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Orioles look to next year after sensational season

Orioles look to next year after sensational season

BALTIMORE (AP) The Orioles made baseball relevant in Baltimore again, shedding the stigma of 14 consecutive losing seasons with a wildly successful run that vastly exceeded all realistic expectations.

Baltimore stayed in contention for the AL East crown until the final day, reached the postseason, won its wild-card game and pushed the New York Yankees to the brink in the division series before losing 3-1 on Friday night in the deciding fifth game.

After the sting of elimination fades, the Orioles will savor their 93-69 season and remember the scene at Camden Yards when two straight sellout crowds cheered the home team's first appearance in the playoffs since 1997.

``The feeling, with the crowd screaming and waving the towels, you couldn't hear yourself think,'' first baseman Mark Reynolds said.

Following four successive last-place finishes, Baltimore turned it around in 2012. Unfortunately, the Orioles still weren't good enough to displace New York as top dog in the AL East. Not only did the Yankees win the division, they bounced Baltimore from the playoffs.

But a seismic shift occurred along the way. Buck Showalter's young Orioles gave the aging Yankees - with Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Eric Chavez and Alex Rodriguez - all they could handle.

``It is not goodbye to this group, it is, `See ya later,''' Showalter said. ``They have a very well-deserved rest. They were good teammates and people that our city and organization can be proud of. And we'll see them again.''

Rookies Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez pitched brilliantly in the ALDS. First-year players Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado hit home runs in Game 3. Another rookie pitcher, Steve Johnson, contributed significantly during the regular season and Baltimore improved its 2011 record by 24 games despite getting little help from young arms Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta.

Dan Duquette, in his first year as executive vice president of baseball operations, did an exceptional job of adding key players along the way. Joe Saunders, Jim Thome, Nate McLouth and Lew Ford all played a part in the successful run, even though none of them were on the 40-man roster when the season began.

For once, the Orioles had depth. It didn't matter that Baltimore lost three leadoff hitters to injury - Brian Roberts, Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis - because McLouth was there to step in. And when left-handed reliever Troy Patton went on the disabled list with an ankle injury, converted starter Brian Matusz stepped in to fill the void.

Matusz, Machado and All-Star catcher Matt Wieters are among several players to emerge from the Orioles' oft-maligned farm system. That group includes top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy, who got his first taste of major league ball in the middle of a pennant race.

``It's something where a lot of these guys in the clubhouse came up together through the system, and we've been able to see each other's games sort of improve and develop,'' Wieters said. ``A lot of us have had to develop at the big league level, and we really picked up our game the last couple years. That's why we are where we are.''

Jim Johnson led the majors with 51 saves and was a big reason why Baltimore went 29-9 in one-run games. Few other Orioles were listed among the league leaders, and it didn't matter because no one had to carry the burden of producing in every game.

``We know we're going to have different guys step up every night and be able to drive in runs,'' Wieters said. ``The big thing is that we just want everybody to sort of play to their ability and not worry about where you're hitting in the lineup or what your stats are.''

Given what happened in the 14 years leading up to this one, there might be reason to believe this season was nothing more than a quirky stroke of luck.

``There are no flukes in baseball. There are no Cinderellas,'' Showalter insisted. ``You play too many games.''

The 2012 Orioles played more games than usual, all the way into the second week of October. They hope to play even longer next year.

``I'm proud of the effort of the whole organization,'' Duquette said. ``We took some great strides forward. We're a first-division outfit.''

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The Orioles mishandled their search for a new general manager and still ended up with a home run hire

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USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles mishandled their search for a new general manager and still ended up with a home run hire

The Baltimore Orioles let a lame duck general manager engineer the most important trade deadline in recent franchise history, showed interest in some of the most uninspired executive candidates on the market, attended the GM Meetings without yet having a new GM, and somehow still managed to land the best possible candidate on the market. After spending months, if not years, digging deeper and deeper into a self-imposed hole, they figured out a way to come out smelling like roses.

It’s finally official. The Orioles have hired Mike Elias to as Executive Vice President and General Manager, and he’ll be given full autonomy to oversee all baseball operations. It’s a perfect fit.

For the first time in what feels like years, the Orioles are making a decision that’s been universally lauded.

Elias leaves the Houston Astros having played a key role in their long rebuilding process, a task that at the time seemed similarly daunting to the one in front of him in Baltimore. His experience with a “trust the process”-style rebuild is one of the reasons he is such a perfect hire for a team that lost well over 100 games and holds the top overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft.

