The Orioles have a new leader in place of their front office, following a harrowing six weeks that left fans in limbo. Mike Elias has been hired as the team’s Executive Vice President and General Manager. He will take over all of the team’s baseball operations, and according to the club, has “full autonomy” to build a staff and make the decisions.
This is where you insert the “shocked face” GIF.
Let’s first take a step back and think about what the last month-plus has been like for Orioles supporters. The team just completed its worst season in history, going 47-115 and finishing 61 games behind the eventual World Series champion Red Sox in the AL East. Popular manager Buck Showalter and front office leader Dan Duquette were both relieved of their duties, or more accurately, did not have their expiring contracts renewed. All of this followed a tumultuous summer in which the team traded key players like Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Darren O’Day and Brad Brach. It was the start of a rebuild, without actually starting any of the rebuilding. As they say, sometimes the foundation is so bad, you must tear down the whole house and start again. That’s what the Orioles are doing. Elias is now the new man in charge of rebuilding the house.
Not only was the 2018 season extremely distressing for O’s fans, but more specifically, these last few months have been a drag. Not knowing the future of the club will bring angst to any fanbase, but it’s especially been true for the Orioles because of uncertainty even higher up than the front office. What was perhaps even more bizarre about this search for new front office leadership was that there were no updates or even hints about what was going on during the process. The sons of owner Peter Angelos, John and Lou, were in charge of conducting the search. There were no leaks through the media until the news was broken by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale earlier this week. It was all handled in a pretty professional and quiet way, though not a timely one. Strangely, it was done in the way you are supposed to do it. That’s not something that can be said often about the Orioles.
On to Elias, and the hire itself.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend to tell you I know enough about the 35-year-old former Astros assistant GM to give you any informed analysis. I didn’t even know how to properly pronounce his last name until earlier this week, and my guess is that many reading this didn’t either. Everything I’ve read about him gives me hope that this is a positive first step in the right direction for the organization. The fact that, according to Nightengale, they are making Elias the highest-paid first-year GM in baseball history, also speaks to a new mindset for the organization.
It’s something that also goes higher up a food chain than people would think. There were many rumors this past summer that with the Angelos sons taking more of a prominent role in the operations of the team, that the family was gearing up to sell the franchise. I think we can pretty confidently put those rumors to bed. Giving such a large sum of money to a new GM is not only a very “non-Oriole” move, but it’s also not the type of move someone would make if they were preparing to sell.
Elias comes from an organization that won the World Series last year on the strength of many players he had a hand in acquiring, mostly through the draft. Players like Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman have blossomed in the time he spent there. He was also around for first-round busts like Mark Appel and Brady Aiken. You take the good with the bad. No one is saying the Orioles are going to do things in the same way the Astros did it, but there’s a decent blueprint there. It includes a lot of losing, which the Orioles have already gotten a head start on.
I’m confident that this was a good hire. I’m confident in the process and how they’ve gone about everything since the end of the season. In fact, I’m starting to see signs that I can be confident in the Angelos sons taking more of a role in the organization. This goes back to some decisions prior to the 2018 season, such as the “Kids Cheer Free” program and new pricing initiatives for concessions at Camden Yards. There will be a ton of skepticism from the most cynical supporters of the Orioles, and I get that. But right now, it seems the O’s have seen rock bottom and are at least looking up and thinking about climbing out of it.
The first decision for Elias will be who to hire to replace Showalter as manager. Frankly, I don’t think the hiring of a manager is a big decision. Some may see it as a big deal, but I wouldn’t imagine the manager hired for 2019 is the same manager the Orioles will have when they are competitive once again. Hiring a young manager is in play and hiring an experienced manager is still in play. Frankly, either of them will be taking marching orders from Elias in this setup.
There’s been rumors about former NASA engineer Sig Mejdal joining Elias in Baltimore. Mejdal has been with the Astros since 2012, and like Elias, previously worked for the Cardinals in analytics. Hiring Mejdal would be a smart move as a replacement for Sarah Gelles, who departed the Orioles earlier this month after eight seasons with the club and three years running their analytics department. The average fan would be shocked to learn the Orioles had an analytics department, let alone that it was run by someone who was with the team for eight seasons. Ironically, Gelles left for a job with the Astros, shortly after it was announced that Mejdal was leaving Houston.
Fans can take a deep breath after this hire. But it’s important to realize that bringing in Elias does not shorten any kind of timeline you might have had in your mind for when the O’s will be competitive once again. That should still stand at around four years at a minimum. The organizational depth is still depleted. The Birds still have a bad farm system and haven’t had good scouting practices in place for years. But the hope is that Elias can at least start to change that. The hope is that bringing in someone who has been there before, that is, in an organization that has built from the bottom, can help do it again by using the same tactics in a different location.
The hill to climb is a large one, especially when you reside in the American League East. The Red Sox are the defending champs, the Yankees are loaded, the Rays have a Cy Young award winner to go with youth and scrappiness, and the Blue Jays have a loaded farm system with big league talent on the way. There is nothing easy about where the Orioles are and where they are trying to get.
But when you take a step back and look at the macro, rather than the micro, November 16, 2018 is a good day to be an Orioles supporter. By doing that, you can start to see the outline of what might be a functional organization doing things to move in the right direction. I realize that the bar has been set extremely low, especially after 115 losses. But this is where we are. The Orioles have been a disappointment, even in the aftermath of a five-year stretch that saw them reach the postseason three times.
That era is now over. The “dark ages” were overtaken by the Duquette-Showalter era. Now that era is morphing into the Elias era. He’s been put in charge of rebuilding the house, that needed to be torn down. The foundation wasn’t strong enough. Houses can take a while to build, but Elias is the now the new contractor in charge of putting it all back together.
As long as we believe he has the right tools and permission to use them, I’d say there’s reason for some optimism in Birdland.