New Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias has blueprints he can follow, both from his boss in Houston, Jeff Luhnow, and his former colleague David Stearns, who left the Astros’ assistant GM job in 2015 to take over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Though not to the same extent, the Brewers had just undergone a teardown that summer with July trades of Jonathan Lucroy, Carlos Gomez and Gerardo Parra to add top-10 talents to their farm system like Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader (Old Mill) and Zach Davies.
For both Stearns in Milwaukee and Luhnow when he arrived in Houston, the first offseason was a frantic — but productive — time that helped lay the groundwork for what would follow.
From trades and waiver claims to free-agent signings, the first offseasons for Luhnow and Stearns had long-lasting impacts on what they'd do before their teams even took the field under their watch.
Houston's hasty trades
Luhnow was hired in early December 2011, and his first moves happened to be in the Rule 5 draft. He selected Rhiner Cruz from the New York Mets, then acquired Marwin González from the Boston Red Sox. González grew into a versatile part of the rebuilt Astros, playing every position (except catcher) this past season.
A week later, Luhnow dealt reliever Mark Melancon to Boston for Jed Lowrie and minor league pitcher Kyle Wieland. Lowrie was flipped for Chris Carter, Brad Peacock and Max Stassi 13 months later.
Brewing up deals
The trades were more significant early in Stearns' Milwaukee reign in 2015, with the returns still being sorted out. He quickly traded reliever Francisco Rodriguez for a minor league infielder, Javier Betancourt, and catcher Manny Pina. Pina grew into a major league piece this year. A day later, he traded Adam Lind for a three-player deal that netted right-hander Freddy Peralta, who started 14 games this year in the majors at age 22. Outfielder Keon Broxton came in a December trade with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Stearns also went back to Houston to acquire current Orioles infielder Jonathan Villar, who was expendable with González in a utility role and the Astros' young infielders advancing to the majors. Stearns also netted shortstop Isan Díaz (who was flipped for 2018 National League Most Valuable Player Christian Yelich) and right-hander Chase Anderson for Jean Segura in a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and prospect Jacob Gatewood for Khris Davis in a deal with the Oakland Athletics.
Stearns likely had a hand in that Lowrie trade in Houston, as he went back in for free-agent slugger Chris Carter in early 2016 on an inexpensive deal and watched him hit 41 home runs.
Things were a little leaner on the free-agent side in Houston, where essentially every notable free agent signed in the offseason was released before spring training began. The most significant outside addition they made was claiming former Terp Justin Maxwell on waivers from the New York Yankees on April 8, but that was one week into the season.