Before the Orioles head on the road to wrap up their season this week against the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox, the last home game of the season Sunday provided a platform for executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde to give an overview on what’s happened in the 2019 season, each man’s first in charge of the rebuilding franchise.
Their points of emphasis were telling. Elias focused on the farm system and the work done by those he’s brought in to improve the major league and minor league staff. Hyde continued to ask for support and patience as the face of the disappointing big league club.
Together, they offered insight into what happened this season at Camden Yards and throughout the farm, and what can be expected in the offseason and in 2020. Here are five takeaways from the comments of the Orioles’ brass Sunday.
There’s not a lot to judge off the major league season except individual performances.
Before getting to what happened on the big league level, Elias noted the Orioles’ elevated farm-system rankings, the fact that they had “no real international scouting function, we had a minimalist analytics group, and a lot of that has changed,” and that so many of the players they inherited in the minors have gotten better.
He also noted that the Orioles are losing games “way more than we want to,” and added later that they “can’t ask anyone to embrace losing the way we have been."
“Our record last year was historically bad,” Elias said. “This year, it’s not going to be a ton better. Nobody wants to lose. We never want this to happen again, but this is where we started from. The group of people who joined the organization this year, we took this on, trying to fix it. In order to do that, we’re making changes. We’re not just doing the same thing with the same people that have been done here before. It’s difficult.”
He highlighted the success of All-Star left-hander John Means, catcher Pedro Severino, outfielders Anthony Santander and Trey Mancini and infielder Hanser Alberto as particular success stories and said that “the positives this year outweigh the negatives.” It’s just a particularly visible set of negatives that are setting the perception of what’s happening with the Orioles as an organization.
Don’t expect 2020 to be any different.
Just because the major league club is the most front-facing part of the Orioles’ operation doesn’t mean it will be any different going forward, Elias said. He was given several different ways to say that an offseason priority would be improving the 2020 Orioles, and did not take any of them.
“I think we’re going to continue to be in the strategic mode that I’ve said from the beginning this year, about improving the overall talent level in the organization,” Elias said. “That’s going to be priority No. 1. What comes after that is secondary. I hope that we keep kind of improving in a linear way, but that’s not always the case with these.”
Asked whether a modest investment in some experienced relievers could help the Orioles win some of the games they’ve lost of late, he noted that his time with the Houston Astros told him that it “always feels like it’s the bullpen’s fault” even when other aspects of the team fail, too. As for those upgrades, he said they’ll “take that as it comes this winter."
“We’re taking a broad, strategic, organizational view here,” Elias said. “Like I just said, winning a couple extra games is not the end goal here. We want to get this team back to the playoffs and have the organization be in a healthy spot for a very long time, so that’s going to be first and foremost.”
His answer on the club’s offseason roster priorities was most telling, though. Elias said that the priority was going to be preparing for the Rule 5 draft, which will involve adding prospects to the roster and taking players off to accommodate them. Then, he said “we’re going to just try to get incrementally better across the roster, as we have, as guys become available to us.”
None of that sounds like there will be any free-agent introductions in the Warehouse this winter, but it’s not as if there was much reason to expect that anyway.
Hyde did a good job, but might be surrounded by different people next season.
Elias had plenty of praise for the man he selected to manage the major league, on-field portion of this rebuild. He said that Hyde “did great” and noted all of the specific tasks that Hyde was responsible for.
“We’ve had so many players get better this year,” Elias said. “I think a lot of that has been the work of the coaching staff, but also a big part of this job this year was communicating on a nightly basis, daily basis, with the fan base, what we’re doing, and how we’re doing it. He’s done that. I love his attitude. I like the way that he’s gotten the staff working and players working, and we’ve just got to keep getting more talent in here, get more talented in the minor leagues and the major leagues and our personnel.
“This is a long process. We know where we’re starting from, and we know the division that we’re in. This is not easy, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Elias wouldn’t, however, go into specifics on whether he thought Hyde’s staff would be back intact next season, citing the sensitivity of such comments at a time when the season is still going. He said the staff “did well,” but like he said when the Orioles got rid of some of their scouts and player development staff, explained that they wanted to move quickly with those decisions.
“They’ve been a real good group,” Elias said. “They were thrown together late. A lot of these guys were hired in November, December, January. It’s a difficult circumstance, coming into the American League East with a team that’s got a lot of waiver-wire type guys. I think they did very well with these circumstances.”
Elias is still being given free rein from the Angelos family.
When Elias sat in the lounge-like setting that was his introductory news conference with Louis and John Angelos, the sons of managing partner Peter G. Angelos who served as the two-man hiring committee for the Orioles’ new top executive as their father’s health prevented him from being involved, they pledged to let him run the operation as he saw fit.
Elias said Sunday that he’s been allowed that opportunity all year.
“It’s been terrific,” Elias said. “I wouldn’t have come here, taken this job, if I didn’t think there was going to be a good rapport and good relationship with the ownership group. They’ve recognized the need for big changes and sweeping changes, and they’re allowing us to do so, and they’re supporting us throughout that, and that’s really important. This is not an easy situation we’re in, and we all need one another’s support and understanding. This is going to be a rocky climb, but it’ll be worth it.”
The last month or so has been indicative of that freedom, as Elias has had to make some difficult calls on letting go of longtime staff members with deep ties to the organization. Connection to the past is paramount around here, and that’s happening anyway. Short-term fixes that might play well with the fans but won’t help the organization long-term aren’t part of the team’s plans, which illustrates that some of the past problems with the team’s leadership have been addressed.
Hyde’s call for patience was a fitting message to end the home schedule.
At times this year, Hyde has been the avatar for a tremendous amount of frustration. He’s had to answer for it, he’s had to explain it, and at times he has had to defend things no major league manager should have to defend. But he’s done it all knowing that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was interesting to see him praise what would typically be a modest announced crowd of 22,556 on Saturday night for making it feel like a baseball game, and pleading for more nights like that and patience until the team plays like one that deserves them.
“The energy in the ballpark last night was fantastic, and I’m looking forward to the day when it’s like that all the time, because that was more normal for me,” said Hyde, who won a World Series title as bench coach with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. “That was great. There was energy, and I think our guys responded with a couple runs early. It’s too bad we didn’t come away with a win last night but I appreciate the way the fans showed up last night. They were loud and energetic. It was a big difference.
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“We talked a lot about this year and how hard it’s been, and it has been hard. It has been a trying process, and I just want — it’s hard to see, and I can totally understand the frustration right now. But it will get better, and Mike and [assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal] have done a lot of really good things in their career to be able to acquire talent, and to get talent in this organization, and produce a winning ballclub. I’ve seen from the start in 2012, three years later, what the difference is. I’m just asking for everybody’s patience in this, and I want fans to feel good about the start of this process, and trust that it’s going to get a lot better.”