What to watch as Orioles head to first winter meetings led by GM Mike Elias

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

With a new Orioles regime under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias bringing their traveling hiring show to baseball's winter meetings beginning Monday in Las Vegas, it's fair to assume their agenda might look like it did in years past. Expect a lot of productive talks with a lot of people, and a Rule 5 draft pick to show for it on their flight home from Baltimore come Thursday.

The talks, of course, will be different. Last year, the Orioles' attempt to trade star infielder Manny Machado was the dominant story of the meetings, and didn't result in a move at the time. Previously, their pursuit of free agents and attempts at re-signing Chris Davis in 2015 and Mark Trumbo in 2016 were significant parts of their discussions at the meetings.

But save for right-hander Michael Kelly at the end of last year's meetings, the Orioles haven't often come away with free-agent additions or trades consummated at the meetings.

That might not change this year, with the priority being to fill the myriad vacancies created both before and after Elias' arrival instead of adding or subtracting players. Most of the heavy lifting in terms of unloading veteran players was completed in July by former executive vice president Dan Duquette, and any other players who could be dealt might be better served rebuilding their value early in 2019.

What does that leave? A lot of meetings that might produce executives and coaches instead of players, and a week spent on the fringes of baseball's biggest circus. Here's what to watch for over the coming week.

Who wants to walk with Elias? (Manager edition)

The Orioles' managerial interview process is underway this week, but the club is keeping the candidates under wraps. Earlier this week, The Athletic reported four names — Chicago Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, Washington Nationals bench coach Chip Hale, Arizona Diamondbacks vice president of player development Mike Bell and Kansas City Royals quality control/catching coach Pedro Grifol. The list isn't limited to that.

But the meetings provide an opportunity for Elias to continue this process in a different environment, with the added bonus of plenty of secondary references being around in surrounding suites at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino to speak to each candidate’s qualifications.

However, considering the Orioles waited until the end of last month's owner's meetings to announce Elias' hire and waited to introduce him until the following week when the local media could gather at Camden Yards, it's unlikely they'd break from that process for a managerial hire, even if a selection is made.

Who else wants to walk with Elias? (Front office edition)

Outside of naming a replacement for Buck Showalter, Elias has inherited a threadbare scouting and player development operation because of a series of dismissals after the departures of Duquette and Showalter.

Elias followed that up by removing amateur scouting director Gary Rajsich and player development director Brian Graham by the end of November, meaning the Orioles have to install new leaders in those pivotal positions for a team whose future will be built on the "elite talent pipeline" the new GM hopes to build.

Elias' significant scouting background, both domestically and internationally, gives him plenty of contacts on that front. And given how integrated the operation has been with the Houston Astros, with everyone on the same page from the top of the front office to the lowest level of minor league coaches in terms of procedures and decision-making, Elias probably knows exactly what type of vision he'll want new hires to share.

Because most of baseball operates on contracts that end Oct. 31 and fresh agreements for many of the candidates for any job the Orioles need to hire are likely in place, they'll need to elevate those candidates from their current jobs in order to be able to lure them. It's mostly semantics, but the Orioles have a lot of work to do — and that's to say nothing of the work assistant general manager Sig Mejdal has to do to build the analytics department Elias hopes will inform this whole rebuild.

Will the 2019 Orioles get any attention?

With so little established on the organizational management chart, it's hard to say there's going to be anything done to tangibly improve the 2019 Orioles from a player perspective. The pieces they need or would be in the market for — a back-end veteran starter, or an up-the-middle infielder, or a catcher to help bring along Chance Sisco and Austin Wynns — are all fungible, especially for a team with as modest goals as the Orioles have.

The Orioles can probably focus on their management hires now and circle back to building the team come January. And given how the market has operated in recent years, it might not be that much smaller of a pool of players they're choosing from once the calendar turns to 2019.

If they do find time to talk trades, though, it's not as if trading a pricy veteran would be additive to the Orioles in the very near term. The only thing they're assured to acquire for next season will come Thursday.

At least there's the Rule 5 draft

The Orioles' 115-loss season assured them not only the top pick in the 2019 amateur draft, but this week's Rule 5 draft, where teams can pluck from a group of players with at least four years of professional experience (or five if they signed and debuted before age 19) who their current club didn't add to the 40-man roster. The stipulation is each selected player has to stay on his new teams’ 25-man roster all year, or be returned to his old club.

While not necessarily a fruitful ground for the Orioles, they've gotten useful bench pieces in Ryan Flaherty and Joey Rickard from the process. They still have to carry reliever Pedro Araujo at the beginning of 2019 to satisfy his Rule 5 requirements. But Elias said on the Orioles Hot Stove radio show on 105.7 The Fan last month that he expected to take advantage of the first pick.

Houston's roster was often too loaded to make selections, though they got utility man Marwin González in the 2011 Rule 5 draft. Whether it's selecting a player of their own or using the pick as a chip to choose a player and extract something of value from a team that covets him more, the biggest action of the week might come in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft as everyone's trying to get out of town.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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