Baltimore Orioles fans experienced a return of magic to the Charmed City for a period of five years, from 2012-2017. There was Chris Davis crushing home runs, Chris Tillman defying sabremetrics, and a 20-year-old kid, who made playing third base as natural as Brooks Robinson made it look. There was a Division Title, two Wild Card births, and a fourth season where it took the final two weeks to finally eliminate the Birds from contention.
Then, 2018 came. Fans were high on hope, even though we knew that Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette were working on the final year of their contracts. Would magic strike one more time, or would a dreaded rebuild start again?
Unfortunately, we saw an aging team limp to an organization low of 47 victories and watched pieces like Manny Machado, Kevin Gausman, and Zack Britton traded off for a slew of unknown prospects and veteran cast offs. We waved good-bye to Buck before the season ended and watched as Duquette was told he wasn’t coming back after the season ended.
Enter Mike Elias, a young and brash executive, who helped as an assistant with the Houston Astros’ rebuild and was part of a consistent winner with the St. Louis Cardinals. At 36, he knew what it was like to build a minor league system and usher in the new analytics era that Buck and Duquette steered clear from.
When Elias started, he stated four major areas in which the Orioles needed to improve in order to build a consistent and competitive franchise in the near future. Those four areas were:
- Revamp and improve the analytics department
- Create an international pipeline
- Streamline training from the bottom up
- Choose high-profile players in the draft
Elias seems to have gotten off to a fairly unnoticed and decent start outside of the big league club. The Orioles have gone from the worst minor league system in baseball to one of the top five systems in less than two years.
Most fans forget what Elias came into when he took over the Orioles franchise as the top man in the front office. Numerous franchise players were allowed to walk or were shipped off from 2014-2017. The likes of fan-favorite Nick Markakis was allowed to walk to the Braves, where he went on to have another six productive years, not only as a right fielder, but as a consistent hitter as well.
Along with the loss of Markakis, the Orioles failed to make a strong effort to retain Nelson Cruz, who had his first 40 home run season of his career with Orioles. Because of his age, the Orioles feared handing out a long-term contract. Cruz has hit no less than 37 home runs since then, batted over .300 four times, and hit 40+ home runs three times. It seems like Cruz got better since we allowed him to walk.
The Orioles spent the 2015 off-season outbidding themselves for the services of Chris Davis and ended up with an albatross of a contract for the shell of a player Davis used to be. To make matters worse, we also signed slugger Mark Trumbo to a three-year deal and were rewarded with a player who spent more time on the disabled list than games played.
In 2018, the Orioles finally had a fire sale, with Machado traded to the Dodgers, Jonathan Schoop to the Twins, and Gausman and O’Day to the Braves. Eventually, Mychal Givens and Miguel Castro were shown the door. Dylan Bundy ended the fire sale with a trade to the Angels by the Elias regime not long after they took over.
Since Elias has taken over, the Orioles have made a presence in the International Player Pool and MLB Draft. Dan Duquette didn’t believe in the International Draft Pool, so he traded away the spots like candy. Elias not only has the Orioles drafting but has taken top-10 international talent and even developed a presence in the Dominican Republic. The Orioles are currently building a state-of-the-art complex in the Dominican to help train and prepare talent they have drafted from the country.
As the Orioles field the fourth youngest average lineup in the majors, the Birds are one of five teams to have placed five minor league players in the top-100 prospects in all of baseball, currently holding the No. 2 prospect in catcher Adley Rutschman. Other prospects include pitchers D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, while the O’s No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Heston Kjerstad, and 2019 second round pick, Gunnar Henderson, are also in the top-100.
So the question is: is Mike Elias doing the right things?
With luck, healthy prospects, and some timely promotions, the organization looks like the beginning of a pipeline of Major League talent for years to come. We still have a few years before we can rightfully judge Elias for his plan, but the question still remains.
As Orioles fans, we all want to see success before failure, but let’s ask this: would you rather have one or two good seasons to talk about, or a team that has a shot to make the playoffs and compete for a World Series yearly? Patience is thin, but success will change perception everytime.
How do you think Mike Elias is handling this rebuild? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Facebook and Twitter, and follow our podcast, The Walk-Off, on YouTube and Spotify! And, make sure to use the hashtag #thebaltimorebattery when sharing our content to show your Birdland swag!