Mike Elias engaged in his first Winter Meetings as the person in charge already looking ahead to the following year’s trip and the opportunity to concentrate on the roster.
The chance to handle the more common tasks in a setting that at its most complimentary can be classified as manic and disorienting.
The Orioles didn’t hire Elias as executive vice president/general manager until the third week of November 2018 and he was preoccupied in Las Vegas with finding a manager and trying to stamp out reports of an agreement with Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde. As a program aired on the television in his suite with insiders offering confirmation - perhaps jumping the gun regarding a signed contract.
I don’t recall a single player linked to the Orioles during the entire meetings, whether in trade talks or free agency. At least no one of actual substance.
Elias is expected to sit down with more bench coach candidates and there’s certainly room for more hires in the scouting, analytic and international departments, but he’s free now to go face-to-face with executives and agents. The kind of suite traffic that detoured around him last year.
“I’m looking forward to it because it’s going to be all baseball and roster stuff. Normal stuff. Not just having my head spin with media and hiring a manager,” he said Thursday night on the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan.
“We’ve got some items on our plate, we’ve got some discussions going on on the trade front, but also on the free agency front, and we’ll be working on all that throughout the Winter Meetings. So I am looking forward to having my first business-as-usual kind of Winter Meetings for sure.”
Business started early with an abundance of moves made before flights took off for San Diego. The biggest fish haven’t been reeled in - pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon - but some high-profile names are off the board, including infielder Mike Moustakas (Reds), catchers Yasmani Grandal (White Sox) and Travis d’Arnaud (Braves) and pitchers Zack Wheeler (Phillies), Drew Pomeranz (Padres), Michael Pineda (Twins), Cole Hamels (Braves), Kyle Gibson (Rangers) and Will Smith (Braves).
Howie Kendrick re-signed with the Nationals on Friday. The Rays traded Tommy Pham to the Padres.
“The activity around the league seems to be moving pretty fast so far,” Elias said. “A lot of people out there talking. We see free agents going off the board. Minor league free agents, too. And I think this could be a fun Winter Meetings this year.
“I don’t have a theory (why). It just seems like maybe the players are deciding to sign a little quicker. The agents are being more aggressive on their side, too. I don’t think there’s a real reason for it, but it just seems like there’s a lot of energy on the phone lines right now.”
The choices laid out for Elias as he tries to find pitching, middle infielders and a fourth catcher are inflated by the non-tenders.
“I think there are a couple in particular on that non-tender list that could be a fit for us,” he said. “The areas of need, and frankly they’ve become more of an area of need since these trades - middle infield, starting pitching depth, those areas where we’re going to be shopping throughout the winter and trying to find guys who are the right fit for our team and the situation that we’re in right now.”
The Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy trades netted five minor league pitchers and no position players. Not by design, according to Elias. It just worked out that way.
“I think if you look at the current constitution of our farm system, we’re a little stronger ... prior to these trades you look at it and say we’re better off in the pitching department than we are positionally,” Elias said. “It just kind of happened to be the case with where we ended up lining up and the farm system of the Angels and everything that we ended up taking a bunch of pitchers back.”
This week’s meetings will give Elias another chance to be cloaked in repetition. Déjà vu all over again as he explains the rebuild process and the sacrifices that come with it.
Explains for the umpteenth time that it won’t be about winning for quite a while. Tackles the comparisons between his work with the Astros and Orioles despite not being the man in charge with the former organization.
The words “teardown” and “sell-off” could filter into the conversation.
“The type of rebuilding process that we’re going through right now, it’s not something that you want to do and we definitely don’t want to do this ever again,” he said.
“When I came into the organization and where we were starting from at the end of 2018, the major league team had kind of bottomed out with that awful season we had in 2018. A lot of players leaving the team via free agency or trades that summer. The farm system was just in OK shape. I think looking back it was probably in better shape than we all appreciated. Certainly the trades at the 2018 deadline had really helped, too. But most importantly, our infrastructure was, and is to some degree, lacking. With no international scouting function whatsoever, very minimal analytics department or analytics infrastructure that teams take for granted nowadays. Issues with our academy in the Dominican Republic.
“There’s just a lot to do around the organization and we need to retrench our talent pipeline from the ground up, have it so it can consistently produce talent that we’re going to need to compete in the American League East and really all around the league. And there’s really no other way to achieve that goal than by addressing those areas and using our resources to address those areas. And in a lot of cases it requires trading off the major league roster for younger talent and future talent, and that’s where we’re at right now.
“I think this is the quickest way to get back in contention, and we’re going to keep our eye on that.”