Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias spent 20 minutes in the dugout today fielding questions from the media.
The typical season-ender with the club down to its last home game, followed by three in Toronto.
Elias believes the organization is in “a very healthy spot right now” with “a ton of young talent” in the system, plus the advances made in analytics and international scouting. But he also knows the on-field product must be upgraded without compromising the rebuild plan.
The Rays remain a blueprint for the Orioles, and Elias noted that his club is “much farther along than we were last year or two years ago.”
“I do know that this will work and we will get in the mix with these (teams),” Elias said.
Here’s more from Elias:
When can decisions be expected on the major league coaching staff?
“That’s always something that very typically is quickly after the resolution of the season. That’s the way we’ve approached it, the way the industry has approached it. I generally have a philosophy that people are here and they have our support and it’s not something we like to talk about publicly. But it’s baseball, there are changes season to season up and down baseball operations, just like any company, and when they happen that’s part of things. But it’s not something that I talk about publicly because I don’t think it’s in the best interests of our department and our franchise, but obviously we’re getting to the time of year where we’re assessing things and planning ahead and looking at structures for the future.
Does Elias think the club has enough starting pitching to compete in 2022 or must he bring in outsiders?
“I think it would be very overly optimistic of us to assume that we have enough pitching to compete in our division just by bringing back returning players, but we are very interested still and very encouraged by a lot of these guys on the 40-man roster, even though a lot of them had a lot of rough stretches in the middle of the summer. And I think we’ve seen encouraging finishes for some of these guys in September, whether that’s in the minors or in the majors. This group, by and large, is still a part of our future plans and there’s a lot of talent here and it’s not surprising when guys have struggles pitching in the American League East in their first year or two in the big leagues or players have sophomore slumps in general. But we need to get more talented in a lot of areas and pitching is certainly at the top of the list, so we’re going to be looking at external reinforcements for sure.”
Would the club consider free agent pitchers on major league deals and perhaps multi-year contracts?
“I think if it’s the right player and the right fit and the right value, we will entertain that and look for it. I think very frankly we may not be assured of getting something we like and I’m not going to artificially force something like that just to be able to say we did that. And we do have a lot of internal, talented pitchers we’re going to want to keep pitching, but we’re also going to need pitchers from outside the organization to help share the load. So I don’t know what shapes and sizes that’s going to come in right now. They have a say in it, too, the players out there, and just who happens to be on the market that year and who’s competing on whom, and so on and so forth. But clearly it sounds good.”
Are the ballpark, rebuild and playing in the American League East deterrents for free agent pitchers?
“Yeah, I think players want to be on good teams. This is historically an offensive park. There’s no secret to that or running from that. I think it is a factor, depending on the type of contract, that player, what they’re looking to do. It can be a factor and it’s just something each club has to navigate different. But we have a lot of advantages here, too. We have opportunities. We’re going to have opportunities to be really guaranteed rotation spots and being a leader on the staff and things like that to sell and we’ll see where it goes.”
Does Elias expect to have the financial support of the club’s partnership group?
“I think we will continue to have full financial support for executing our strategy of getting this team back to the playoffs in a realistic, viable, sustainable way, and to the degree that comes in the form of fortifying our roster with free agent investments that we want because they’re strategic, that will be there.”
Is Matt Harvey’s body of work this summer enough to intrigue Elias?
“I thought he had a really good year for himself and for us. I know his ERA (6.27) wasn’t sparkling, but coming off barely pitching at all last year and the injury histories, he threw 120 innings, we did not play particularly good defense behind him. Even by our own team’s standards, we were bad behind Matt Harvey. He went out there and kept taking the ball and logging innings and kept us in games and won some games. So I think he’s in a better position as a free agent than he was this time last year and I know he liked it here and we liked him, so we’ll see. He’s on the list, but I think he’s going to have opportunities, as well.”
What is the commitment to fielding a team that can compete next season?
