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Matt Kemp Says Hello to San Diego as Padres Rock-Star GM Continues Dealing

Scott Miller@@ScottMillerBblNational MLB ColumnistDecember 20, 2014

Gregory Bull/AP Images

SAN DIEGO — Matt Kemp and his hips showed up here Friday afternoon, where the closest thing to Rihanna is Shamu.

Well, you know what I mean.

Say goodbye to Hollywood.

Say hello to the rebirth of baseball in San Diego.

Padres manager Bud Black met with Kemp on Friday and told him that this entire reconstruction project started with him. Kemp said he welcomes the responsibility of leading and is eager to help his new teammates get better.

General manager A.J. Preller, meanwhile, made five more trades between the time Kemp tried on his new Padres jersey and buttoned it. And that’s a conservative estimate.

My goodness. What the Padres are doing right now is the buzz of the industry. In a 24-hour period, they announced four trades—acquiring Kemp, Wil Myers, Derek Norris and Justin Upton—that involved 24 players. The rookie GM has moved 14 players off the Padres’ roster.

I swear I heard the Swinging Friar attempting to reserve an aircraft carrier so the club could fit everyone ticketed to leave Petco Park.

“This is unbelievable,” Kemp said. “He’s a rock star right now.”

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Preller, wearing a simple sweater and slacks, said this is the first time he’s gotten the rock-star tag.

He keeps shaking, rattling and rolling like this, the spotlight won’t be leaving him anytime soon.

Around the time he was hired in August, an executive with another team sized up the Padres quite well to me during a press-box conversation.

“I’ve always thought they’ve had low expectations internally,” the executive said. “A.J. will change that. His expectations always have been high, and he won’t settle.”

Just like that, he’s lifted expectations from sea level to the very top of the lion’s roar down at the San Diego Zoo. So far, including the not-quite-completed deal that will have the Padres acquire third baseman Will Middlebrooks from Boston for catcher Ryan Hanigan, potentially six of the eight starting position players will be different in 2015 than they were on Opening Day 2014 for the Padres.

In fewer than five full months on the job, Preller has dynamited a roster just begging to be blown up and covered more ground than, maybe, any Padres GM ever. He’s already traveled to the Far East three times and to the Dominican Republic six times.

This is all about fielding a 2015 winner, which is light-years ahead of what anyone saddled with watching last year’s donkeys could have realistically expected.

But let’s get this straight right now: If the Padres don’t win in 2015, this isn’t a failure. What Preller has done in a short time on the job is create a strong-enough buzz to make people in San Diego start paying attention to the Padres again. And for a disenfranchised fanbase that melted away after too many lies from previous owners John Moores and Jeff Moorad, that’s already an important win.

And there’s more fuel for this momentum around the corner, too: The 2016 All-Star Game is expected to be awarded to San Diego and Petco Park, according to industry sources, though the official announcement likely won’t come until next month.

As for now, ownership is simply trying to hang on for the ride on which the team's new GM is taking them. The man’s list of ideas and tasks is a mile long, with options and alternate ideas sprouting from each main idea like branches from a tree.

Mostly, Preller has been given room to run as he sees fit. The 2015 payroll is expected to land somewhere between $100 million and $115 million, which will be a club record. Last year, the Padres finished in the mid-$80-million range.

Wil Myers
Wil MyersKathy Willens/Associated Press

No wonder Black was smiling on the podium Friday. As of now, he says, he envisions Kemp in right field, Myers in center and Upton in left. Of course, the way Preller is moving, there may be seven new outfielders to juggle by next week.

Seriously, for those who are riveted by this new sport of "Preller Watching," the great news is that he’s nowhere close to being done for the winter. Can’t be. Right now the Padres have seven outfielders: Kemp, Myers, Upton, Carlos Quentin, Will Venable, Cameron Maybin and Seth Smith. They have more than $25 million committed to those last four.

So, stay tuned. The Padres and Boston Red Sox continue working on the Middlebrooks/Hanigan deal, according to Bleacher Report sources. It’s difficult to imagine the Padres opening with Alexi Amarista or Clint Barmes at shortstop. And though Preller and Black said Friday that Yonder Alonso is the plan at first base, don’t be shocked if he’s peddled, too.

Myers can play first base. And as much as a historically inept offense has been improved on paper this week, an outfield alignment of Kemp-Myers-Upton could be rough defensively.

“I’m excited,” said Preller, who did a roll call of shout-outs to his baseball-operations team before introducing Kemp. “I’m proud of our guys. You’re excited to make a bunch of these announcements.”

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Kemp’s mother, Judy, sat in the front row at Friday’s news conference, helping to make sure Matt buttoned his Padres jersey properly. Yes, he needed help: First time through, the buttons were off by one, and the PAD letters on one side didn’t line up with the RES letters on the other.

He chuckled about that and smiled throughout the afternoon.

“I like hitting here,” said Kemp, who is hitting .322/.372/.495 in 294 career plate appearances in Petco Park. “It’s a beautiful park.

“Maybe some of those wall-scrapers I hit to right-center won’t go out, but I’ll get a lot of doubles and triples.”

Yep, right about now is the time for armchair comedians to lob out quips about the arthritis in Kemp’s hips that briefly caused the trade talks to stall. He says no problem, and it’s not like he’s in pain, and from the club’s perspective, it’s not as if Kemp is going to need hip-replacement surgery anytime soon.

“My hips are good,” Kemp said. “Do you wanna see my hips?”

He eats right, works out right, does everything right, he says. Things are fine. And to that end, given his ankle surgery two Octobers ago and a shoulder surgery before that, Kemp is excited about one thing: This is the first winter in three years in which he’s able to do his regular offseason-workout regiment. That will only help, he says.

So say goodbye to Hollywood.

Say hello to a brand-new Matt Kemp.

“I like change,” he said. “Hollywood is tough. You’ve got to live up to expectations.

“San Diego, it’s so chill here. All people do is surf and paddleboard and drink their juices and green tea. I love Hollywood. But now I can wear shorts and flip flops. I can wear what I want. Here, you don’t have to worry about the paparazzi taking pictures of you all the time.

“That’s Hollywood stuff.”

Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.

Follow Scott on Twitter and talk baseball @ScottMillerBbl.

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