The search has finally ended and the Orioles have a new baseball operations chief, which means everyone can stop talking about the unmitigated disaster that was the 2018 season and begin looking forward to what comes next.
Mike Elias, 35, is the fresh face that hopes to put a fresh face on a franchise that has not sniffed the World Series since he was still in diapers. He is one of the architects of the rebuilt Houston Astros franchise that won it all last year, and the hope is that his expertise in player development and international scouting will transform an organization that hasn’t done a very good job on either of those fronts for a long time.
There might be some grumbling that it took this long to come up with a replacement for Dan Duquette, but if Elias can replicate in Baltimore the contribution he made as director of amateur scouting and assistant GM in Houston, no one is going to remember two or three years from now that he didn’t arrive here until mid-November.
If there was any question about what the actual hierarchy in the new Orioles front office would look like, the first paragraph of the news release officially introducing the club’s “new executive vice president and general manager” seemed to clear that up.
“Elias will oversee all baseball operations for the club and have full autonomy to build his staff and make decisions on all baseball matters that he believes will make the Orioles successful on the field, entertaining to fans, and impactful in the community.”
That’s a lot of autonomy for an organization where, for much of the past quarter-century, the ultimate authority on all organizational decisions was exercised by managing partner Peter Angelos. His two sons, John and Lou Angelos, are now acting as managing partners and appear to be signaling that there will be greater distance between ownership and the baseball operation.
There was speculation this past summer that Brady Anderson would move from his position as vice president of baseball operations into the role of club president, but his status in the new upper management alignment has still to be addressed.
Elias has roots in the great St. Louis Cardinals player development system and comes out of an Astros organization that — under president of baseball operations Jeff Luhnow — dramatically changed the way it scouted and analyzed players. Elias took part in an Astros no-pain, no-gain rebuilding effort that included more than 300 losses in Luhnow’s first three seasons running the team.
The Orioles and their fans might be facing a similar horizon after last season’s 115-loss debacle. Duquette oversaw the teardown of the team in July, trading most of the club’s established stars for a boatload of prospects.
So, Elias inherits a minor league system that has been replenished to some degree and will have the top overall choice in June’s first-year player draft. The great draft position is particularly relevant here because he oversaw the strong drafts that built the Astros into an American League powerhouse.
He also will take over a team that has slashed payroll so dramatically that he should be in a position to spend some real money upgrading the player development system and sign a few of the top minor league free agents.
What Elias won’t be doing is boldly predicting that the Orioles will be a winning team next season, something that Duquette did upon his arrival and made good on what was thought at the time to be a ridiculous promise. Different time. Different situation.
It’s even possible Elias will take the club another step or two backward at the outset by dealing away veteran pitchers Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner to preserve payroll for the future.
Keep in mind that the MASN television rights dispute has returned to arbitration this week and a decision might come down soon that could force the Orioles to make a large retroactive payment to the Washington Nationals, so the O’s might have downsized at just the right time.
Of course, job one for Elias will be choosing a new manager, a process that figures to start almost immediately.
It will be interesting to see whether he decides to bring in another fresh face or goes with someone with prior major league managerial experience. He wouldn’t have to look far for the next young first-year manager, since Astros bench coach Joe Espada has been a candidate for several jobs this offseason.
Elias also will have some front office hires to make, and there already has been speculation he’ll bring former Astros analytics guy Sig Mejdal with him to Baltimore.
One thing is certain. It’s the beginning of a new era for the Orioles organization, which figures to look very different — from top to bottom — when the front office transition is complete.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.
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