres.

That might not be the case anymore.

Eric Kutsenda has taken over as the San Diego Padres control person following the death of owner Peter Seidler in November. Kutsenda is a co-founder and managing partner of Seidler Equity Partners and a friend of Seidler’s for more than 30 years.

But it’s unclear whether Kutsenda is ready to spend like Seidler, who boosted the team’s payroll to $258 million on opening day in 2023 in pursuit of its first World Series title.

One thing that did seem clear on Saturday is that Kutsenda expects results from Preller, regardless of payroll.

“A.J. is a pro, he’s maybe the best talent evaluator in baseball,” Kutsenda said. “We’re all accountable, we all have objectives and goals and he falls in the category, as well. We all have to accomplish our mission and serve this organization, and be accountable to each other.”

It was with Seidler’s blessing that the Padres boosted their payroll to new heights, third-highest in the majors, after making a run to the 2022 NL Championship Series.

But last season was a bitter disappointment for the Padres, who missed the playoffs with an 82-80 record.

Since then, the Padres’ payroll has taken a big hit, dropping by roughly $100 million. San Diego traded away some of its high-priced talent, including All-Star slugger Juan Soto, signaling a cost-cutting mode.

The Padres had to pay nearly $40 million in luxury tax for their big payroll in 2023. Kutsenda said “we’ll see” when asked if he’s willing to pay tax in 2024, adding the team wasn’t necessarily done adding players through free agency.

San Diego still has a talented roster that includes six-time All-Star Manny Machado, outfielder Fernando Tatis Jr., shortstop Ha-Seong Kim, second baseman Xander Bogaerts and pitchers Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish. The club also hired veteran manager Mike Shildt to replace Bob Melvin.

The Padres have never won 90 games during Preller’s 9 1/2-year tenure.

“We’re judged what we do year in and year out,” Kutsenda said. “Yes, there’s a body of work, but we also have goals for this year. A.J’s got goals, (team president) Erik’s (Greupner) got goals, I’ve got goals, and we’re going to be judged on whether we can accomplish those goals.

“Like I said, A.J’s a pro, he’s a big part of the organization, but we’re all expected to perform at a very high level.”

ALONSO CAN SEE HIMSELF AS ‘LIFELONG MET’

New York Mets slugger Pete Alonso says he’s envisioned being a “lifelong Met” as he enters his last year of club control.

Alonso has been one of the sport’s most prolific power hitters over the past five seasons. He was the 2019 NL Rookie of the Year after leading the major leagues with 53 homers. He had 37 homers in 2021, 40 in 2022 and 46 in 2023, though his batting average fell to a career-low .217 last year.

Alonso said he’s open to any long-term contract discussions the Mets want to have.

“I love it here,” Alonso said. “I definitely have envisioned me being a lifelong Met, that’s something I’ve definitely thought about. I love New York, it’s a really special place for my family and I … but I can’t predict the future. For me, I just want to focus on this season and be the best person I can be.”

The three-time All-Star switched agents during the offseason to Scott Boras, who is known for encouraging his players to test the free-agent market. The first baseman signed a $20.5 million, one-year deal that avoided salary arbitration.

“I just thought that Scott and his team are just the best representations for myself and my family,” Alonso said.

D-BACKS, GRICHUK REACH DEAL

The Arizona Diamondbacks and veteran outfielder Randal Grichuk agreed to a $2 million, one-year contract. Grichuk will be paid $1.5 million this season and could make $6 million in 2025, or the D-backs could pay a $500,000 buyout.

The 32-year-old Grichuk has 191 career homers with the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Rockies and Angels. He split time between the Rockies and Angels last season, hitting .267 with 16 homers.

ROYALS, RED SOX SWAP PITCHERS

The Kansas City Royals acquired right-hander John Schreiber from the Boston Red Sox for minor league righty David Sandlin.

The 29-year-old Schreiber has a 3.58 ERA over 139 career big league games with the Tigers and Red Sox. The 22-year-old Sandlin was the Royals’ No. 20 prospect, according to Baseball America, and has a 3.41 ERA over 15 minor league starts.

SHAW GETS MINOR LEAGUE DEAL

The Chicago White Sox agreed to a minor league contract with reliever Bryan Shaw that includes an invitation to big league spring training.

The 36-year-old right-hander also pitched for Chicago last season. The right-hander had no record, four saves and a 4.14 ERA in 38 appearances.

Shaw made his major league debut with Arizona in 2011. He is 43-45 with a 3.93 ERA in 791 career games, also pitching for Cleveland, Colorado and Seattle.

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AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson contributed to this report.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB

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