It’s taken until mid-December for them to do it, but the Orioles finally have both a general manager and a manager to lead them into what will hopefully be a better future. If there was a common theme in Monday’s press conference where manager Brandon Hyde was introduced, it was one of communication and openness between the men in charge of the team.
The fact that what should be a basic step of a well-run franchise seems revolutionary here is another reminder of how much of a mess things had become. There are a lot of reasons that the team fell to its 47-115 record this year. One of them seems to be that, to put it mildly, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter were not on the same page.
After the O’s enjoyed some initial success after bringing Duquette on board, it was easy to forget how peculiar that whole situation was. Duquette inherited the manager from the Andy MacPhail days, having taken the job after seemingly everyone who was viewed as a talented up-and-comer ran screaming away from this franchise.
Though none of those people ever stood in front of a microphone and said so directly, the impression emerged nonetheless that the GM would not be able to remove the manager, and as it turned out, only Duquette, who had been out of the game for a decade, was willing to work with that condition. That this worked out as long as it did may be something of a miracle. When it fell apart, the stories of the dysfunction appeared more and more among both local and national mainstream press about the O’s.
This time around, the Orioles have gotten it right. They hired a general manager, Mike Elias, whose resume includes experience building up the kind of analytics department that the Orioles have lacked, and they let Elias and his deputy Sig Mejdal hire a manager, Hyde, who shared a vision on what is the best way to move forward with this franchise.
The phrases that came up again and again throughout Monday’s conference where Elias introduced Hyde are encouraging: “connection,” “rapport,” “shared passion,” “collaboration,” and so on.
In response to a question about the importance of having a bond with his manager, Elias noted “it’s going to be a nightly relationship for several years,” and noted he feels such a bond with Hyde already. He said that he and Hyde have the same view that there will be “a partnership between the front office and coaching staff.”
Saying this stuff in a press conference and still feeling it in July of what’s probably not going to be a great 2019 season are different things, of course. Losing makes it easier for bonds to fray.
It surely doesn’t hurt that Elias and Hyde are both realistic about expecting challenges while the process that they both spoke of is working towards eventual better days. These are not snake oil salesmen trying to pitch a miraculous, immediate turnaround. Elias has the task of getting talent into the system and Hyde and his to-be-hired staff will have the task of turning everyone who gets up to the MLB level into the best players they can be.
Hyde’s commitment to player development is something that Elias said made him an appealing managerial candidate. This was on display, too, throughout Monday’s conference, including when Hyde described his ideal member of a coaching staff as “grinders who want to get guys better.”
This is one of those things that also seems like it should be automatic. Shouldn’t it? Presumably every MLB coach wants players to get better, or else why would they be an MLB coach? But another important aspect of the job for Hyde is having coaches who want the information that’s coming out of what he termed “R&D.” He explained that the good coaches are also able to explain that information to players and that they can get players to go along with it because there is a relationship of trust there.
There is a lot of available evidence to suggest that the last O’s regime didn’t have much R&D going on, and what little they did have was not making its way from the front office to the coaches to the players. This is not necessarily the fault of former pitching coach Roger McDowell or former bench coach John Russell or any of the rest of the old coaching staff. Still, it seems like whoever Hyde decides to hire will be more in touch with the present and future of baseball than the last group of guys.
This is just not the kind of stuff that Showalter talked about. No one would believe that there was any R&D data that led to Chris Davis batting leadoff for the first few games of this past season, or that led Manny Machado to bat third for most of the year before he was traded.
Until trading away the soon-to-be free agents starting with Machado in mid-July, it’s not the kind of stuff Duquette ever talked about, either. Whether because they lacked the resources to pursue it fully or lacked a belief in its importance, the impression is there from anecdote after anecdote that they just... weren’t doing this. The game changed and it now seems clear that they didn’t keep up.
Hyde, who has been in the game since starting as a minor league coach in 2006, has learned from people around him at every one of his stops along the way and adapted to the new way of thinking, including at his most recent stop, where he saw first-hand the benefit of the Cubs approach, where they were able to take a team that lost 101 games in 2012 and build it into a team that won 97 games in 2015 and 101 games on the way to a 2016 World Series title.
For someone who thinks of himself as a “player development guy,” it’s not hard to want all the information you can get. How else are you supposed to develop players if you’re not giving them the right advice, backed up by good data that’s been generated by the front office people?
There is nothing that either Elias or Hyde can do or say to change that there’s going to be a lot of losing in the Orioles near future. The roster is what it is. They can’t change that overnight. Even with that unavoidable reality, the way that they were able to show themselves to be on the same page in Monday’s press conference is reason enough to offer some hope and excitement for a few years down the road.