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Orioles Q&A: Mike Elias on trade deadline process, next year’s No. 1 pick and more

In his first trade deadline at the controls of a major league club, Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias acknowledged he wasn’t immune to the proverbial itchy-finger that leads to deals getting done.

But in elaborating on why those deals weren’t consummated in a significant way in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Thursday, Elias said the calculus for making such a trade wasn’t going to be altered simply by the fact that a lot of work went into preparing to make one.

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In a conversation Thursday, Elias addressed the deadline, what the Orioles were seeking in terms of minor league talent and whether fans who have fully bought into the team’s rebuild should be concerned that a .500 month of July means they’re no longer in the pole position to earn the No. 1 pick in the 2020 MLB draft.

You mentioned not just trading guys for the sake of trading them. Was it a situation where you had to remind yourself these players aren’t going anywhere unless you sent them somewhere? Even if they’re not here five years down the road, they can still help in a year or two. Is that something you have to check yourselves with as this process is going on?

I think you do a lot of homework and prep work heading into the trade deadline, and it’s different than the draft. You do a lot of prep work for the draft, but you always end up drafting 30, 40 guys no matter what you do and you come away feeling like, “OK, we’ve done all that work, here’s the reward for it.” The pro scouting department, it’s a little bit different. It’s all on speculation, and you’re just gathering information and gathering intelligence. The chance that the information is used at all is very small. It can be a frustrating part of the business in that way, with how much work goes into it.

Because of all that, you go in and get in that room and it feels like a letdown when you don’t do anything, so there’s always a little bit of a bias toward doing something, but we’ve got to be disciplined. There’s nothing worse than waking up a year later and having made a bad trade, so the fact that we have these players for a while means that we were not in a position of weakness, in terms of making trades that were below what we felt the line was. It’s a much different calculus and a different feeling if you’ve got a pending free agent and you’re not a playoff-bound club. But when you’ve got young players who are still in arbitration or even pre-arb, it’s much different.

Without getting into specifics, you were targeting a specific kind of player in the Andrew Cashner trade, which was a different kind of trade than trading somebody who is controllable. But was there a certain archetype, a certain type of player or players that you were looking for for someone who is more controllable, who might deliver more value to the Orioles long-term?

The types of guys that we’re looking for are the types of guys people don’t like giving up these days, and that’s young players with maybe some more variability or risk ahead of them, but also more upside. It’s more common to get offers with guys that are on the 40-man roster already, or need to be protected prior to the Rule 5 draft, and things like that.

In terms of the Cashner trade, we had options like that, too, but we felt it made more sense for us to go as young as possible, even if we’re inviting much more risk, just to have some more upside. That was the kind of thing that we were looking for with these guys, too, because these are valuable players, and we have them for a couple of years at a minimum.

On a similar note, I’m sure you’re sick of being asked about Houston in general, but when you look at what they’ve done this year and last year, you’ve signed pretty much all the players that are in these trades ... is that something that people who are observing what’s going on here can say, “When this is fully matured and realized, these are the types of moves that can be made?” Do you make any correlation with what’s happened there and what you want here?

I have to say, it’s fun to watch. Three years in a row, they’ve acquired a No. 1 starter with only like two years left on the guy’s contract, and they’ve dealt from basically the middle of their prospect deck to do so, which is pretty impressive. I do think it speaks to the farm system, and the drafting and the international signings that went on there, and it’s something to emulate.

I don’t know that we’re going to be able to repeat those results, but it’s the type of thing that happens when you have a strong farm system. You’ve got that currency, and they’re able to be the team to step out and make those moves. But we’ve got challenges in front of us in 2019 and in Baltimore that didn’t exist in Houston in 2012, and it’s our job to adapt to those circumstances.

One of those circumstances is that this team is playing well, with a .500 month that at least for now took you guys out of the No. 1 pick spot [in 2020]. How do you reconcile as you’re watching a team getting better and doing all the things you want them to do off the field with the fact that it might impact the long-term plan? How do you view those?

I want this team to win as many games as it possibly can. I want to pick as low in the draft as possible. That’s a good thing. We are not running around trying to stack up No. 1 picks. Now, we’re going to do our best to hit on the picks that we have, and it’s very likely as of right now that we’re going to have a very high pick next year, and probably the year after that. And we’re going to do our best with those. But that is not any part of our strategy, and in a lot of ways, sometimes picking No. 1 can be difficult in a year when there’s not a clear No. 1 because you feel a little boxed in with your options.

Sometimes, the scouts have a vision in mind of what a No. 1 pick should be, and they’re gravitating away from certain player profiles. There might be a smart pick really high in the draft that doesn’t feel like a No. 1 pick, so there are some advantages in not picking No. 1, and it’s also easier on the player to not go No. 1 because he doesn’t have the pressure and expectations that go along with that. I’d be perfectly happy if we’re picking lower than that, and I hope that’s the case, actually.

So, the people who are fully bought in and see that the Astros picked first three years in a row, now the Orioles have to, that’s not the case?

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You look at how the picks went, [Carlos] Correa was a home run, and then we had issues with the next two — one of them was just bad luck. Then we turned around and picked No. 2 the next year and we turned around and took [Alex] Bregman, which is everything you’d want from a No. 1 pick.

We have no illusions that you get credit for picking No. 1 and it’s a slam dunk. It’s difficult any time you’re picking anywhere in the draft but also high in the draft.

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