Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias spent about 25 minutes in the home dugout this afternoon for his latest media session. The 15-game losing streak, second-longest in club history, the path of the rebuild and the organization’s prospects were among the many topics.
Elias said he senses the pressure that manager Brandon Hyde is feeling beyond winning games and offers encouragement in their discussions. That Hyde is the right man for the job and it’s going to work out. No matter how dire the situation appears in the present.
“I do, and I do all of those things,” Elias said. “He and I have a great communication at all times, whether it comes to day-to-day roster management or big picture stuff. And I stress the big picture stuff all the time.
“He came into this project at the outset with me and Sig (Mejdal) and Koby Perez and everyone who’s here and we came in very late in the 2018 off-season and at the risk of repeating myself, it was historically challenging situation where we’re in the division that we’re in, the team had the worst record in the league. To the team’s credit, in a lot of ways, pushed the envelope payroll-wise and window-wise to extend a very impressive winning run, and it broke apart. We had several underwater contracts, some of them historically so, and the farm system was toward the bottom of the league in the rankings. There was no international operation that provides like a third of the players and we were like a decade behind the industry in a lot of technological areas. And we knew this was going to be tough and take a while, and he knew that and we understood that.
“And now 2 1/2-plus to three years in, I assess where we’re at in this project and we have a flexible landscape going forward with our major league roster and our major league finances. We have a top-of-the-league type of farm system, all of that infrastructure is updated and up and running and performing and allowing us to perform as we’re going to need to operate as the type of franchise that we are and the division that we’re in and the type of market we’re in going forward. And we have several players on this team right now that are looking to me and looking to Brandon like young, special guys that are going to be part of a good team here.
“So I think with all of that in mind we are very much on track with what we’re trying to do, which his bring this team back to a playoff competitive caliber year in, year out contention in the manner of other franchises that I’ve pointed to recently. It’s requiring a very big transition in the way that this franchise did business and will do business going forward and all that’s on track. But all that said, I hoped that we would be able to avoid the kind of stretches of play like we’re in right now and seeing some of the things that we’re seeing. I hoped that we would be able to avoid that, but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t know it was a possibility at the beginning of this project or at the beginning of the season that we might find ourselves in these types of stretches and in this type of play. And whenever it happens, it always causes me to self-reflect about things that I could be doing a little bit better. Moves I should have made or things that we could do better on a day-to-day basis and we strive to do that and continue to do that.”
The Orioles are 38-82, the worst record in baseball, and assured of finishing below .500 for the fifth year in a row. They’ve been outscored 138-42 during a losing streak that Elias said “is not reflective of our large-picture goals that are very much way on track in my assessment.”
“And so we’re just going to continue to grind through it,” Elias said. “This is what Brandon and I talk about when things get tough like this. We see aspects of hope and progress that are coming and eventually will be at his disposal. So, that’s I think where we’re at. But this has been a very trying couple of weeks for everyone in that clubhouse, including me.”
The Orioles aren’t ready to commit to chasing more expensive free agents over the winter in order to upgrade the roster.
“My objective and kind of North Star through this whole thing is maximizing playoff odds for the Orioles over like a longtime horizon,” Elias said. “We have based our decisions on that, based our prioritization of investments with those goals in mind, and when the time comes that those are the best uses of our resources and efforts, and possibly as soon as this off-season, we will ratchet up those investments with those strategic goals in mind. So, when it makes sense to do that ...
“We’ll look at things. Things change by the week. We’ll look at things and when that starts to be the case, we’ll do that. And that’s really the truth of what I can say. I’m looking forward to that day, which his coming closer and closer to where our odds of reaching the playoffs will be ticking up. And I’m looking forward to that. This is a franchise that has historically demonstrated a very big capability to support a major league payroll and in fact it was almost done to a fault the last few years, and that’s part of why we’re at where we’re at right now and why we’re doing what we’re doing now. But that’s not going to last forever.
“We’ll do what it takes to put this team in a position to get back to the playoffs and fight for those playoff spots, and I’m hopeful it’s really soon.”
Elias noted the issues with the pitching at the major league level and the lack of reinforcements down below. Bad breaks with health, poor results from many of the healthy pitchers expected to contribute.
“Frankly, the pitching staff that we have here right now, there’s no one on the staff making more than $1 million and that’s Matt Harvey, who was brought in on a minor league deal and made the team out of spring training. And that’s the reality of it,” Elias said.
