It’s been REAL spicy out in these Orioles Twitter streets the last few days. The John Means no-hitter honeymoon is officially over.
It’s easy to see why. The team is fresh off of a fourteen game losing streak with a myriad of poor at-bats, defensive miscues, and bullpen breakdowns. Our major league product has been uncompetitive for five seasons. Certain players who showed promise during the COVID-shortened 2020 season have regressed. There’s a lot of Orioles games that have been objectively tough watches, and any frustration is justified. When things go wrong, we instinctively look to diagnose the issue and assign blame to the responsible party, and this time it seems that EVP/GM Mike Elias has been the chosen target; I find this to be misguided, but before I get into Elias’ tenure, we must first remind ourselves of the situation he inherited.
Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter left behind a team whose infrastructure was derelict and in need of a total gutting. The major league team was largely devoid of talent due to a fire sale that happened a year late. The minor league system was barren as a result of myopic trades to continue papering over cracks in the major league roster and a “one size fits all” approach, endorsed by Showalter, that resulted in an environment that made it nigh impossible for players to be the best versions of themselves. The gross mismanagement started during the botched 2014-15 offseason that will forever live in Birdland infamy, specifically the decisions to not re-sign Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis. The Markakis decision was particularly impactful because it was exacerbated by two mistakes: trading two prospects (including reliever Steven Brault) to Pittsburgh for Travis Snider, and replacing the underperforming Snider by trading Zach Davies to the Brewers for Gerardo Parra, a player who was clearly outperforming his peripheral batting numbers and predictably came back to earth after the trade. Not trading Bud Norris at peak value, while not as consequential, is exemplary of the plethora of missed opportunities to reallocate payroll and/or inject the system with younger cost-controlled players. Nothing more needs to be said about the 2015-16 offseason than “Chris Davis,” but to be fair to Duquette, the Mark Trumbo-for-Steve Clevenger trade was a shrewd one and helped the O’s reach the Wild Card game that year.
The 2017 season in particular was unforgivable, bordering on dereliction of duty. It was evident early on that the team was not going to be a legitimate playoff threat; the starting rotation was in a constant state of disrepair and several hitters had declined. This would’ve been an appropriate time to hit the eject button and rebuild, but they doubled down and traded for Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham (and were rightly panned for it)! This futile, desperate attempt to salvage that season potentially set the franchise back years. Jonathan Schoop was at peak value. Mychal Givens was a young, unique reliever with years of team control left. Manny Machado was Manny Machado, but with an extra year of team control that wasn’t there when they finally did pull the trigger. Would trading those names a year earlier have put the O’s into a situation to compete in 2021? Probably not, but it certainly could have given them a larger talent pool to work with and made it easier for the front office that succeeded them.
That brings us to Mike Elias. I wholeheartedly understand fans being frustrated with what will be the fifth consecutive losing season, and third 100-loss season in four years. Watching a losing baseball team isn’t the most cathartic experience in the world, to put it lightly – however, I feel like any ire directed at Elias is based off of unreasonable expectations.
Given the state of the team he took over as a result of what I discussed above, I just can’t see another executive, even if they were an AI designed in a lab to have every good baseball executive trait, being able to revamp the entire organization AND have a competitive major league ballclub in the same amount of time. The state of Baltimore’s minor leagues and player development wasn’t just bad, it was obsolete. Their international scouting infrastructure wasn’t just dated, it was almost entirely ignored. The analytics department wasn’t just behind industry standards, it was ostensibly non-existent. Just one of those issues wouldn’t be a small fix, but to have to essentially build all of these departments from the ground up AND make sure they don’t fall further behind the rest of baseball? Imagine if the MLB team and baseball operations were children; sure the MLB team has had a three-week stretch where they failed a test and got a D on a few others, but Birdland baseball operations were sneaking out at night and stealing cars. He’s taken the problem child and turned it into a top-10 system with a healthy analytics department and a brand new, state-of-the-art complex under construction in the Dominican Republic which is something I never thought I would see the Orioles put resources into.
Instead of being frustrated with the current state of the Orioles, try injecting a few positive affirmations into your routine. The minor league teams are playing well. There’s a non-zero chance that Adley Rutschman and DL Hall, among others, make Camden Yards cameos later this summer. Mike Elias has stayed true to his word and done what he’s said he’s going to do, and it’s on the cusp of being realized.
Sit back and enjoy.