“We think that this team will continuously get better from this point forward. That’s what I think. We have a lot of young talent here. Young talent tends to get better. We know we’re far away from the other competitors on our division, all four of them. We’ve got a ways to go to get back in that fight and we’re being mindful of that first and foremost, the ultimate goal, which is to get to that level of play that we’re going to need to to compete consistently in this division. So that’s going to be first and foremost in our thinking and our front office’s thinking and we don’t want to do anything to derail or shortchange that. But I do think there are ways to simultaneously allow our internal players the opportunity to continue to get playing time and not being blocked when we have an interesting player that we want to see play for a while, that can help bolster this team so it is better on a night-to-night basis and also kind of carry forward our long-term goal. So we’re going to try to reconcile all of those different goals and what we do this winter, whether that’s free agents or trades or other types of acquisitions.”
Does Elias expect to be in the bidding for the top free agent shortstops on the market?
“I can’t rule anything out, but we’re going to be very cognizant of who we are and where we are, and I do think that the time for the Orioles of making the largest splash at the Winter Meetings is not right now. But I’m not going to close the doors to anything. This has historically been a ballpark that some hitters like to come to on shorter-term deals when that suits where they’re at in the offseason, so we’ll see.”
Is there concern that the time outfielder Heston Kjerstad has missed due to myocarditis could derail him as a prospect?
“I think we’re all definitely, including him, concerned about it. He missed a year and a half of plate appearances. A lot of players missed plate appearances in 2020. He was a pretty polished college hitter from a big conference and he’s got a great head on his shoulders and he’s kind of jumped back into the mix of things. He’s a real natural hitter. It’s not sort of a cage-crafted swing. He’s got a natural swing. So hopefully all of that allows him to catch up eventually, but I’m sure there’s going to be some curve to that and we’re obviously going to be patient with him and supportive. But as of right now he looks good and he’s in a good spot and he’s going to be a participant in our fall activities and we’ll take it from there.”
Where does Elias see the futures of players such as Trey Mancini, John Means and Anthony Santander, who are due raises in arbitration and figure to generate trade interest?
“We like all those players. They’re talented guys. Many of them have a lot of control left that would make us more apt to kind of put them off limits, but I’ve said a number of times, we’re not doing our job as baseball front offices if we’re not entertaining conversations on our guys by and large. So, we will do that and I’m sure it will include a lot of guys from that group, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to pull the trigger on anything and it doesn’t mean that we don’t plan around them as if they’re going to be here in the future.”
Is there a big difference between the Orioles getting the first or second draft pick in 2022?
“I don’t worry about that at all. I’ve been a part of a lot of these. You just don’t know what’s out there. Crazy stuff happens. We want to finish as strong as we can possibly finish. I think we take a lot of pride in giving some of these teams fits down the stretch. We were seeing a lot of stuff on the 2011 team recently and people remember that and it’s good for the team and the players, and that’s our focus right now. But we’re going to have a high pick. I think we might even know we’re getting the top two already and so we have a list of players, we’re preparing for that. We’re not worried about it. We picked fifth last year because of the shortened season and I think we got a terrific player (Colton Cowser). The draft’s very fickle and I’m humble about the draft, and wherever we end up picking, we’ll pick. And hopefully do well.”
“And once you’re in major league spring training, you’ve got a chance to show your stuff and make the team,” Elias said. “First and foremost, we’re going to have to see how that goes from their end and ours during spring training. But both players had spectacular years, they’re two of the better minor league talents in the entire sport. We’ve very excited about them. They’re on schedule despite losing a full season with the pandemic.
“Grayson has not pitching in Triple-A yet. Don’t think that it’s 100 percent necessary to pitch in Triple-A. So, that doesn’t preclude anything, but that’s going to be a consideration.”
The Blue Jays are starting Steven Matz, Alek Manoah and Hyun Jin Ryu.
* Reliever Isaac Mattson will be on a one-man taxi squad in Toronto.