The new Orioles front office of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal was installed so late last offseason that most of this 2019 season was spent cooking with groceries they didn’t buy.
But that changed in September when the pair tapped Matt Blood as the Orioles’ new player development director. Elias and Mejdal worked with Blood when getting their starts in baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Blood said his past experiences with two major league organizations and USA Baseball, as well as his knowledge of how the Orioles’ front office sees things, made “just about everything” fit for him to come over from the Texas Rangers last month.
“I think I was drawn to the ultimate vision that Mike and Sig have: the mindset, the opportunity to build something from the ground up and kind of create what our culture and processes are going to be,” Blood said. “To be able to do it with Mike and Sig, two people that I know and have known for a decade now and trust, and feel comfortable with, I felt like it was a really good opportunity.”
A former area scout with the Cardinals, Blood was in St. Louis when Elias and Mejdal were helping build the club’s exemplary scouting infrastructure that led to their boss, Jeff Luhnow, getting hired to run the Houston Astros. Blood seems cut from the same cloth as Elias and Mejdal, partially because it seems his new colleagues did a lot of the cutting.
“Sig and I have been in touch for most of my professional career,” Blood said. “We’ve bounced ideas off each other and considered him kind of a working mentor of mine, and a collaborator you can say. That’s who I’ve developed a lot of my philosophies and thoughts [with], through arguments with him or discussions with him. And Mike as well. When we were there with the Cardinals together, we were close to the same age and would have discussions and spend time together. I just learned a lot from both of those guys.”
After leaving the Cardinals, Blood was tapped as the director of the USA Baseball 18 and Under national team from 2016 to 2018 before the Texas Rangers hired him as their player development director last fall.
In Texas, he was eventually shifted away from a day-to-day player development role and named the director of baseball innovation, working in more of a philosophy-driving role while those more steeped on the player development side took a more hands-on approach.
While it might look tumultuous from the outside, Blood said the only reason he left was to “join Mike and Sig, two people that I just know and trust, and to be able to build something from the ground up.”
“My experience with Texas was probably the greatest experience of my professional life and personal life,” Blood said. “I learned and grew more in those 10, 11 months than I had in the previous 10 years. I met a lot of really good people, and learned so much about the game of baseball, about leadership, about player development, about the front office.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity that [president and general manager] Jon Daniels gave me, being able to work alongside of [assistant general managers] Mike Daly and Josh Boyd. It was a dream come true, and honestly, was the best thing for me. Leaving there was hard, that quickly.”
The Orioles’ setup might be different in that Elias and company have spent a year establishing the changes needed in the organization, from a philosophical standpoint to a staffing and structure one. With interim farm director Kent Qualls continuing as director of minor league operations with a focus on roster management and contracts, the infrastructure could be in place for Blood to be more focused on the big picture.
That’s what the first month of his time with the Orioles has been trained toward. The Orioles have plenty of coaching hires to make on the minor league side, and there might be some changes to structures and previous roles. So Blood said his initial tasks have been “setting the vision, making sure that we’re on the same page as to what our culture and processes are going to be.”
That way, Blood said, anyone interviewed will know the expectations and be on the same page.
“They don’t necessarily have to have the same experiences, background, or even coaching philosophy, but be along the same mindset of what our culture is going to be,” Blood said. “That’s kind of the initial stage.”
What that culture is, when he tells it, will be familiar with what the two men who brought him to Baltimore have preached at all of their previous stops, and in their first year here.
“We want to be growth-mindset, intrinsically motivated, evidence-based in our decision making, and not afraid to try things, not afraid to fail,” Blood said. “Very collaborative. No egos. We’re all wanting to work to build something together, and we’ll do that through having growth mindset and collaboration. That’s a big, big part of who we’re going to be, and I think through that, it creates a lot of excitement and energy and learning. We all learn a lot faster together than we do on our own.”
Blood acknowledged it all sounds high-concept and philosophical for now, especially for a player development role. But he’s also excited for the point when the Orioles are staffed up and he can dig into the players that will help determine whether this approach pans out. He knows a few Orioles players from his scouting days and USA Baseball, but is eager to get to work with them and help implement what they’re building.
“It’s kind of like on the airplane where they say put your own mask on before you put on others',” Blood said. “That’s the process we’re going through now. If we want to service the players the way that we need to, we’ve got to make sure we’ve got everything buttoned up internally first.”