Late last week, news broke that the Orioles were making major changes to their organizational personnel. Mike Elias fired 11 members of the front office and scouting department. The big names to be let go were Tripp Norton, the team’s director of baseball operations and member of the organization since 1998, longtime scout Dean Albany and Nathan Showalter, the son of former O’s manager Buck Showalter.
Elias did not get too specific when approached by the press following the announcement:
“We are trying to make changes to the way that the organization conducts business … to adapt to the competitive environment that we’re in, which is very competitive,” he said. “And sometimes … you’ve got to make changes. It’s difficult. It’s the worst part of my job or anyone in my position’s job. These are really good men who had a lot of great contributions to the organization and we’ll help them land on their feet.”
As expected, not everyone was thrilled with the moves.
I think what you guys are missing here is that these guys were really good at their jobs. Not just that they are good guys. It’s hard for me to believe that people that dedicated and competent can’t adjust to a different way to do things. So in my mind it’s a saving money thing.— Dan Connolly (@danconnolly2016) August 24, 2019
There is a lot going on in that tweet. I won’t pretend like I understand the inner-workings of the Orioles organization enough to know what each of the people fired were good or bad at. One would imagine that the only reason they made it this far in baseball is that they were, in fact, quite adept at scouting talent. Connolly has been covering the O’s for a long time and surely has a much better grasp on that than I do. But what feels inaccurate is to say that these moves were done with the main goal being to save the Orioles money.
Many people on Twitter, and elsewhere, have already pointed out that the Orioles are not the first team to take this approach with their scouting staff. The Houston Astros, Elias’s former organization, did something very similar a few years ago. Several books and articles have been written about these approaches. At this point, a team latching on to this way of doing business is not revolutionary, but rather making an effort at identifying a more efficient, and possibly accurate, way to add and develop talent that has been proven to work in the sport.
Would Elias have been willing to leave the Astros, an organization at the forefront of innovation in the industry, and a position from which he was likely to be a candidate for just about every GM opening for years to come, in order to join the Orioles and pinch pennies while only being allowed to partially implement his vision for the club? It seems unlikely.
It is unclear what Elias will do with the scouting department moving forward, though. A few holdovers do remain and it sounds like the O’s GM does plan to bring in more staff.
“We’re re-configuring quite a bit,” Elias said. “We are going to be hiring quite a bit. We’re going to be very busy bringing people into this organization. This organization is gonna grow over the next few months but also the next year or so. We plan to have a lot of hiring in the scout space and analysts, front office personnel. We’re gonna have a lot of new people coming in. This is just the organization moving along and adapting to the sport today.
“We have a great group of people here. We’re going to continue to add to them, and this is not to disparage the contributions that have taken place in the past, which are significant, but it’s my position to look to the future and make tough choices sometimes, but we wish everybody well.”
The “adapting to the sport today” line is especially interesting. It would indicate that Elias felt the 11 people fired were either unable or unwilling to adapt. Or perhaps they simply had too many habits that the new regime could not break. If that is true, then it makes the moves even more understandable. A boss needs to have employees that they can trust to do things in the best interest of the company. Elias may have felt that he did not currently have that luxury.
Back to Connolly’s comment on saving money. If Elias is to be believed, the Orioles will not simply leave those 11 vacancies empty. In his own words, they do plan to hire. Of course, that does not mean they will bring in 11 new employees or that the salaries on those new employees will match what their predecessors were making. But if you combine the staff salaries with the cost of the new technology that is being used by the organization then you could be reaching a break even point with the added benefit of the club being fully entrenched in the modern age of baseball. That’s a change any team in the league would make.
All of this is not to say that the people that the Orioles let go were lacking in ability or anything less than elite talent evaluators who deserve a place in professional baseball. While the O’s are one of the worst teams in baseball right now, it was not so long ago that they were among the league’s elite. Those fired had a role in getting them to that point.
What is clear is that this is Elias’s team now, and O’s ownership seems comfortable in allowing him to make moves that best fit his style of team management. From a fan’s perspective, this is something to be excited about even if it cannot be seen at the major league level for several years to come.