The standings can’t be ignored, no matter how much Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is comforted and encouraged by prospect performance and the work done at the alternate camp site. How he judges a season includes production on the field.
“It’s very difficult for me to label any season a success where we have a losing record and don’t make the playoffs,” he said in today’s Zoom conference call. “But I see enough positive things where we can a feel good that this year was far from wasted and that there was progress made in our ultimate goals.”
A hugely important caveat in the discussion.
“I think the style of play and the competitive nature of the team and some of the individual improvements were self-evident,” Elias said, “and individually, players and coaches had good years up here for the most part.”
Second-year manager Brandon Hyde is credited with keeping the Orioles focused and getting the most out of them during unprecedented challenges.
“It’s been an extremely difficult year to be a major league manager, which is one of the hardest jobs in sports to begin with,” Elias said. “Everything that he’s had to deal with on a day in and day out basis, it’s been crazy and I think he’s handled it with grace and humanity and he also continues to be a good baseball coach, so I think everyone’s impressed with the work that he’s done and it’s exciting having him as part of the organization.”
The financial side of the organization could impact how business is conducted with the lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The Orioles aren’t enthusiastic spenders anyway. Now the limitations could be stricter.
“We’re going into a very uncertain offseason from a number of angles,” Elias said. “Businesses in general do a lot of planning, budgeting. Baseball teams do a lot of planning, looking ahead, and just all of that is totally out the window because of this event that came in and turned the world upside down, and so we don’t know. We can’t estimate our revenue, our attendance. We can’t estimate various things that we look at when we look at a player or roster budget, so it’s so day-to-day.
“There’s new info coming out every week, the rules are evolving and there’s been a lack of ability to plan that I expect will persist through this winter and we’re just going to take it as it comes and navigate it as well as we possibly can. But I don’t have sweeping answers on that front.”
First baseman Chris Davis is owed $46 million over the last two years of his contract and Elias indicated again that the Orioles are committed to the deal.
“It was not a successful year for Chris on a number of fronts, and it’s a frustration for everyone involved and it’s a tough situation for everyone involved and that includes him,” Elias said.
“We’re taking it as it comes, but he is under contract with this team, there’s a lot that goes into that and we do not have plans to alter that fact.”
Elias said he wasn’t going to discuss personnel moves in the Zoom conference call forum, but praised the contributions of José Iglesias when asked whether the club would pick up the 2021 option on the veteran shortstop’s contract.
“I think his impact on the team has been plain to see this year,” Elias said. “He’s really helped us and we love having him. I think that goes for a lot of guys here, as well.”
Infield depth remains a priority.
“I think infielders are hard to come by from a number of angles,” Elias said. “I think when I first joined the Orioles at the end of 2018, I looked at what we have and it did seem like there was a deficit of infielders, but a large number of quality outfielders that you’re seeing right now. And I think that deficit of infielders was mainly owing to the lack of international pipeline, because that’s where a lot of major league infielders are coming from these days.
“So we have tried to attack it at the major league level through free agency and the waiver wire and we’ve got some guys that we like from that route that are with the team now. We’ve tried to attack it through the last couple of drafts and also a couple of trades, and we’ve gotten the international free agent spigot flowing now, so hopefully all of that will long-term fortify our infield depth. But it’s like pitching, one of those areas where everyone is always looking for more.”
Trey Mancini has completed his chemotherapy treatments and Elias anticipates having him in spring training.
“We’re very much hopeful and excited that he can come back and help us,” Elias said. “He fits in well with us. He was everything for us last year and to add him back next year I just think gets everyone excited. He just went through a lot and he’s going to have to get his strength and his baseball activities back and all that, and there’s still going to be some work and a process going into that this winter, but he’s such a strong, dedicated, mentally strong kid and person that we have nothing but confidence that he can do it this offseason and have a great year next year.”
The Orioles will hold an instructional league, though Elias wasn’t ready to provide information. Catcher Adley Rutschman could be on the roster.
“We do have a lot of anxiety over what the lack of a real minor league season may cause these guys in terms of development,” he said. “I really think that we did the most with the circumstances, having a phenomenal Bowie alternate site experience and really keeping tabs on the guys who were at home, making sure they had the resources and contact necessary to do what they could do.
“I don’t have anything to announce, but instructional league is certainly something that a lot of teams are advancing and it’s on our wish list. We’re just really careful in this environment when we’re planning something like that, and until we really have a plan that we’re ready to talk about, we won’t. But I’m very hopeful to get more of a player development experience and activity in the 2020 calendar year. Especially for some of the guys who weren’t able to be at Bowie.”
Elias said whether a player ticketed for a certain level or affiliate prior to the minor league season’s cancellation is going to be assigned there next year is determined on a case-by-case basis. Discussions are ongoing, but factors include age and last year’s performance.
“I think we’re going to see a whole spectrum of outcomes there,” he said.
Elias also said the Orioles will remain active in the international market. The scouting freeze has been lifted in the last few weeks.
“The financial part of this horrible chapter for baseball is still playing out,” Elias said, “but that’s an important area for us.”
Pitching prospect Michael Baumann was shut down a few weeks ago with a flexor mass strain, but he’s expected to be full-go in spring training. There’s no ligament damage. It’s muscular, which is good news.
“That said, it’s a pretty major thing to have in terms that you’re shut down for several weeks, you miss time, there’s a rehab process and so it ended his season,” Elias said. “He’s not throwing and we will probably ramp him back up in terms of throwing a little earlier than we might have ordinarily next spring, but we fully expect him to be healthy for spring training. He’s doing well.”
Double-A outfielder Yusniel Diaz never made it out of the secondary camp, but Elias said he was impressive at Bowie.
“He drew a lot of walks, he hit a lot of homers, the defense looks great. I think he’s somebody who’s going to be able to help us at all three outfield spots,” Elias said.
“He could have and probably would have come up and debuted this year or been ready to, but we had so many outfielders in the second half that we wanted to give long looks to, mostly (Ryan) Mountcastle and DJ Stewart, that it was really just kind of their turn.”
Stewart had his exit interview this weekend with Elias and Hyde in Buffalo and was told the areas he needs to work on during the winter.
“There’s a lot of things that we saw from him this season that we’re really excited about,” Elias said, “and we have a real clear plan for him in the offseason in terms of some areas of work. But DJ Stewart is a first-round pick and you saw his abilities this year in flashes, and we want to see them not in flashes next year.”
Meanwhile, Hyde found out this morning that Matt Shoemaker isn’t starting tonight for the Blue Jays. He didn’t know the identity of the substitute while doing his Zoom conference call at 4:30 p.m., but the lineup now lists T.J. Zeuch.
“I have no idea who they’re going to throw,” Hyde said. “Pretty much going with a real similar lineup to what I had already in mind for Shoemaker. I don’t know if he’s going to throw after the starter or not. They’re obviously trying to set things up for the playoffs, and rightfully so. They’re trying to get guys work and get guys healthy for the postseason, and so I totally understand.”
Ramón Urías is intriguing the Orioles down the stretch and seems set to compete for a utility job next spring, though so much about the roster can change.
“He’s played pretty well,” Hyde said. “I thought he was taking some good at-bats. I like the way he uses the whole field. I like the right-center field approach - the homer, a couple of hits at Fenway, the double down the line. The way he turned around a high-90s fastball at Fenway off a tough reliever. So I like what he’s done with the bat.
“I think he’s played more second base than shortstop, so we kind of want to get a look there at how he handles that, and I think he’s done fine. I think he’s an interesting player and he’s done a nice job this past week.”