Since being officially hired as the Orioles general manager a few weeks ago, Mike Elias has started on the transformation of the front office from what he inherited from his predecessor, Dan Duquette, into what will hopefully be a capable, analytics-driven operation.
In his introductory press conference, Elias sounded more positive than I expected about the state of the talent in the organization. He said that the O’s have “players on this team and in the organization right now who are going to be part of the next playoff team,” which is welcome news, as was his assessment that, as a scouting director, there were “future stars and really good pitchers” in the farm system already.
So far, the decisions that Elias has been making have been largely confined to team executives. Eventually, Elias’s new team is going to sift through the roster and figure out who’s part of the long-term plan, who’s worth keeping around until a better option presents itself, and who should be on the next train out of town. He must decide which Duquette experiments are worth continuing and which should stop wasting people’s time.
It’s fair to say that most of those experiments weren’t working by the end. The Orioles didn’t finish 47-115 by accident this season. A long road of well-laid plans that turned out to be awful plans led them there.
It won’t be much of a surprise if Elias shuffles most of the players responsible for that record out of here even though he offered that general praise for the existing talent, much like he’s chosen to replace scouting director Gary Rajsich and farm director Brian Graham after speaking at his conference about the “good work being done” already.
Still, some of the players are surely worth keeping around to see what happens. Hopefully that new wave of analytics Elias is bringing to the Orioles will lead them to the right decisions as they tackle these broad areas of Duquette’s leftovers:
- Rule 5 draft picks
- Amateur draft picks
- Scrap heap pickups (cheap trades, waiver claims, minor league signings)
- The big sell-off trade pieces
- “Big” free agents signed by Duquette
You can fit the whole organization worth of players in one of these categories. Some have more names in them than others, and some names have more potential time remaining in the organization - if Elias’s people want it - than others.
Rule 5 picks
It was a well-established joke of Duquette’s tenure that he had a weird fascination with the Rule 5 draft even before he went wild and picked three players last year. One lasted the season: reliever Pedro Araujo, who still has to spend some time on the active roster in 2019 for the O’s to fully acquire his rights after the O’s hid him on the disabled list this season.
They pulled the same caper with outfielder Anthony Santander, picked in 2017. Will Elias see any point in trying to keep Araujo? It doesn’t cost the O’s much to do it - the last guy in the bullpen in April and May for a team that’s going to lose a lot of games doesn’t matter. As for Santander, as long as he has minor league options and the vague idea of potential remaining, not much cost to keeping him around, either.
For April 2016 sensation Joey Rickard, the path is a bit less clear. He’s old enough (27) and has appeared at the MLB level enough to figure that this is who he is. The O’s have a plethora of younger outfielders to sort out. Rickard’s role should be a fourth outfielder at most.
On Monday in Las Vegas, Elias suggested to Orioles reporters that he might make a couple of Rule 5 picks, since the Orioles have two spots open on the 40-man roster, so there’s even less room for Duquette leftovers if he does that.
Amateur draft picks
Dylan Bundy, Mychal Givens, and Mike Wright are still hanging around from the Andy MacPhail days, if you can believe it, though their big league success (or not) was all under Duquette. Bundy and Givens will probably get traded if they’re good. Wright will probably be released if he’s not.
There’s an entire outfield of Duquette picks who’ve already seen a little MLB time: Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart. This is probably not the Orioles starting outfield of the future, if only because of hopes for Yusniel Diaz, the lone top 100 prospect that Duquette acquired in July. Elias has some time to wait since the 2019 O’s won’t compete, but he can’t wait around forever for yesterday’s prospects to turn into today’s useful big leaguers.
This is also true about catcher Chance Sisco, for whom it could yet turn out to be that the O’s were engaged in a quixotic pursuit to try to get him to stick at catcher, and about hard-throwing lefty reliever Tanner Scott, whose quest to find the strike zone could be equally futile no matter what coach he has telling him where and how to find it.
A key thing to consider for any player on the O’s right now is that Elias has nothing invested in them. They don’t “have” to succeed to prove that Elias is a smart man with a good plan in the way that, for instance, late-Duquette era Orioles tried to make “Trey Mancini can be a left fielder” happen. Can Elias’s guys make them better, or will they just go in the pile of O’s disappointments?
Scrap heap pickups
There are many of these and they arrived in different ways. Waiver claim Renato Nunez appears to be headed for the 2019 third base job - at least initially - by default. Richard Bleier, if healthy, deserves a bullpen spot based on his 2017-18 performance.
It will be interesting to see what Elias makes of Miguel Castro. Although Castro at times flashed some promise, his two years with the O’s added up to 95 strikeouts and 78 walks in 152.2 innings, which isn’t impressive, and he can’t be optioned to the minors any more.
The big trade pieces
Whether Elias’s Orioles see any of the big trade headliners make contributions will go a long way towards figuring out if Duquette was an idiot who made a bunch of bad trades for some bums. The headliners are: Diaz (Machado/Dodgers), Dillon Tate (Britton/Yankees), Luis Ortiz (Schoop/Brewers), and uh... ??? (Gausman/Braves).
It is a bummer that none of those three guys had early positive results in the organization, but it’s only been a month or so of games for them, so we’ll see what Elias’s guys can make of them. Tate will be 25 in May and Ortiz will be 24 in September; if these two in particular don’t have good seasons in 2019 it will barely even be worth considering them prospects any longer.
One secondary piece who impressed early on was Jonathan Villar from the Brewers. If he keeps playing well, his value to the team will likely be as a trade piece.
Free agent signings
If they’re good, trade them. If Chris Davis doesn’t improve after another offseason of work, then we’ll find out how serious Elias can be about moving on from mistakes of the Duquette era. Note that the Davis contract is possibly Peter Angelos’s fault and not Duquette’s.
Elias also told reporters that the goal for 2019 is going to be “building the aggregate talent base” throughout the organization. The biggest way to do that is going to be to find that talent from the outside, but every piece that he can use that’s here already puts the O’s that much closer to better baseball.