Later today, Orioles ownership will introduce Mike Elias as the team’s new general manager and executive vice president. Plaudits of the move have been rolling in since it was rumored to be happening last week. By all accounts, Elias is intelligent, adaptable, experienced and more than ready for this challenge.
Elias was not brought in to make the Orioles better at the major league level in 2019. The organization is playing the long game with the hope that Camden Yards will be hosting playoff games again in four or five years. Between now and then, the expectation will be for Elias to lead the rejuvenation of the club’s scouting, player development and farm system with the resulting benefit being sustainable success in Baltimore.
That said, Major League Baseball will, in fact, conduct a season as usual in 2019, and the Orioles will be asked to stitch together a 40-man roster that can try and compete with 29 other teams that are likely to be much more talented than them. The way in which Elias puts together that roster will be interesting to see.
Elias is a disciple of Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, who brought him along from the St. Louis Cardinals organization back in late 2011. That doesn’t mean Elias will tweak a roster in the same fashion as Luhnow, but examining the way that Houston made changes prior to the 2012 season could give insight as to how Elias plans to prep for 2019 in Baltimore.
No major free agent signings
This won’t come as a shock, but the Astros did not see the need to add significant salaries to a roster that had just finished with 56 wins the year before. Their most notable off-season signing that first year would turn out to be catcher Chris Snyder, who wound up playing 76 games and hitting .176/.295/.308.
Elias will likely be comfortable to stick with mostly in-house options his first year. Perhaps the team could stand to add another outfielder (Brandon Guyer, Chris Young) or a veteran starter (Bartolo Colon, Miguel Gonzalez, Matt Moore), but there would be no need to hand out anything beyond a one-year pact for their services.
Swapping young-ish talent
On the same day that Luhnow was announced as Astros GM in 2011, the team traded for Marwin Gonzalez. Later that week they dealt away Mark Melancon in exchange for Jed Lowrie. These aren’t the types of deals that, in a vacuum, will make the O’s a winner, but they could play a part. Gonzalez has become a solid role player for the Astros these last six seasons. And Lowrie was later flipped to bring Brad Peacock to Houston. Not to mention, Lowrie turned out to be a late bloomer who has had his two best seasons as a 33 and 34-year-old with the Athletics.
This could be an opportunity for Elias to make deals using less experienced players that he may not regard highly enough in hopes of landing a diamond in the rough from another organization. That could mean one or more of the fringe starters (David Hess, Yefry Ramirez, Mike Wright Jr., etc.) gets the boot.
Jason Bourgeois was a 29-year outfielder for the 2011 Astros that put up the only productive season of his big league career that year. Over 93 games, he hit .294/.323/.357 with 31 stolen bases, ten walks and 24 strikeouts. The Astros traded him in March 2012 to the Royals for left-handed pitching prospect Kevin Chapman. That deal didn’t work out for anyone, but it showed that Luhnow and his staff did not buy into out-of-the-blue statistics.
The Orioles do not have any players that really meet the “Bourgeois criteria.” Jonathan Villar was quite good after being acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers at the trade deadline, but that was not so unusual for him. Richard Bleier has put up numbers that look fluky, but he has now done that for parts of three seasons, not to mention he is coming off of an injury. Instead, we may need to wait until later in the summer, or even next year, before the O’s can flip an unexpectedly good performance into a new addition.
One heck of a draft
You have heard this enough already, but it bears repeating. Elias was a big reason why the Astros selected Carlos Correa with the number one pick in the 2012 draft. So far, that looks like a smart decision. He was Rookie of the Year in 2015, has made an All-Star team and earned a few votes for American League MVP. Houston also added stud swing-man Lance McCullers Jr. and a few other big leaguers (Brett Phillips, Preston Tucker, Brady Rodgers) in that draft.
The Orioles possess the top pick in the 2019 draft. Whom they select will have a ripple effect throughout the organization for years to come. First round picks are important no matter what. That importance is tenfold for an organization in such desperate need of talent.
A busy July
Trade deadlines are always hectic, especially for losing teams. The 2012 Astros traded away Carlos Lee, Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, Wandy Rodriguez and Chris Johnson all within one wild month.
There is no reason to think the Orioles will do any different by the time July 2019 rolls around. Nearly the entire roster will be up for sale. Don’t expect the O’s to add the same amount or quality of prospects that they did when trading away the likes of Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and Zach Britton. But Mychal Givens may finally move and could be worth quite a haul. A healthy Mark Trumbo will almost certainly be dealt and may return one solid youngster. The point is that there could be a lot of new faces by the time August is here.
The 2019 Orioles should be Elias’s experiment. Perhaps he follows the blueprint of his former boss. It helped to build a perennial World Series contender. Maybe he will do something completely different. The Orioles could do well to have some outside-the-box thinking in the warehouse. What could it hurt? Following a 47-win season, there is (almost) nowhere to go but up.