Mike Elias: "I think it’s liftoff from here for this team"

ARLINGTON, Texas – The trade deadline passed yesterday and Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias hopped on a flight last night to join the team in Texas to explain the moves he made, and to express his desire to seize a wild card spot. To clear the air before they played another game with the roof closed.

He didn’t quit the chase. He just stuck with the plan of strengthening the organization from top to bottom.

A core group of veterans met with Elias in manager Brandon Hyde’s office, including outfielders Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays, and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle.

The day begins with the Orioles 1 ½ games out of the final playoff berth. Trey Mancini and Jorge López were traded over the past two days. Elias wanted to make certain that the message didn’t come across as mixed.

“I wanted to, as I’m emphasizing right now to the public, there’s a plan in place,” Elias said. “It’s going exceptionally well. We’ve got a very bright future ahead of us. I don’t want us utilizing the opportunity of the trade deadline the way we did the last couple of days to speak to the fact that this is a team that is going to have to be reckoned with from now, and this point forward, in our division. We’re going to have to scout and develop and manage the roster a certain way to maintain it that way. We’ve seen our competitors do that and we’re there. We’re at that point.

“We want to win as many games as we can possibly win. We want to get into a wild card, but it’s my job to manage the organization as a whole from top to bottom, and at times there are opportunities that feel like a step back. But in the big picture it’s a step forward for the entire organization. And that’s the position I’m in.

“So, I came here, I hadn’t been with the team for a while, it’s not ideal when your teams are on the road during the trade deadline, but that’s the luck of the draw and you can’t bring the whole front office to a hotel room. There’s just too many people involved at the trade deadline, so we stayed set up in Baltimore. I was able to talk to Trey and Jorge on video the last couple of days, but I wanted to talk to some of these guys in person and watch the team play.”   

Elias didn’t want to leave the impression that 2022 didn’t matter.

“Of course, there’s a concern (about that),” he said. “I said leading into the trade deadline that there were a lot of things that I had to take into account with this trade deadline. And I did take into account (those things). These are very weighty decisions and they’re not easy, and maybe we don’t get them right, either. There’s so much that goes into this. I knew that anything is possible when your team is young and talented, and I knew that something like this team coming together the way it has this season was possible. But it definitely wasn’t something that we were banking on happening.

“Now that we’re here, it makes it so much easier to plan going forward to supplement this group, and we’re going to be doing that immediately. But we saw good opportunities to bring good starting pitching prospects into the organization and we took advantage of those opportunities the last couple of days with some teams that are either winning their division or running away with their division and wanted that help urgently and were willing to meet the acquisition costs.”

Moving López to the Twins was more complicated for the Orioles based on the two years of team control remaining on his contract.

“I think the bluntest way I can put this is that relief pitchers are more leveraged at the trade deadline in terms of their value sometimes by the teams,” he said. “You’ve got a team like Minnesota … that are battling back and forth for the division lead. They needed bullpen help. We’ve got a tremendous bullpen and a deep bullpen and guys that can step in. And if we’re able to get four pitching prospects, particularly Cade Povich is somebody that we’re very, very high on internally, and think we’ve got a possible front-of-the-rotation starter and a guy that’s going to be in the mid-minors here before the end of the year. And there’s other ways to build bullpens, and we’ve just got to be opportunistic and smart and do good scouting and do good coaching the way we’ve done and try to backfill Jorge. It’s not going be easy.  

Elias said he attempted to add major league talent beyond sending cash to the Rays for outfielder Brett Phillips, but the deals didn’t come together. He wasn’t focused only on minor league depth.

“We tried all day long to do all manner of things,” he said. “The trade deadline, I think, the way it operates in the business nowadays is it’s a unique opportunity and window to pursue value. And certainly we did that with the couple of trades that we made from our major league roster. But we did explore options of bringing major league players in and ultimately, other than the Phillips acquisition we made at the end of the day, we didn’t see any opportunities that we were willing to execute. 

“I think that I’m so pleased and proud of where this team is at and where this organization is at. I can’t imagine a healthier spot than we’re in right now with this young group, playing the way they’re playing, pitching the way we’re pitching. The farm system that we have. We’ve got six top 100 prospects, arguably. We’ve got a deep system. It just got deeper, especially on the pitching side the last couple of days. We’ve got a scouting and player development and coaching apparatus that’s humming. We’ve got a lot going for us and this is a big plan to keep this organization very healthy. And while I’m super excited about 2022 and what’s ahead of us and our chances, we’re going to continue with the plan of building for this bright, long future in the American League East.

“I think we’re right there. I think it’s liftoff from here for this team. And I think the decisions that we made the last couple of days were difficult in that regard. But we saw opportunities to bring starting pitching into the organization. We’ve got a program running where we bring players in, we see something we like, we give them information, we coach them up and that’s the way successful teams run themselves. Especially with our market size. It’s going to be the way we have to do it, but I see a homegrown team that we want to build around and supplement, and I think that’s going to start this year.

“There’s a lot of help coming from the minor leagues, and it’s going to start this year. And we’re just going to keep adding from this point forward.”  

This outlook eases some of the disappointment in not getting more accomplished at the deadline to assist the current team.

“I would have liked to done it if it made sense, but this is not something, obviously, where we’re putting all of our chips and all of this work that we’ve been doing around the organization for the past 3 ½-four years, into the second half of 2022,” Elias said.

