Later this month, Mike Elias will mark his fifth anniversary as Orioles executive vice president/general manager. After some tough initial years, the Orioles have blossomed, and Elias was named as the Major League Baseball Executive of the Year at the General Managers meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Elias is deserving of the award. He inherited a team that had lost a franchise record 115 games in 2018, and while he insisted that there were players in the organization that were building blocks, he knew how tough a task he had.
Only four Orioles who played in the 2018 season remain: outfielders Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and Anthony Santander and starter John Means, who pitched in one game in the final week of that lost year.
First baseman Ryan Mountcastle and pitchers DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez were high draft choices that Elias inherited, and buried deep in the organization’s minor leagues was a young hard-throwing reliever named Félix Bautista.
Dean Kremer, who has become a key starter, was acquired in the Manny Machado trade by Elias’ predecessor, Dan Duquette, but nearly everyone else on the 40-man roster has been brought in by Elias.
The Orioles had a tiny analytics department before Elias. Now, it’s thriving. They had a negligible presence in Latin America. Now, they have a new facility in the Dominican Republic that’s nearing completion.
When Elias was introduced, he insisted that if the Orioles could stay the course, they would be successful.
He didn’t spend much money on free agents and filled the 2019 roster with holdovers and said he didn’t want to go all-in on a “one-hit wonder” team that might win 75 games.
Instead, they won 54 and had a wonderful draft, choosing catcher Adley Rutschman, infielder Gunnar Henderson, outfielder Kyle Stowers and infielder Joey Ortiz with early picks.
Elias traded away veteran players who had value to try to stock the farm system, and he obtained arguably the team’s top starter, Kyle Bradish, in a trade that sent starting pitcher Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels.
Despite showing mathematical progress in the 60-game pandemic season of 2020, Elias continued to deal away players and drafted outfielder Heston Kjerstad and infielder Jordan Westburg in a six-player draft.
Attendance, which fell to 1.3 million in 2019, wouldn’t start to recover until after the pandemic, and after two exciting seasons, was at 1.93 million this year, its highest since 2017.
Next season should feature an extended look at Kjerstad and outfielder Colton Cowser, the first pick in the 2021 draft, and the debut of infielder Jackson Holliday, the first overall pick in the 2022 draft.
As the losses piled up, fans grew impatient, but they were clearly won over by the team’s success in 2023, when it won the American League East.
“It’s been just really gratifying seeing Baltimore, the city of Baltimore and Maryland, back as a baseball capital, like it should be, seeing Camden Yards come alive,” Elias said on MLB Network on Tuesday.
In his offseason availability two days after the Orioles’ were swept by the Texas Rangers in the Division Series, Elias said that the 101-win, 2023 Orioles were special.
“This group of players, regardless of where else they go in their careers, in their lives, I hope that the city of Baltimore remembers this group for kind of reminding the world, ‘This is Baltimore, and we do baseball here.’”
Elias’ award is for assembling this team, hiring and staying with manager Brandon Hyde, and for something that may be longer lasting, reviving interest in baseball in Baltimore.
“It was a terrific regular season. We came up very short in the playoffs. It’s keeping us hungry as we start this offseason,” Elias said. “We’re going to try to take if further, if we can.”
Notes: Right-hander Joey Krehbiel, who was designated for assignment last week, declined an outright assignment to Triple-A Norfolk and filed for free agency. Among other Oriole minor leaguers to file for free agency were: first baseman Lewin Díaz, infielders Adam Hall and Gilbert Lara, right-handers Wandisson Charles and Kyle Dowdy, left-hander T.J. McFarland and outfielder Daz Cameron. … The Orioles reinstated left-hander Keegan Akin, right-hander Dillon Tate and infielder Terrin Vavra from the 60-day injured list. … The final offseason Instructional camp in Sarasota has begun and runs through November 17th. It will focus on weight training and skill development. The minor leaguers on hand are: right-handers Justin Armbruester, Zane Barnhart, Jackson Baumeister, Braxton Bragg, Cooper Chandler, Jacob Cravey, Michale Forret, Zach Fruit, Nestor German, Trey Gibson, Ryan Long, Kiefer Lord, Jack Maruskin, Blake Money, Alex Pham, Jean Pinto, Edgar Portes, Teddy Sharkey, Ty Weatherly and Lew Walls, left-handers Riley Cooper and Deivy Cruz, outfielders Dylan Beavers and Enrique Bradfield Jr., infielder/outfielder Mac Horvath and infielder Max Wagner.