San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller has hired a pitching coach before landing a manager.
Preller hired Ruben Niebla away from Cleveland on Wednesday, saying a number of factors made the Guardians' assistant pitching coach and Southern California native too good to pass up even as San Diego's managerial search stretched to three weeks.
Niebla, 49, has been Cleveland's assistant pitching coach for the last two seasons. Before that, he spent seven seasons as the Guardians' minor league pitching coordinator. Overall, he spent 21 seasons in Cleveland's organization.
He is widely credited with helping develop starters such as Shane Bieber, former Padres farmhand Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger — who's now with San Diego — Trevor Bauer, Triston McKenzie, Aaron Civale, James Karinchak and Zach Plesac. Clevinger was traded to San Diego in 2020 and spent this season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
“He’s a guy we felt was very attractive and he’s got a great reputation in the game," Preller said. "It’s obviously very competitive out there, so from that standpoint we wanted to make sure he’s with us.”
Preller said Niebla is expected to have an impact on the whole organization's pitchers, not just the big leaguers.
Preller is still interviewing candidates to replace manager Jayce Tingler, who was fired on Oct. 6 following a brutal second-half collapse that saw the Padres plummet from a solid grip on the NL’s second wild card spot to finishing with a losing record for the 10th time in 11 seasons.
The Padres fired pitching coach Larry Rothschild on Aug. 23 and replaced him with bullpen coach Ben Fritz.
Preller won't confirm the candidates he's interviewed so far for the manager's job, but reports indicate that former Cardinals manager Mike Shildt and former Chicago White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen have been interviewed.
As for hiring a pitching coach before a manager, Preller said that in discussions with different managerial candidates, “They’ve all expressed consistency, ‘If we can get a chance to get a quality person like that, let’s go do it.’
“Most managers today, they’re just looking for really quality people they can surround themselves with. When you get around Ruben, anyone will appreciate what he’s done and his knowledge and his experience and be able to see that and recognize that," the GM added.
Preller said Niebla will be good for all pitchers in the organization. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. He tailors it to the individual and he’s been able to impact a lot of different guys’ careers over the last two decades.”
The GM said Clevinger told him that if there was one person in the Cleveland organization who had a lot of impact on his career, it was Niebla.
Niebla is returning to Southern California. He was born in Calexico and lives in El Centro, both in neighboring Imperial County. His daughter, Jaelyn, attends San Diego State.
“That as a part of the whole deal. He’s got some local flavor, he’s a guy who grew up a Padres fan,” Preller said. “He has some ties to the area, the community, close to San Diego, his experiences and track record, all those things lined up for us.”
The Padres beefed up their rotation last offseason, only to watch several starters struggle to go deep in games. Additionally, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Chris Paddack ended the season on the injured list.
Joe Musgrove, who threw the first no-hitter in franchise history on April 9, was the only member of the rotation to make every start.
LISTEN: With NBC 7 San Diego's Darnay Tripp and Derek Togerson behind the mic, On Friar will cover all things San Diego Padres. Interviews, analysis, behind the scenes...the ups, downs, and everything in between. Tap here to find On Friar wherever you listen to podcasts.