Elias' 2019 Orioles could resemble the 2012 Astros - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

Elias’ 2019 Orioles could resemble the 2012 Astros

Photo Courtesy of Baltimore Orioles

As we begin the new baseball year, six weeks remain before the Orioles report to spring training in Sarasota, Fla. In those six weeks, Mike Elias’ vision will become more apparent, but first let’s look at the team he found when he joined the Houston Astros in 2012.

The Orioles’ general manager was an assistant to Houston GM Jeff Luhnow, when the Astros’ new management inherited a team that lost 106 games, worst in the major leagues.

Houston would play a final season, 2012, in the National League Central before moving to the American League West. In the first season for Luhnow and Elias, the Astros lost 107 games, worst in the majors.

In 2012, there were eight teams that lost 90 or more games. Four of those teams, Kansas City, the Chicago Cubs, Houston and Boston, won World Series from 2015-18. Two others, Cleveland and Colorado, were in the playoffs last season. The other two, Miami and Minnesota, have combined to play in one postseason game since then.

Elias’ group inherited Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel and made a smart under-the-radar trade for super-utility player Marwin Gonzalez. Those three were still around when the Astros won the World Series five years later.

Another key player was George Springer, who was the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2011.

Luhnow, David Stearns, now Milwaukee’s GM, and Elias assembled the rest of the Astros through drafting, signing and shrewd trading.

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Because Houston had the worst record in 2011, the Astros had the top pick in the June 2012 draft, and they picked Carlos Correa. While the move seems to be a no-brainer now, it was controversial then.

Correa quickly signed for $4.8 million, well below the recommended $7.2 million slot. Most draft followers thought Byron Buxton, who was drafted second by Minnesota, was the most talented player in the draft.

Buxton worked out for the Orioles in spring training that season, but the team, which had the fourth overall pick, knew Buxton wouldn’t be around when they picked. The Orioles ended up with Kevin Gausman.

The Astros picked Lance McCullers with their second selection, and he’s turned into a key piece, too.

Houston continued to lose into 2013 when they dropped 111 games before beginning to improve in 2014.

Should Oriole fans prepare for two seasons nearly as difficult as the 115-loss debacle in 2018?

Perhaps, but if Elias can build a club similar to the one in Houston, fans wouldn’t mind the wait.

A number of fans have shared that during the holiday break they were reading “Astroball,” which is about the building of Houston’s championship teams. For all the innovative ways used, the team that was built was a conventionally excellent team.

In 2018, the team’s five starters, Keuchel, McCullers, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Justin Verlander, started all but 10 of the Astros’ games.

Cole, Keuchel and Verlander each threw at least 200 innings, and each threw a complete game. In a season in which position players pitched more often than complete games were recorded, that was an accomplishment.

Most of the key Astros were acquired in trades, though Alex Bregman, Josh James, Tony Kemp and Tyler White on the 2018 team were drafted.

Houston won despite making mistakes. Neither its top pick in 2013 (Mark Appel) or 2014 (Brady Aiken) played in the majors, though Bregman was selected in 2015 as compensation for the Astros’ failure to sign Aiken.

J.D. Martinez was released during spring training in 2014 and Mike Foltynewicz, a 2010 first-round pick Luhnow and Elias inherited, blossomed after he was packaged to Atlanta to help get Evan Gattis.

Elias said his goal for this season is to beef up the Orioles’ talent base with smart drafting, international signings and perhaps some trades.

The Orioles must nail the first pick in June’s draft and be aggressive when the international signing season begins on July 2. If the team signs some free agents from the huge number remaining on the market, the Orioles could perhaps flip them in July for prospects.

No, we don’t know what the Orioles will look like in 2019. Two infielders, Richie Martin and Drew Jackson, were added in the Rule 5 draft, and another, Rio Ruiz, was picked up on waivers.

Other than that, the Orioles’ 40-man roster is full of familiar faces. The guess here is that there will be significant roster churning in the next six weeks, and more once spring training is underway and free-agent bargains remain.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. ClyOs

    January 2, 2019 at 8:19 am

    Rich, I understand everyone’s need to comparing the 2019 Orioles to the 2012 Astros. Hopefully in 5 years Baltimore has the same results as the Astros, but I do need to interject one thought into this comparison. Had Houston been moved to the American League east as opposed to the AL west do you think they would have won 204 game over the past two seasons.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 8:29 am

      I’m not sure of the exact number, ClyOs, but they did win the World Series in 2017, beating both the Red Sox and Yankees along the way.

      They lost to Boston in five games last year in the ALCS, but so did the best team in the NL, the Dodgers.

      While the Yankees and Red Sox as well as the Rays were strong this year, the AL West also featured Oakland, winners of 97 games and Seattle, which won 89.

      I think Houston’s talent—Altuve, Bergman, Correa and Springer—as well as the starters—is as good as anyone else’s.

    • Djowen

      January 2, 2019 at 10:57 am

      Valid point but if the Astros had moved to the AL east they probably would have a slightly different team designed to play in the East instead of the Central. Don’t ask me what would be different. I just think they may have done some things with an eye toward the teams and stadiums in the East.

      • Rich Dubroff

        January 2, 2019 at 4:44 pm

        Their talent is excellent, owen, and they would have adjusted.

