It’s very difficult for me to label any season a success where we have a losing record and don’t make the playoffs,” Elias said.
Without a full season’s worth of baseball or hundreds of minor league games to evaluate in his season-ending media session Saturday, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias touched on several big-picture topics ahead of the season finale.
Elias expanded on plenty, from the team’s financial outlook and offseason roster plans to how the Orioles expect to further continue their player development efforts before things start back up in 2021.
Here are four takeaways from his news conference and what they mean for the Orioles going forward:
The instructional league will rival Bowie camp as the most important thing they do this year.
With almost all of the Orioles' top prospects, except the 2020 draftees, at the secondary training camp in Bowie this season, there’s little doubt that plenty of good happened there, judging by what the call-ups were able to contribute in the majors.
If the Orioles join the majority of the league in holding an instructional league camp at their complex in Sarasota, Florida, this fall, that will likely trump all but the Bowie camp in terms of long-term importance to their rebuilding plan this year. A camp like that could get the six 2020 draftees, headlined by outfielder Heston Kjerstad, a launching pad into whatever baseball holds for them in 2021.
Elias said that he wasn’t ready to announce anything, but an instructional league is “on our wish list.” That it would occur in Florida, where most COVID-19 related restrictions have been lifted and where the team never reopened their spring training site after closing it in March, could present challenges for an organization that has prided itself on its care when it comes to pandemic-related precautions.
But for a team whose future is its main selling point, no expense should be spared to have the opportunity to run a camp like that and get all of its priority minor leaguers an opportunity to work in a Bowie-like environment for a few more weeks.
“I’m very hopeful to get more player development experience and activity in the 2020 calendar year, especially for some of the guys who weren’t able to be in Bowie,” Elias said.
Trey Mancini might be the biggest addition they make in the winter.
With Mancini finishing up his chemotherapy treatment for Stage 3 colon cancer Monday, Elias allowed himself to look ahead to the team’s most recognizable star being a force in their lineup again next season.
“We’re very much hopeful and excited that he can come back and help us,” Elias said. “He fits in well with us. He was everything for us last year, and to add him back next year, I just think gets everyone excited. He just went through a lot, it just ended, and he’s going to have to get his strength and baseball activities back and all that and he’s still going to be some work and some process going into that this winter. But he’s such a strong, dedicated mentally strong kid, person, that we have nothing but confidence that he’s going to do it this offseason and have a great year next year.”
Considering the financial uncertainty the team might face, Mancini might be the Orioles' biggest addition for 2021. Elias said they “can’t estimate various things that we look at when we look into a player or a roster budget,” such as attendance revenue or sponsorships. Considering the money wrapped up in veterans such as Chris Davis and Alex Cobb on guaranteed contracts and the likelihood of another year with the Orioles not competing for a playoff spot, adding salary might not be an option.
That might mean that Mancini, who hit a career-high 35 home runs last year and had an .899 OPS, will be the biggest upgrade their roster gets from this weekend to Opening Day.
An abundance of young outfielders, a list that now includes Ryan Mountcastle along with Anthony Santander, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, Yusniel Diaz and Ryan McKenna, means that Mancini’s future might be back at first base in 2021.
Elias, though, seemed pretty firm in noting that the season’s incumbent first baseman wasn’t going anywhere. At the end of last season, he was firm in saying Davis was going to be on the roster in spring training. This time around, he said Davis remains under contract with the Orioles and “we do not have plans to alter that fact.”
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Davis hit .115 (6-for-52) with a .337 OPS and no home runs in a season in which he was often left out of the lineup when he wasn’t on the injured list with a knee injury. He has two years remaining on the seven-year, $161 million contract signed before the 2016 season, and has hit .196 with a .670 OPS and 97 home runs since that deal began.
“It was not a successful year for Chris on a number of fronts,” Elias said. “It’s a frustration for everyone involved, and it’s a tough situation for everyone involved — and that includes him.”
The draft order uncertainty doesn’t really matter to the Orioles.
ESPN reported recently that the 2021 draft order is likely to just be the reverse standings, but there have been some other options floated.
Entering Saturday’s game, the Orioles had the sixth-worst record in baseball, though they were tied with the Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks at 24-34. They’re safely in the top 10 if it goes by standings, but they’re far from locked in.
“It’s a narrow enough range of players that [supervisor of domestic scouting] Brad Ciolek and our scouting group have an idea of the neighborhood of the area we’ll pick in,” Elias said. “But it’s so early right now that even if we didn’t [know], it wouldn’t really matter.”