The Mike Elias era in Baltimore begins at 11 a.m. That’s when Elias will be introduced as the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager. Elias, who will be the first person to carry the GM title since Frank Wren in 1999, has been promised “full autonomy.”
That phrase delighted skeptical Orioles fans.
Elias’ hiring is intriguing for those of us who will cover him because we know so little about him. His resume is impressive, and his youth is striking, but judgments are months away.
At his press conference today, Elias undoubtedly will talk about how important scouting and player development are — two areas he worked in with the Houston Astros — and about analytics, another area where he’s demonstrated expertise.
Comparisons will be made about the situations in Houston and Baltimore. When Elias, Jeff Luhnow and David Stearns were hired by the Astros for the 2012 season, the team had lost 106 games.
Five years later, they were World Series champs and Stearns in Milwaukee and Elias in Baltimore have their own franchises to run while Luhnow continues his ultra-successful tenure in Houston.
The Astros lost 107 and 111 games in Elias’ first two years, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Orioles, who lost 115 games in 2018, had two more rocky years before times got better.
But there the comparisons end. The new Astros management team inherited Brad Mills as manager, and they’d cycle through him and three more managers until settling on A.J. Hinch in 2015, when the team surprised baseball by qualifying for the postseason.
Two key pieces of the Astros’ successful four-year run, Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, were already on hand. Another, Marwin Gonzalez, was one of the first acquisitions of the new regime. George Springer had been Houston’s top draft choice in 2011.
With the Orioles, there’s no inherited manager, and Elias will quickly embark on a search. He also will bone up on the Orioles’ 40-man roster and minor leagues to see if there are any future Altuves, Keuchels and Springers.
Nearly all of the 56 players who performed for the Orioles in 2018 will be long gone by the time the Orioles become respectable again.
By the time the Astros were ready to contend, four seasons into Elias’ time in Houston, the roster had turned over and important players such as Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr. were drafted. Alex Bregman would be selected in the 2015 draft.
The Astros, considered baseball’s brainiest franchise, won a World Series despite making critical errors. They released J.D. Martinez in March 2014, and their No. 1 overall picks in 2013 and 2014, Mark Appel and Brady Aiken, never made it to the majors.
Their failure to sign Aiken turned out well, though, when they drafted Bregman as compensation.
Fans are hoping that Elias’ autonomy will include the ability to end Chris Davis’ time with the Orioles, but that’s something that needs to be addressed in 2019 — not now.
A new manager and hitting coach will have an opportunity to work with Davis, who is still owed $110 million by the Orioles in salary and deferred payments.
The Orioles’ investment in Davis is so enormous that a quick decision shouldn’t be made. They must see if they can get some production from him, and if they can’t, the decision will be made not by Elias alone, but in consultation with ownership, as it should be.
Naïve fans who believe that Davis and his powerful agent Scott Boras will accept something less than the $110 million owed as a “buyout” should realize that would set a precedent that players will never accept.
Elias has first-hand experience with one returning Orioles regular. Jonathan Villar was traded by Houston after the 2015 season to Stearns’ Brewers.
He’ll have to make quick decisions on Villar, who played second and shortstop after he was acquired by the Orioles on July 31, and others. Both Villar and Tim Beckham are among the handful of players with arbitration eligibility who must be offered contracts by Nov. 30.
Villar will be retained, but Beckham may not be.
Besides listening to Elias, who will probably be long on generalities and short on specifics, at least at first, it will be fascinating to see John and Louis Angelos, who will introduce Elias this morning.
Their father, Peter, wasn’t present at key Orioles announcements, but his sons, who chose Elias, will be there.
Elias has years of work ahead of him, and Oriole fans are going to be eager to hear his vision.