  2. boss61

    January 2, 2019 at 8:28 am

    ClyOs raises a valid point about AL East competition, but over the period 2012-2017, the Central fielded formidable teams (Detroit and KC) as did the west (Texas, most regularly).

    To me, the objective takeaway is that we’re going to suck for awhile and that is okay. Also note, we have no Altuves and the like in the system. It may take longer here.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 8:35 am

      Mark, I think the AL West was arguably the second strongest division in baseball though some could argue the NL Central was close.

      The AL East teams benefitted by playing the Orioles. They were 53-23 against Baltimore.

  3. Bancells Moustache

    January 2, 2019 at 9:22 am

    I’ll use this to answer Rich’s previous question about whether I’m optimistic about the Elias regime: No, I am not. I know everyone is dazzled by the analytic talk and spreadsheets, and there is all sorts of proclamations about “trusting the process”. I have a hard time believing the only route to success in professional baseball is slogging through 3-4 years of 100 loss garbage. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen it work in Chicago and Houston, but that doesn’t mean it will work here. Why?

    The Angelos family.

    How long does anyone really believe they will stomach seeing crowds of 8000 on Friday nights against the Yankees? On Tuesday nights in the dog days against Oakland, will anyone show up at all? This town wouldn’t buy seats in ’16 in the thick of a playoff race. Hell, looking at the attendance numbers this year when kids were let in free shows the Orioles literally couldn’t give tickets away. Throw in the possible haircut the MASN case may deliver, plus a very good Washington team that will continue to gobble up young fans. I have a hard time envisioning ownership sitting in an empty stadium, patiently waiting for the Bowie Baysox to rise up and carry the Black and Orange to playoff glory. Guess I’ll believe it when I see it.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 10:01 am

      Bancells, I don’t think John and Louis Angelos would have gone to all the trouble to hire Mike Elias, allowed him to clean house and hire his own people unless they were willing to stomach a few difficult years.

      I know fans will have to be convinced, and the Nationals are a formidable competitor of attention, but I think they’ll be patient.

  4. DC1001

    January 2, 2019 at 10:30 am

    I think Baltimore’s farm is a bit underrated. They have 3 top 100 prospects plus Hays and Harvey who were before their injuries. McKenna’s stock is rising quickly as it should. Akin and Lowther also had outstanding seasons. My guess is they have a top 5-10 farm by the end of the year.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 10:59 am

      DC,, thank you for your comment, but I think it will take more than one good draft to get the farm system to a top 5-10. One solid draft should get them to the middle of the pack, and a good one in 2020, should have them up and running.

    • BunkerFan

      January 3, 2019 at 9:56 am

      I agree with DC 1001. I think Elias is inheriting a better talent base than Luhnow did with the Astros in 2012. In addition to Hays and McKenna, he’s got Diaz, Mountcastle, Tate, Akin, and Kremer, all of whom are perhaps only a half season away from the Show. While it does take some time to make this jump – and some never can quite convert their performance at AA or AAA into success in the Show — this is arguably more talent with a relatively quick impact than there was with Houston in 2012. Plus I like the Martin and Jackson picks in Rule 5. I don’t think we are looking at 3 100-loss seasons; likely just one. And I would expect that Elias has learned from mistakes that were made in Houston. I expect his O’s to be more quickly competitive, but I think he is doing the right thing by providing a longer timeline.

  5. jkneps63

    January 2, 2019 at 11:31 am

    Elaborating on the statement “Most of the key Astros were acquired in trades, though Alex Bregman, Josh James, Tony Kemp and Tyler White on the 2018 team were drafted.” Three position players on the current Astros 40 man roster were acquired in trades and seven pitchers have been acquired in trades, including Cole and Verlander. 12 players were signed as free agents, *15* were drafted – with most making their MLB debut 3-4 years after being drafted, and two were acquired via waiver claims. Seems like a robust mix of player acquisition methods, hopefully the Os will have quite a few new faces to evaluate at Spring Training come February.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 4:46 pm

      Hopefully, they will be as competitive in a few years as the Astros, jkneps.

  6. Bhoffman1

    January 2, 2019 at 11:51 am

    Everything is going in the right direction again wish Gausman was here to lead the staff under Hyde and Elias

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 4:47 pm

      bhoffman, as you know I wrote that I thought that the trade of Gausman was premature.

  7. Orial

    January 2, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    I think it has a lot more to do with the future high draft picks than it does with the existing farm system. That being said I saw a site that projected MLB’s 50 best players 5 years from now and had O’s catcher Andy Rutchsman at number 14. Very impressive. Bobby Witt Jr may not be the man after all.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 4:48 pm

      We don’t know who the Orioles will draft, but it’s Adley Rutschman, not Andy, Orial.

  8. DevoTion

    January 2, 2019 at 12:36 pm

    Rich, what happened to the international signing money the O’s had obtained and built up this past season? I was under the impression that the money had to be used and it couldn’t be rolled over to the next draft.

    • Rich Dubroff

      January 2, 2019 at 4:23 pm

      Devo, you are correct. The money
      much be spent before June 15 or lost.

    • Bhoffman1

      January 2, 2019 at 6:10 pm

      Do you have idea how it will be spent

      • Rich Dubroff

        January 2, 2019 at 6:38 pm

        Perhaps Koby Perez will shed some light when he’s introduced on Thursday.

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