Baltimore Orioles' pitcher, Richard Bleier talks about his meeting with general manager, Mike Elias. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — The conversation carried on long after the crowd dispersed from the Ed Smith Stadium concourse, where local business leaders line-danced to the Cupid Shuffle and got to hear from the new faces of the Orioles at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce dinner.
New executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias bantered with relievers Mychal Givens and Richard Bleier for long after their teammates left, an exchange that in Bleier's mind is a vital piece to helping the Orioles' long, daunting road back to winning begin smoothly.
"I think he got to know the players and our thought process on some things, where I've never really had that kind of interaction with a GM before," Bleier said. "I think that just to be able to speak freely — I feel like this is his first year as a GM, so I feel like we're all kind of in this together, just trying to figure out the best way to go and how to make this team as good as possible. So I think that with that in mind, it's nice to all be working together. Not saying we weren't before. But it seems a little different."
Bleier said the conversation was mostly about baseball, and if Elias learned anything about he and Givens, it's that they're "clowns together" off the field. The impression Elias left on him after the chat was a bit more meaningful.
"He's definitely a really knowledgeable person," Bleier said. "After having that conversation, I think I like him even more as a GM for this team, and I think he's going to do a really good job. … I think he has a good idea of his plan, and I think he's got a good background with where he's coming from, and where he's trying to go and what exactly he's looking for."
From a baseball sense, that plays itself out on the fields behind Ed Smith Stadium pretty regularly. At times, Elias is pulled away from the workouts. But on days like Thursday, he was on the field waiting for the first full-team drill to begin and was standing against the batting cage for the last group of hitters to wrap up. On Thursday, a group including prospects Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan McKenna, plus catcher Chance Sisco, got particular attention from Elias.
Versatile infielder Jonathan Villar played both shortstop and second base after the Orioles acquired him last summer. He probably will be slotted at second now that former All-Star shortstop Alcides Escobar is in camp.
"I think it means a lot," manager Brandon Hyde said. "We're all evaluating, right? And he's the biggest one. I think it just sends a message that we care about our players. He's still out there watching batting practice right now. He's very, very hands-on, which is fantastic. And he just wants to get a good look at our players before games start."
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Hyde said Elias has been in a lot of the individual meetings with pitchers and position players during the first few weeks of camp, and the way he is around players impresses the staff.
"He's really good with the players," Hyde said. "We've had individual meetings with most of our guys, and he's been in the majority of them. He's fantastic in those. He's been really, really good so far."
Elias has a tall task ahead of him trying to replicate the ground-up success that came at his previous stop with the Houston Astros. The Astros’ fanaticism toward data gave some the impression that the organization was cold, but there’s been no indication that Elias brought that part of the Houston model to Baltimore at this point.
Bleier said digging down on the players and learning about them the way Elias has is a big part of getting the current roster to buy in when it's been made clear that the major league season isn't the priority.
"I think it's just really valuable," Bleier said. "I think as long as you can respect the fact that he's still our boss, and we're his employees, then I feel like a relationship is really great to establish.
"I think in any line of work, it's good to establish a good relationship with your employer. There's that open line of communication, and you know if there's an issue or anything else, we've already established that kind of communication so we can resolve anything in a quick fashion."