“This is a decade-long window that I think is opening up, and I couldn’t be more excited about it for Baltimore, for the Orioles, for these guys, and it was the most important thing to us that we prioritize this long window that we feel is ahead of us among all other considerations. But this doesn’t mean we’re not going to give it our all the rest of the way. This doesn’t mean that help isn’t on the way. It’s going to come from inside the organization, and I think these guys are going to give people fits in the second half.”

Asked whether he expects to make moves during the offseason to improve the major league roster, Elias said, “I do. We’re going to be signing players this winter. I’m very excited about it.”

Phillips reported to the Orioles this morning, his personality bubbling over as usual. He never seems to have a bad day. The smile never leaves his face.

“His reputation around the league is certainly well-known as a wonderful teammate and clubhouse guy, but we brought him in for his defensive profile, his left-handed bat, and his plus speed,” Elias said.

“I don’t think characterizing him as a bench player is fair. It’s more of like an outfield utility player who I think Brandon’s going to be able to plug him into spots where he can impact the game, because he’s got some tools that, when deployed at the right place in the right time, can make him an impact player. So, I think he’s a nice fit for the bench. We’ve got a 13-player bench now because of the rules, and I think having a diverse, left-handed-hitting, plus-running, defensive outfielder will fit well.”

The Orioles optioned Yusniel Diaz to Triple-A Norfolk after last night’s win. They also chose Phillips over outfield prospect Kyle Stowers.

“I think those guys may get opportunities here in the near future,” Elias said. “Yusniel, he’s not putting up the numbers in Triple-A that we’d like to see to really say, ‘Hey, you’re ready to go hit in the big leagues for a month and see what happens.’ So, I’d like to see him perform better in Triple-A. I’m happy that he got up here and made the major leagues, and he’s a great kid and he’s been through a lot, and it’s been a disappointing couple of years for him. But we need to see somebody graduate Triple-A before we can just hand him a job in the majors.

“We made the trade, we needed a position player. Our roster, there are limited options, and so, now that Phillips is here, we did option Yusniel back down, but I hope he comes back up.

“Stowers is somebody that’s a top-10 prospect for us. We got him that little taste in Toronto. He’s having a really good year in Triple-A. Is he 100 percent ready? I don’t know, but he’s certainly somebody that we are getting into the mode where we have daily discussions about bringing him up, and it could happen at any time.”

Left-hander DL Hall has struggled in his last two starts with Norfolk, allowing six runs (five earned) last night, walking five batters and surrendering three home runs over four innings. Elias and Hyde spoke to Hall this morning, offering encouragement and stressing how they’re “counting on him.”

“He’s doing fine,” Elias said. “I think that, as expected, he’s had a real up-and-down experience in Triple-A. And I think that’s the type of talent he is. He’s been inconsistent, but he's immensely gifted and immensely equipped to be a great big leaguer, and he’s right there.

“I do plan on and hope on him helping this team this year. But we need him to be consistent in Triple-A. He’s learning. He understands. And I think he’s going to be all the better for having these last two poor starts and adjusting to them.”

Hall has a 4.87 ERA and 1.485 WHIP in 17 starts with Norfolk. He’s averaging 5.7 walks and 14.8 strikeouts per nine innings.

The numbers matter to Elias.

“A lot,” he said. “I think his stats are pros and cons. He’s got great strikeout numbers, his walk numbers are not great. His ERA and his home run totals are not great. But overall, the way that he’s striking people out, with the flashes of good starts we’re getting from him, his Triple-A performance, I think, bodes well in terms of what he’s going to be doing in the future in the big leagues. He’s doing well in Triple-A, but it’s just in a more inconsistent fashion than I think he or we would like to see.”

Also from Elias:

* He said acquiring six minor league pitchers at the deadline wasn’t a result of the team failing to sign third-round pick Nolan McLean from Oklahoma State.

“No, I can’t say that it is. It is disappointing anytime you don’t sign a draft pick. We’re getting a pick back next year. It’s unfortunate. We try to get the most out of our drafts. It’s very, very important to the Orioles that we draft well, and I think we’ve done that. We’ll see. But we treat the draft as a separate thing than sort of roster buildup.

“We view trades, bringing guys in who have started to check boxes in the minor leagues, stayed healthy for a couple of years, as a good opportunity to bring pitching talent into the organization. So, that’s what we did at the trade deadline.”

* Elias didn’t address a report that there was a medical disagreement that prevented the signing.

“We weren’t able to make an agreement with the player, and it’s unfortunate, and I never like to take a pick high and not be able to sign him. I’m not happy about it. It’s too bad.”

* Top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez remains in Sarasota while recovering from a Grade 2 lat strain, and he’s throwing off flat ground from 120 feet.

“He feels really good,” Elias said. “I still don’t have a timetable, but I would probably increase our desire to get him onto a game mound before the year is over than at the time that I made the announcement of his injury. I think we’re hoping for that.”

* Elias doesn’t know when first-overall selection Jackson Holliday will make his professional debut in the Florida Complex League.

“We should be having some draft-pick debuts imminently,” Elias said. “I don’t have a date for Jackson.”

* Veteran Matt Harvey remains at Norfolk and could join the Orioles later this summer, but there’s no urgency.

“He’s pitching pretty well in Triple-A, but our group up here is pitching pretty well, too,” Elias said. “I think that he’s definitely on the radar screen for this year. Another guy that we’re talking about a lot. But we’re above .500 and we’re scraping and clawing, and these guys are pitching well, so for me, I think our day-to-day major league needs are going to drive the bus for any call-ups.”

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