New Orioles general manager Mike Elias was introduced to the Baltimore media Monday morning and proceeded to outline his vision for an O’s franchise that had gone from renaissance to rudderless over the past two years.
The former Houston Astros assistant GM was officially named the new head of baseball operations Friday, so it was understandable that he was not long on specifics after spending only a long weekend on the job, but he made it pretty clear what the emphasis will be over the next few years.
“The plan is simple,’’ he said. “We’re going to build an elite talent pipeline.”
Sounds straightforward enough, though only a few teams in major league baseball have succeeded in doing that. The Astros are at the top of that list, which probably is a big reason Elias was sitting on stage between Orioles managing partners John and Louis Angelos in the clubhouse instead of some other young wunderkind from some other organization.
“He made an amazing first impression,’’ Lou Angelos said. “I think you see that today.”
Elias fielded questions about every aspect of the organization and the rebuilding effort that began when former executive vice president Dan Duquette traded Manny Machado to the Los Angeles Dodgers in mid-July and proceeded to unload most of the team’s high-dollar players.
He complimented Duquette for making those moves at just the right time and said he would be building upon them rather than restarting the rebuild from scratch.
“Those were the right moves,’’ Elias said. “The team had left a period of competitiveness. That was clear by the trade deadline. A lot of players were on expiring contracts. It was clear that it was time to bring in new, younger talent and those were key opportunities to do that and I’m glad those moves happened. We’re going to build off of that work.”
It’s going to be a big job and Elias is going to be working simultaneously on several fronts. He’s got a field manager to hire and an organizational hierarchy to review and possibly restructure. If the managerial search is job one, he said Monday, he would not be placing any arbitrary timeline on it.
“The process and the background work has already begun,’’ he said. “I have a lot of contacts around the game and I have certainly already started tapping into those networks doing background work on candidates. This is an important hire, just as this [his hiring] was an important one for [ownership]. It’s not something to rush for the sake of meeting artificial dates in the wintertime. We want to get the right person for our organization, for our front office, for us, for this time. These are thorough processes when you’re talking about a job this big.”
The Angelos brothers, who have taken over much of the day-to-day responsibilities over the past year as their father, Peter Angelos, has been in declining health, just completed that process with Elias and obviously went about in a serious and deliberate way. They interviewed a number of strong candidates and had to feel tremendous pressure to hire the right person at a critical point in the history of the Orioles franchise.
“I don’t know that I would use the word ‘pressure,’” John Angelos said. “I would use the word ‘obligation.’ I think Lou and I and all of the owners, we’re all from here, we love the club and we want the club to do well. We want the club to be influential and impactful in the community as much as it can be, because that’s the reason to be involved.
“Holding up trophies is nice and it’s absolutely at the top of the list in many, many ways, but winning is great also because the more you win, the more people are involved and passionate about you the more influential you are in the community. … I would say, absolutely, we felt an obligation.”
Elias will also be populating the Orioles front office with some new scouts — both international and domestic — and upgrading the analytics department. There has been speculation he’ll bring in former Astros analytics guru Sig Mejdal, but there were no names dropped during the news conference.
“We’re going to be looking for leadership and experience in this area,’’ Elias said. “We will be bringing in outside talent to help. There are good people out there and I’ll be going after them as quickly as possible.”
The same goes for enhancing the team’s scouting department and improving the organization’s ability to target and acquire top international prospects.
“It’s very important,’’ said Elias, who was in charge of international scouting in Houston the past two years. “In this day and age in baseball, you need to tap into every available avenue for acquiring talent. There are so many stars coming out of the international market, particularly in Latin America, and it is essential to attack that market smartly and correctly. I can tell you we will be making additions to our international operation over the near term.”
There were no decisions announced regarding the remaining executives currently running the baseball operation because, apparently, none have been made. Lou Angelos addressed a question about the status of vice president Brady Anderson by deferring to Elias’ complete authority to reshape the organization, then Elias said he will need the help of the current staff to get settled into his new job.
“I think in this period in particular, I believe Mike’s going to be relying on all of the individuals who have great knowledge and deep knowledge of our current players,” Lou Angelos said, “so that extends across the board and I don’t think Brady is really any different in that respect. I think it’ll be pretty straightforward as far as that transition goes forward.”
If all this sounds too good to be affordable for an organization that often complains about the economic disadvantage it has to compete under in the American League East, it was inevitable that there would be a question about how the outcome of the MASN television rights dispute with the Washington Nationals might affect the ability to do everything Elias might want to do.
The latest arbitration hearings were held late last week and the club will find out soon how much they might be ordered to pay in both past and future rights fees.
“We don’t envision that it will have an impact on anything we’re talking about today,’’ John Angelos said. “The focus of ownership’s resources in the recent past in an effort to win in the most recent five- or six-year period was very much on investing, perhaps overinvesting in the major league player payroll, relatively. Mike has all the same resources today that we’ve had for baseball ops in the past and he’ll have in the future to do with them as he sees fit.
“It’ll be the same commitment irrespective of that particular matter. That matter will come and it will go and when it goes, all those things will still be in place at Mike’s disposal. … The buck starts with him, … and we’ll provide the resources and we’ll be in good stead.”