Mike Elias’ first year as the Orioles’ top baseball executive is over, and despite another horrid won/loss record, it’s a qualified success.
The Orioles weren’t meant to be competitive this season, and they weren’t. It was nice they won seven more games than they did a year ago, but at some point, a much larger leap ahead is going to be needed.
That probably won’t happen next year, but as Elias repeatedly pointed out, this was a year for hunting and gathering talent.
There’s much more talent in the organization than there was a year ago, and some of the players who were already on hand on October 1, 2018 are in a better place.
A year ago, John Means was a desperation late addition to a depleted roster in the season’s final weeks. Today, he’s the staff leader and a contender for American League Rookie of the Year.
Anthony Santander was a shaky outfielder who had fallen behind several others on the depth chart. Despite a late-season skid that could be attributed to injuries, Santander is a solid outfield candidate for 2020.
So is Austin Hays, who was rehabbing his surgically repaired ankle. After an energized final three weeks with the Orioles, Hays has established himself as the likely Opening Day centerfielder.
Hunter Harvey was a starter who had teased and disappointed the Orioles with a series of injuries, and now he’s a possible late-inning reliever.
Trey Mancini had a dynamic year and is the leader and star of the club.
There are many disappointments, too.
When Elias took the job last November, he sent an email to season ticket-holders, naming four players he thought the team could build around: Mancini, starter Dylan Bundy, reliever Mychal Givens and centerfielder Cedric Mullins.
Bundy and Givens’ seasons were poor ones, and Mullins’ was a total loss.
Bundy could remain with the club while Givens’ future is in question. Mullins, who began the season in center field but was dropped to Triple-A Norfolk, then Double-A Bowie, was just 6-for-64 with the Orioles in the seasons’ early weeks.
The Orioles are sending Mullins to a private batting school in California in an attempt to remake him as a hitter.
Elias used the waiver wires and low-cost trades to acquire some stopgap players. Some performed well for a time: reliever Shawn Armstrong, starters Aaron Brooks and Asher Wojciechowski, catcher Pedro Severino and outfielder Dwight Smith Jr..
Severino played well in the season’s first half with an .818 OPS but slumped badly to .644 in the second half.
His defense lagged, too. Severino threw out six of the first nine baserunners who attempted to steal against him but ended the season by allowing 76 percent of runners (42 of 55) to steal against him.
Smith also had a strong first half with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs through early June when he suffered a concussion. He had just two home runs and 12 RBIs after that.
Armstrong had a nice May after he was claimed on waivers from Seattle, pitching to a 2.45 ERA and 1.182 WHIP. He ended his Orioles season with a 5.13 ERA and 1.546.
On the other hand, Hanser Alberto, who was lost on waivers to San Francisco but quickly regained, hit .305, but had just a .329 on-base percentage. He might be a useful infielder going forward.
The only personnel move that backfired on Elias was trading outfielder Mike Yastrzemski to the Giants in March for minor league pitcher Tyler Herb.
Yastrzemski hit 21 home runs and had an .852 OPS in 107 games, but Elias gets a pass here. Mike Yaz had been available for the taking in the past three Rule 5 drafts and wasn’t selected.
Despite former general manager Dan Duquette’s affinity for New England players, Yastrzemski had never been called up to the Orioles—even in their 115-loss season in 2018.
Elias has shown he’s in charge in the boardroom, too. He’s made over the front office and minor leagues, and his dismissals include popular former Orioles Brady Anderson, Scott McGregor, Ryan Minor and B.J. Surhoff.
Fans who doubted if Elias was going to be given authority aren’t doubting it now.
The many personnel moves that Elias has made haven’t been announced, but he’s held news briefings to discuss them.
In fact, Elias has been more accessible than initially expected, regularly meeting with the press to talk about not only the news of the day, but for chats about the draft, the trading deadline and a review of the season.
Elias was given high marks for the Orioles’ draft, but they’re going to need additional drafts to become relevant.
Next season, some of the better pitching prospects: Keegan Akin, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alex Wells and Bruce Zimmermann will continue to inch closer to the major leagues, but just like this season, Elias will not nudge them to the Orioles until he thinks they have a reasonable chance of success.
It couldn’t have been easy for Elias to watch his first year as a major league general manager end with 108 losses. Next year might be even more difficult because the smaller fan base won’t be as patient.
Fewer than 100 losses wouldn’t necessarily satisfy them, yet another year of irrelevancy is likely.
The good news is that the Orioles finally have a plan. Elias isn’t making things up as he goes along. Though he’s not disclosing a timetable, a year from now, the farm system should be more replete, the major league team shouldn’t have as many placeholders, and his plan should be easier and perhaps more fun to track.