Column: Padres’ bullish success numbers in the Pacific will continue


For most of AJ Preller’s eight years managing the Padres, the team on the field was powerless to live up to the hype of the possibility that Preller and his scouts and publicists had made off the field. Recently the results have started to converge. The 2022 Padres brightened up October by stepping into the postseason, a feat the franchise had previously accomplished — out of an entire season — in 1998. A World Series no longer seems so far away.


Briller’s next challenge is to get seven more wins from the postseason talent, the difference between a recent NL Championship Series exit and a World Series trophy hitting the 19 Tony Gwynn Drive.

We know this: Preller, buoyed by owner Peter Seidler’s desire for a first-rate payroll, will crank up the odds at transaction plants this season and next summer. Wherever the rumored work is, Priller is surfacing.

So keep an eye on Yu Darvish’s friend/Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga and the increasingly Pacific Rim Padres.

Senga is preparing for the jump to Major League Baseball, bringing with him a fastball that falls into the mid-90s and a career strike rate of 10.3 per nine innings pitched. This is the right holder who posted a 1.94 ERA for Fukuoka in 2022. For his 11-year career, he has shown a 2.59 ERA.

Many teams will be checking out Senga, 29, but the Padres connections are just too many to ignore. A generation of Japanese pitchers have either emulated or cheered Darvish, just as in his younger days, fielding Briller’s special assistant Hideo Nomo, whose forkball proved as devastating to an MLB hitter as Japanese hitters.

Briller brought Darvish to the United States as an executive with the Texas Rangers 10 years ago on a $60 million contract. Now 36, Darvish gave the 2022 Padres a great season and a year later reunited with Preller.

The Padres may not land Senga, just as they could not close the deal on Shuhei Ohtani. (Not for lack of trying. Priller gave his Japanese-language performances to Ohtani.)

What’s encouraging is that the Senga lottery — and other potentially rewarding endeavors in nearby Japan or South Korea — is set in a world where the Padres can point to success that has improved their image in the Pacific Rim baseball markets.

Robert Suarez and Nick Martinez were out several seasons in Japan off last season when Priller signed with them. The two relievers, who joined Darvish in perhaps the most capable Padres staff in franchise history, returned large amounts of redundancy on their payroll.

Recently, Senga began his preparations for the transition to the more power-oriented MLB and the different baseballs that he will officiate. He’s working with a Driveline Baseball representative (think Maximize and Design a Stadium) in Japan, writes New York Post’s Joel Sherman.

A similar approach paid off for Martinez. Martinez’s changeup as a weapon in Japan with a driveline became the No. 2 pitch with the Padres. Produced a meager 0.15 batting average by MLB hitters.

As you would expect from baseball that borders the Pacific, this wasn’t the first time the Padres had success with Japanese pitchers.

It was the Padres who brought Hideki Irabu, Japan’s so-called Nolan Ryan, to MLB in 1997 by acquiring his negotiating rights from his Japanese club. When Irabu insisted he only play for the Yankees, the ensuing trade brought outfielder Ruben Rivera and a Yankees prospect to the Padres.

The fringe prospect with Derek Lee went to Kevin Towers’ deal for player Kevin Brown, who captained the 1998 World Series team on which Rivera was the fourth player.

Six years later, the Padres landed Japanese reliever Akinori Otsuka as the only MLB team to bid for. Otsuka’s Padres successes enticed a Rangers front office that included Preller to look for him in a six-player deal. The lopsided drive sent Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres, eventually leading the 2006 Padres past the Dodgers to the West.

Courtesy of Preller This Padres season brought another Pacific Rim windfall: Ha-Seong Kim, the former South Korean star who signed Preller to a four-year deal in 2021, played exceptionally well as Padres saves as Fernando Tatis Jr. . sat out of season.

Briller is keen to keep the good stuff going, whether it’s Senga pitches for the 2023 Padres or not.

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