Near the end of the Orioles season-ticket holders’ Q&A with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde on Saturday at FanFest — the duo’s first interaction with the fan base whose team they're charged with returning to glory — Doug Waire boiled down their greatest challenge as simply as anyone could.
The Phoenix resident and longtime Orioles fan asked Elias what a successful year would look like for the club after a 115-loss 2018 season that required a housecleaning on Eutaw Street. Waire, 47, asked Hyde how he'd handle the clubhouse and keep things progressing in the right direction with the specter of such a season looming again.
Their answers pleased not only Waire but many of the fans who braved the cold Saturday to get to the Baltimore Convention Center, where honesty about the present and optimism about what it could mean for the future dominated the day.
"It's a good question, and I have a very clear goal for this season, and as I said a little bit earlier, I want to see the overall level of talent, up and down this organization, go up," Elias said. "I want to see it move in the right direction, and on top of that, I have a lot of goals behind the scenes with what we're doing in terms of improving the functionality and overall infrastructure of every department of baseball operations.
"But in terms of the results on the field, we want to see the level of talent go up. A big part of that is the players that we have in our minor league system already, and here in Baltimore already, getting better. … That's my standard for this season. If it also comes with an improvement in our record, obviously that would be spectacular. But I don't want to put undue emphasis on areas that are not strategically relevant to where we need to take this organization and where it's going in the future. We just want to see the organization get more talented and get better."
Hyde said the process of moving the major league club in the right direction has already started, from the meetings and calls he's had with players to the coaching hires.
"I think everybody's in a really good place, and spring training is kind of where we set the tone of what our identity as a ballclub is going to be," Hyde said. "We're going to talk a lot about culture and a lot about being great teammates, a lot about being accountable, and as we go into the season, to continue to create that great culture.
“That's my goal, and becoming how we're identified as a ballclub and how we're going to play on a nightly basis, and how we're going to be the most prepared team in the league, and how we're going to be the best base-running team in the league, and how we're going to catch the ball better and all these different things development-wise we're going to put in place in spring training and improve as the season goes along. That's kind of my vision of how I see it. It's going to be difficult, but it's a great challenge and I'm excited to get it started."
As the two men who will be the faces of the Orioles' rebuild in lieu of many marketable stars on the field for now, Elias and Hyde were introduced to Orioles fans as such at the season-ticket-holder-only event before FanFest opened to the public.
They were asked about whether the club had ruled out re-signing longtime Orioles outfielder Adam Jones, and Elias had to deftly address the team's reputation for ownership meddling, saying they had "extremely extensive conversations on that front" during his interviews and were "on the same page."
They were subjected to the fans' new fascination with international bonus slot money, and Elias explained again just how that worked. Hyde was applauded for saying he liked players who hustled to first base, and he struck a particularly appropriate chord in saying he liked versatile players who do more than just one thing well after years of a slugger-centric roster construction.
It was all Baltimore, distilled into 30 minutes of baseball Q&A. But Waire asked what everyone wanted to know — what is this really going to look like to those who won't get to see the incremental progress made within, and only see what's on the field at Camden Yards?
"What I really liked about both of them, and the answers to those questions, was that they were realistic," Waire said. "I like hearing a realistic response instead of just what everybody wants to hear, and I think they were both very realistic in their approach. 2019 is not going to be an easy year. It's going to be another difficult year, but building blocks to get better for the future. I liked what I heard from both of them. I really did.
"It's going to be a similar approach [to the Houston Astros' rebuild], what we're going to see here, and I think fans need a direct approach so that we know what to expect. With any situation that's difficult, if you can explain what a realistic outcome is going to be, it's going to be a better situation for you."
Elias seemed to enjoy getting to interact with fans in that way, and seemed glad they accepted the honest message that came from the leaders of their new club.
"There's an economic structure to baseball," Elias said. "We can't just flip a switch, even if we wanted to right now. There's nothing we can do to just flip a switch and get back to the playoffs immediately. I hope it happens, but we're going to have to build a sustainable base of talent for this organization.
“We're in a very competitive division, and it takes baseball players a little bit of time to get from amateur baseball to the major leagues. That's just how the sport is. We're very cognizant of that, we're going to do everything we can and if it happens this year, great. But we're not setting those requirements in terms of a successful season."