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Padres' A.J. Preller keeps things interesting at Bud Black's expense

Among the likelies as far as skippers who had a pre-punched date with the ax, you could understand and anticipate that Bud Black of the San Diego Padres was close to the top. Whatever Black's track record, he was the guy on duty when new general manager A.J. Preller took over last winter, and barring quick, happy initial results, you had to anticipate that Preller would want to make his own selection sooner rather than later. Add in Preller's promptly displayed penchant for pulling the trigger on changes big and small, and you had to figure Black's days were numbered.

A 32-33 record isn't usually the sort of thing you'd expect associated with a firing, but clearly the expectation is that the Padres were supposed to win now, and with Black in his contract year, he was probably outbound if he was delivering anything less than a division title. Black came into the gig in 2007 having to replace a man ultimately bound for the Hall of Fame in Bruce Bochy, but there isn't much about Black's tenure that Padres fans should feel badly about. It was unusual to name a pitcher and former pitching coach, but Black's long association with Mike Scioscia with the Los Angeles Angels was to his credit. One thing seems certain: If Bud Black wants to be a pitching coach, somebody will hire him. If he wants to manage, he might have to wait a little longer, but somebody should hire him.

Not that Pythagorean projected records are that much more than a suggestion about teams under- or overperforming relative to what they have to work with as far as runs scored and allowed, but Black's slate with the Padres is almost perfectly neutral after almost 8½ years on the job. The Padres netted one game above their expected record. But remember, that doesn't tell us diddly squat about whether Black was really good or bad at his job. They were above .500 twice on his watch. They never made the playoffs. But it isn't like Black traded for Yonder Alonso or Carlos Quentin, and Black joins a long list of people who couldn't turn Cameron Maybin into a star.

In the good times, such as the Padres' 90-win season in 2012, they almost caught the San Francisco Giants, falling one game short by losing on the last day of the season. Getting 90 wins out of a team built around Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Headley and a stack of moving parts was impressive but unlikely; considering that the second-best pitcher on the staff beyond Mat Latos was Tim Stauffer, it starts looking like a miracle. It represented the Padres' high-water mark on Black's watch, but there were subsequent successes, such as helping get Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross turned around as top-shelf prospects ready to deliver as top-shelf starters.

In terms of player usage patterns, Black did things you can like. He was adaptable when it came to creating platoons to get offense out of outfields in which a clear platoon guy such as Will Venable was his best player. He liked one-run strategies, running a little when he had the personnel to do it with and bunting with his position players more than most NL skippers, but in both cases, you can wonder how much of that was conditioned by the problems with playing in Petco Park. On defense, he moved away from the intentional walk and seemed to have embraced defensive positioning as much as most.

With his pitching staff, you can note that guys such as Cashner and Ross blossomed as Padres, but here again you have to allow for how Petco might have helped with that. Similarly, the Pads got more out of Clayton Richard and Eric Stults than many thought possible. Less happily, Edinson Volquez was awful as a Pad person. Pad pens under Black had a good number of guys who succeeded there and nowhere else to the same extent, such as Heath Bell and Mike Adams.

The real question is whether the palace conspiracy angle for who replaces Black has much going for it. Dave Roberts has been tabbed as the interim skipper, but here again, you can allow for the fact that Preller wants his own guy. Whoever that might be will tell us a lot about him -- as if his offseason daring and decision to punt on outfield defense in assembling the 2015 Padres wasn't exotic enough. But there's already the rumor that Triple-A manager Pat Murphy could be a factor, which would be a fascinating selection. The former Notre Dame and Arizona State coach and four-time Pac 10 coach of the year was forced to resign in 2009 while the program was being investigated by the NCAA, but having said he's owning the mistakes he made, the snarky way to put it is that Murphy has been waiting to go pro for a while now. Now, with Murphy having put in several seasons managing in the minors within the Padres organization and adapting to pro vs. college culture, I wouldn't worry about this being nearly as weird as, say, Bobby Winkles' leap from college to the majors back in the '70s.

If there's one thing Preller is willing to do, it's doing things his own way; you could say the same about Murphy. If that's the direction the Padres go, like much else about Preller's decisions it might be equal parts genius and insanity and blow up as badly as the Padres' "no center fielder necessary" outfield has so far. Leave it to Preller to do the one thing perhaps nobody considered possible: make the Padres interesting. The pity is that, this time around, it has happened at Bud Black's expense.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.