LAS VEGAS — Even as new Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias and his top deputy, assistant general manager Sig Mejdal, look to build out the team's staff, the responsibility they'll take in crafting another contending baseball team in Baltimore appears to be significant.
That was the theme of his first day of comments Monday at baseball's winter meetings, whether in response to how he'd structure the organization and whether there would be a separate farm director and director of amateur scouting, or why the previous holders of those jobs were let go, or where he saw the current state of the Orioles' farm system.
The former Astros executive made one thing clear: in himself, Mejdal, and minor league pitching coordinator Chris Holt, the Orioles not only got the best practices from Houston and St. Louis for themselves, but also the men who were supremely confident in being able to bring it to Baltimore with them.
"We were brought here primarily for scouting and player development purposes,” Elias said. “I think we have the best track record — among the best track records in the industry — in this regard over certainly, the last several years, but even going over a 12-year, 14-year period dating back to St. Louis. We are here to implement a lot of the processes and techniques that brought us that success and import these practices to the Orioles. We're also here to continue to innovate, and stay ahead of the competition."
Elias said that to do that, he decided to dismiss amateur scouting director Gary Rajsich and director of player development Brian Graham. And even as they seek to fill those roles in some capacity, he made clear that those operations started with him and Mejdal.
"We'll see what happens there," Elias said. "This is an area, scouting and player development, where I have been my whole career; where Sig has spent most of his career, and we've had a lot of success in that area across two different organizations — really, the reason we were brought here was, first and foremost, these areas.
"It's going to be a major focus of this organization for the next few years and beyond. We have a lot of ideas and processes, proven processes, and techniques, and know-how in these areas. It's just very important to me that we get these processes started as quickly as we can. We have a huge draft coming up. In terms of who is leading those departments going forward specifically, and what that structure looks like, I don't know right now. We'll get the right people, and we'll get them in good time. But I'm very confident with the people we have in place right now to run those departments on a day-to-day basis. It's an area that I will be very personally involved in this year, and we'll see what happens."
Indeed, Elias' main draw in replacing Dan Duquette atop the Orioles' baseball operations department was the unique experience he had in the progressive Astros organization, one that built something similar to the "elite talent pipeline" Elias hopes to create in Baltimore through four years of high draft picks and shrewd trades while staying on the cutting edge with analytics and technology.
Mejdal, who is charged with overseeing the Orioles' development of analytics, took on a unique role late in his time in Houston implementing and adapting some of their technological initiatives to a field level in the minor leagues. Holt, who was the Astros' assistant pitching coordinator after several years as a minor league pitching coach, oversaw some of their best developmental successes on that front. Elias called them "two of the best guys in the industry at what they do, and their record shows for it."
And that trio's success, Elias said, will be measured not necessarily by wins and losses in 2019 — though he said he'd like to see a better record — as much as a collective and individual level of improvement among their talent base.
"That's going to come in the form of additions to the organization via the draft, international signings, perhaps some trades that might occur, but just as importantly, the players that are here on the major league roster and in the minor leagues, we want to see them get better," Elias said. "To me, this season, this year, will be a success if we see the talent base across the entire organization, from top to bottom, go in the right direction.
"We've also got a lot of investment and infrastructure-related projects that we want to get going — expanding the analytics department and expending the international scouting operations are just two that I can name. We're going to have a lot of deep investment, deep infrastructure projects that we want to get off the ground this year as well."
It's a process Elias has used to build organizations before, both as scouting director and later assistant general manager in Houston and in his early scouting roles with the St. Louis Cardinals.
He said: "Look, I'm very accustomed to having an elite farm system, wherever I've been. And that's what I'm used to. Are we there? Is this a top-five, top-10 farm system right now? I don't think there are a lot of rankings that would place the farm system in that regard.
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"But, I know there are a lot of individual players in the farm system that I'm very excited about. I think there's some really good pieces there, and I think there's some really good pieces on the major league roster. But my standards in this regard are really high just based on where I've been in my career and what we've been able to do. I won't be satisfied until I feel that that's the case here."