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Padres turn to A.J. Preller as GM

SAN DIEGO -- A.J. Preller has set the bar high -- World Series high -- for the Padres.

Preller was hired as general manager on Wednesday. He developed a reputation as a hard-working, hard-charging scouting and player development executive over the past 10 years with the Texas Rangers. He has extensive international scouting experience, particularly in Latin America.

Preller said at his introductory press conference that it was "intriguing to me that the Padres have had some tremendous players over their history, some All-Stars, some Hall of Fame players, some good clubs, but have never won a World Series."

The Padres played in the World Series in 1984 and 1998 and lost both times. Since 1998, they've been to the playoffs only twice, when they won the the National League West title in 2005 and 2006. They were swept by St. Louis in the playoffs in 2005 and won just one game in the postseason the following year.

Since then, they've had only two winning seasons.

Preller joined the Rangers in November 2004 and helped build perennial contenders. The team reached the World Series in 2010 and 2011 but lost both times.

Preller, most recently the Rangers' assistant GM, said it is apparent the Padres' top executives, Ron Fowler, Peter Seidler and Mike Dee, want to do whatever it takes to win a World Series.

"It's a challenge for everyone in the organization -- something to look forward to," Preller said. "You talk about it all the time: You want to play on the big stage. The big stage is not Lake Elsinore, the big stage is not for our prospects to get to El Paso or ... Petco. The big stage is not to get to the big leagues. The big stage is playing in the World Series, with the whole world watching."

Preller replaces Josh Byrnes, who was fired June 22. He beat out a field of finalists that included assistant GMs Mike Hazen of the Boston Red Sox and Billy Eppler of the New York Yankees and Kim Ng, senior vice president for baseball operations for Major League Baseball. Ng is one of the highest ranking women in baseball. There has never been a female GM in MLB or any of the other major sports. Ng also interviewed for the Padres' GM job in 2009, after Kevin Towers was fired. The job eventually went to Jed Hoyer.

The Padres are looking for stability. They're on their third ownership group since 2009, and Preller is their fourth general manager in that time.

Preller said he has heard himself portrayed "as this maverick out in the middle of nowhere, doing my job. The biggest thing is: Can you connect people? That's what we did with the Rangers, and that's what I want to do with the Padres." He said he wants his staff to be "cutting edge, next wave, ahead of the curve."

Preller also confirmed what some in baseball have known -- that he was investigated by Major League Baseball for something that happened while scouting in Latin America. He didn't want to go into specifics but called it a "disagreement" between the Rangers and MLB and said he received what MLB termed "a slap on the wrist."

"Ultimately, MLB cleared us," he said. "They told me I didn't violate any rule or anything like that."

Dee said the Padres looked into the situation before their first interview with Preller.

"It was a minor infraction. MLB has completely cleared him, and there is no strike on his record whatsoever," he said.

Despite Preller's claim that he was "cleared," he actually was suspended by Major League Baseball -- and the Rangers were disciplined as well -- for what was found to be rule violations related to signings in the international market.

Rival executives complained to MLB about his actions. Fowler, asked by ESPN's Buster Olney to comment on Preller's history, responded in an email:

"We discussed this in detail with A.J. and with senior management at MLB. We were assured by MLB that the suspension was not a problem in hiring A.J. to be our GM."

Dee said that whatever the perception is about Preller, his new GM simply works hard, and his passion stood out in all three of his interviews with the Padres.

"This is a guy that eats, sleeps and breathes baseball -- and baseball at every level," Dee said.

In the interview process, Preller was the "difference maker" among the candidates, when it came to deciding who would be the best at bringing "impact talent, championship-level talent" to the organization, Dee said.

"I think he'd be a tremendous hire," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said before the official announcement. "A great choice. He really, really kind of brings everything to the table. A tremendous talent evaluator, and I think that's where a lot of the media, I've read, is focused. I think that's accurate. That's one of the more unique skills in the game. I think what that misses [is] how gifted he is kind of building a staff, hiring people, creating a philosophy and getting everyone to buy in and feel good about it. He's done a tremendous job here in the various departments he's run."

Daniels said the hire was done with hiring restrictions to protect the Rangers, so Preller couldn't hire people from Daniels' current staff to join him in San Diego.

"It would be a [loss]," Daniels said of Preller's departure. "No doubt about it, no two ways of looking at it. He's just so talented, and he does so much with communicating throughout the staff, making people part of things and just the straight production and the players he's helped bring in and helped develop."

Preller and Daniels went to college together at Cornell. Preller played JV basketball there. He last played organized baseball in high school.

Although the Padres increased their payroll to $90 million this season, they still lag far behind big-spending division rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco. The team has been playing better since the All-Star break but nonetheless began the day 10 games under .500 and 12 games behind Los Angeles in the NL West.

ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins and The Associated Press contributed to this report.