LAS VEGAS - Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias arrived at the Winter Meetings this morning with his focus primarily on the hiring of a new manager, which would lead to the completion of the coaching staff. The roster isn't being ignored, but there are more pressing matters, including replacements for director of player development Brian Graham and director of scouting Gary Rajsich.
Elias praised the work done by assistant Sig Mejdal, director of baseball operations Tripp Norton and director of Pacific Rim operations and baseball development Mike Snyder, who's also inherited some professional scouting duties. They've allowed him to focus more on trying to fill all of the vacancies.
The Orioles should have a new manager in place later this month, with the choices coming down to Nationals bench coach Chip Hale, Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde, Royals quality control/catching coach Pedro Grifol, Diamondbacks director of player development Mike Bell, Rockies bench coach Mike Redmond and former Nationals and Indians manager Manny Acta.
There won't be a seventh candidate to emerge. This is it.
"We're pretty far along with the manager search," Elias said. "Last week mostly and a little bit beyond that, we conducted in-person interviews with a number of candidates, with six candidates. It was a fantastic experience. It's still a great ongoing experience. But all of our candidates were extremely impressive.
"One thing that's been pretty clear to me through this is that there's a reason why these guys have put themselves in a position to be considered as major league managers. They're very impressive candidates all around. So we have a good choice to make, but it's a difficult decision to make. I think we have a lot of good choices and I'm still in the process of doing deeper background work on the candidates right now.
"I'm very confident that our manager will come from the list of candidates that we've interviewed so far."
Elias said the hire will come "as quickly as possible." No offer has been made.
"This is a big hire," he said. "This is somebody who's going to be here for a long time. So, there is no timeline. That said, I would expect that we might be able to complete this hire this month."
Elias said he's contacted some colleagues and friends from around the league to learn more about the finalists.
"Everyone from around the league has been very gracious with their time and taking my phone calls and trying to help us out with this process."
As I wrote earlier, Elias doesn't expect to conduct a second round of interviews.
"We spent plenty of time with these people and we've done a lot of phone work and we're also cognizant of the fact that we're a little pressed for time and we want to be courteous to other teams around the league that are trying to get their staff set," Elias said. "And then we also have a major league staff to hire subsequent to this hire, so being as expeditious but deliberate as possible with a hire this big."
Elias didn't offer up the identities of the candidates. We're left to go with reports and sources.
"I'm not going confirm or deny any of the names," he said, "but we have conducted six in-person interviews."
The Orioles are the only team without a manager, making them stand out from the crowd at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
"It's always a plus to have your manager involved in your suite activity at the Winter Meetings," Elias said, "so, sure, there's something missing there not having that extra perspective, but it's not so important that I would fast-forward the hiring process beyond what it should entail just to get this person here in time for these meetings."
Elias said he hasn't heard from agents expressing concerns over the lack of a manager in Baltimore while promoting their clients.
"I think people know that this is a good organization, it's a great place to play, it's a great ballpark to play in, it's a great town to play in," Elias said. "They're excited about the direction that we're taking the franchise. They know the information environment for the players is going to improve, the technological environment for the players. So much is going to improve. This is going to be a wonderful place to play, and they're excited to talk to us.
"The reality is we've got a lot going on. We're not going to be a fast mover in the free agent market, but we're going to monitor it very carefully and be active in that regard and see what plays out."
Could one individual oversee the player development and scouting departments?
"We'll see what happens there," Elias replied. "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 organizations. And 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 proven processes and techniques and know-how in these areas, so it's 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. But we'll get the right people, we'll get them in good time.
"But I'm very confident about the people that we have in place right now who 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."
The Orioles haven't announced that Graham and Rajsich won't return next season and Elias addressed it for the first time today.
"We were brought here primarily for scouting and player development purposes," he said. "I think we have the best track record or among the best track records in the industry in this regard over the last several years, but even going over a 12-year, 14-year period dating back to St. Louis. And 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, and in order to do that, it was my judgment that we would make those changes."
Brady Anderson arrived today and continues to hold the title of vice president of baseball operations.
"There's a lot of good people here," Elias said. "They're doing good work, they're helping out in a lot of areas. I view him as no different. He has a lot of institutional knowledge, not only as a front office executive, but also dating back to when he was a player, that is very valuable to me. And we'll keep working and figure out the best way to deploy that and provide value to me and to us.
"I'm working very well with a lot of these guys here and he's one of them."
The Orioles will be picked to finish in last place again in every publication and outlet. Perhaps only a modest gain from their 115-loss season.
So what exactly does Elias want to accomplish in 2019?
"I want to improve the aggregate talent base of this organization, and that's going to come in the form of additions to the organization via the draft, international signings, perhaps some trades that might occur," Elias said. "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. So, to me, this season 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 expanding the international scouting operation are just two that I could name. But 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."
The record won't become an obsession and it won't be the sole measuring stick for the progress that's made, though Elias noted how he'd like to see it improve.
"Our organizational goal, our organizational direction, is to improve the aggregate talent base across this organization," he said. "That's our directive first and foremost. My hope and expectation is that will come alongside an improvement in the major league record."
The Orioles will look for upgrades everywhere on their roster rather than just focus on one or two spots. Typical for a team that was historically bad this year.
"I can't say with any certainty that there's going to be outside free agents brought in at any one position, but certainly ... shortstop, catcher, you always want to have a good option there," Elias said, rattling off positions that I mentioned while phrasing the question.
"We'll make sure that's the case and we'll assess our internal options and any external options that present themselves. I don't know that age is important. We want the right mindset, we want to right attitude for the team, we want the right skill sets in those positions. If it comes in a veteran, great, but I don't think it's a requisite."
How does Elias view the talent base in the organization?
"Look, I'm very accustomed to having an elite farm system wherever I've been. That is what I'm used to," he said. "Are we there? Is this a top five, top 10 farm system right now? I don't think there's a lot of rankings that would place the farm system in that regard.
"But I know there a lot of individual players in the farm system that I'm very excited about, so I think there are some really good pieces there. I think there are some really good pieces on the major league roster. But my standards in this regard are really high just because of where I've been in my career and what we've been able to do. So I won't be satisfied until I feel that is the case here."
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