“These guys are young, inexperienced pitchers making the minimum. That’s what we did going into this season. So I think we knew that we were going to be cycling through guys and experiencing some of the pains that we’re experiencing right now. But looking at the organization as a whole, it’s something that we’re very mindful about. Obviously, we need pitching. I am very impressed with the young pitchers that we have in our minor leagues. Our group has put a lot of study into rebuilds and successfully executed rebuilds over the past 10 years. I would say the group that we have now is better than what you saw in the farm systems of those teams going through those rebuilds at similar points in time.
“I’m particularly excited about a few of our guys in the minors who are very, very special talents. Keeping pitching healthy is always challenging, you always have your fingers crossed when it comes to pitching.”
“There’s only like two teams that have more than that,” he said. “I think our pitching across the league stacks up really well. I also know that the guys that are going to be pitching for the Baltimore Orioles over the next five to 10 years are not limited to those that are in the organization right now and there’s myriad ways to import pitching in the organization. We’re very mindful of that and this isn’t something that we’re approaching without that in mind.”
Rodriguez is viewed as the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball on prospect lists and catcher Adley Rutschman is No. 1 overall. They will be reunited at Triple-A Norfolk, with discussions ongoing about Rodriguez’s timetable to leave Double-A Bowie “when it makes sense,” Elias said.
Their major league debuts aren’t expected to happen this summer, but Elias said, “They’re certainly on the radar screen for 2022 in a big way.”
Left-hander Bruce Zimmerman might not pitch again in 2021 after spraining his right ankle in the weight room shortly before he was set to leave Triple-A Norfolk and rejoin the Orioles. Keegan Akin has an opportunity again to make an impression and stay in the rotation, or at least with the club.
Asked this afternoon if he’s going start-to-start with Akin or prepared to give the rookie a more extended look, manager Brandon Hyde said, “Anything can change, but as of right now, I’ve got him starting at least the next couple times.
“He’s building up. He threw close to 80 pitches his last start, so hopefully he can go further than that tonight. With a lot of our guys, we’re kind of waiting to see what happens.
Zimmermann injured the ankle while doing some exercises prior to leaving the ballpark.
“The swelling’s down,” Elias said. “It was just kind of a freak thing. He was doing some jumps in the weight room and his ankle caught, and unfortunately the timing is right before his activation and also a time when we could use his help. We want to make sure we get him back fully healthy and not have him do anything that would endanger his arm or anything, obviously.”
Hyde said he’s hoping outfielder Anthony Santander returns to the lineup Saturday night. Santander is nursing a sore ankle.
Norfolk reliever Isaac Mattson went on the seven-day injured list with right shoulder soreness.
Reliever Hunter Harvey will pitch again Saturday for the Tides on his injury rehab assignment. His return date to the Orioles will be determined later.
Left-hander Zac Lowther will make a rehab start Saturday at Single-A Aberdeen and likely join Double-A Bowie for a start Thursday before returning to Norfolk’s rotation.
The news is promising again with outfielder Heston Kjerstad, last year’s second overall draft pick who hasn’t started his professional career due to a recurrence of the swelling in his heart.
“He’s kind of progressing back into a rehab status of getting back toward baseball activities hopefully soon,” Elias said. “That, as I said all along, was a very tricky condition and something that, being cardiac-related, we’re exceedingly cautious about and continue to have a cautious mindset toward. So I think we’re just going to take things as they come, but good news that he’s in that phase right now. And I think with the off-season being around the corner that we’ll be able to have time on our side and kind of proceed very carefully and, fingers crossed, hopefully have him for spring training, but we’ll see where this goes.
“This has been a very tough situation for him. He’s doing a great job, our medical staff has done a great job with him, and it’s obviously been a tough situation for us. So, we’ll just keep taking it in stride but he’s back to work in Florida.”
The Orioles are playing a man short tonight with new reliever Chris Ellis unable to report in time.
“That just happened this afternoon,” Hyde said.
Hyde became familiar with Ellis this week when the right-hander tossed four scoreless innings against the Orioles in his major league debut at Tropicana Field.
“Kind of pitching in a game that was a little bit out of hand,” Hyde said. “We swung and missed a lot on the breaking ball, I know that. He’s been in a few places in his career and I think we’re going to continue to give guys opportunities and hope they stay.”
The Orioles designated reliever César Valdez for assignment to make room for Ellis.
“I thought he was really good the last couple weeks for us last year, it was fun to watch,” Hyde said. “He started off pretty well this year, kind of got into a funk a little bit. I think teams repeatedly seeing somebody that really is kind of a one-pitch, two-pitch guy ...
“I thought his changeup was elevated a little more during the tough stretch that he had, where last year you just saw so many swings and misses below the zone, guys just trying to get to it. They kind of started laying off that and making him bring it up and he struggled at times. Really enjoyed having him here. He’s a total pro, very well liked in our clubhouse and he was a good story.”