Elias is young (35), intelligent (graduated from Yale), experienced (former scout with model organization St. Louis Cardinals and assistant GM for the 2017 World Series-champion Astros), and has a scouting background (oversaw player development and all minor league teams for Houston). If popular narratives are to be believed, Elias’ youth would imply that he is hungry to prove himself in his first GM job, and that he is analytically-inclined, as most young front office executives are in 2018.

That last point is crucial, as the struggles of the Orioles in 2018 have largely been attributed to a consistent lack of interest in modern analytics, research and development, and player development. The Astros have also been quite active in the international markets, and area the Orioles have famously avoided for much of their history, and the hire of Elias could mean the franchise is interested in joining the rest of baseball in mining talent from Latin America.

It’s also interesting to note the Astros’ nearly unprecedented success with starting pitchers, especially as it compares to the Orioles’ equally unprecedented lack of success in the same area. The Orioles, once proud employers of some of the best pitchers in baseball, haven’t properly drafted and developed a homegrown pitcher in decades. Chris Tillman and Erik Bedard have ranged from serviceable to impressive for short stints, but Mike Mussina (in the ‘90s!) is the last true ace to come through the Orioles system.

The Astros, on the other hand, have established themselves as the industry standard for pitching development in recent years, both with young draftees and with acquiring “retreads” from other teams, tweaking something about their repertoire, and enjoying the results.

It helps that the Astros play in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in baseball, but if Elias can bring to Baltimore any improvements for how to handle pitching staffs, that alone would make him worth the investment.

One point to emphasize from the official announcement is the public assurance that Elias will have full decision-making power in his role. Orioles ownership has a tough reputation around the league for being meddlesome and hamstringing their GM’s from operating as best they can.

If the announcement is to be believed (and frankly, it’s hard to imagine a rising star like Elias committing to the organization if he didn’t believe it himself), then this marks a sea change from how Peter Angelos has operated in prior seasons. His sons appear much more interested in letting the baseball people handle baseball things, and that’s cause for optimism for O’s fans.

They could have gone with the “tried and true.” They could have gone with the old-school. They could have gone with a baseball lifer. They could have gone with Ned Colletti.

No shots at Colletti, who by all accounts is a good administrative mind and a good man. But much like Buck Showalter is a terrific manager who was no longer the right fit in Baltimore, a GM of Colletti’s ilk is not what the Orioles franchise needs right now. 

Bringing in Elias, no matter the long and winding road that brought the Orioles to that decision, signals a changing of the guard in Baltimore. It signals a complete revamping of the way the front office operates. Everything from the process by which decisions are made, to how young talent is evaluated, to how modern analytics are applied to everything the franchise touches, is going to change under Elias. And, more likely than not, change for the better.

Make no mistake. This is a home run hire, and yes, pun very much intended. There’s finally cause for celebration in Birdland.

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Who is Mike Elias?

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Who is Mike Elias?

Where to begin after a team loses 115 games? That’s the main question settling into Mike Elias’ future when he takes over the Baltimore Orioles' beached ship.

Multiple reports have pegged Elias as the Orioles new general manager. He’s yet another front office member of the Houston Astros to be plucked by an outside organization for a larger role. He’s young, comes from an analytics-fueled front office and walks into a job where there only seems to be one direction to go following last season. 

Elias also has local ties. The 36-year-old is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. He went to Yale where he worked four seasons as a left-handed pitcher. Elias jumped into scouting for the St. Louis Cardinals directly after graduation.

Similar to Nationals manager Mike Rizzo, Elias moved up from a scouting baseline to a prominent decision-maker in the front office. Elias was ported from St. Louis to Houston when the Astros hired Jeff Luhnow to become general manager in 2011. The duo, and rest of the front office took over a team that was about to embark on three consecutive seasons with 100 losses or more. The organization became notable around the league for its fervent reworking of approach and willingness to absorb losses to vault to the top of the annual draft.

In 2012, the Astros selected Carlos Correa No. 1 overall. Elias, then a special assistant to the general manager, has received a large amount of the credit for taking a shortstop who became Rookie of the Year and an All-Star. Nine of the Astros’ 14 selections that year made it to the major leagues. Not all with the Astros. Not all with a large degree of success. But, they made it.

Houston selected burgeoning All-Star Alex Bregman with the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. 

However, the Astros’ high-end draft history wasn’t perfect with Luhnow and Elias in place. They selected Stanford starter Mark Appel with the No. 1 overall pick in 2013. Just 27, he is out of baseball after never making it past Triple A. The Astros took Brady Aiken with the top overall pick in 2014. He never signed. 

Yet, the organization continued to turn. Bregman developed into a star. Jose Altuve won the MVP award, Lance McCullers, also part of the 2012 class, became an All-Star. Four years after Luhnow arrived to reverse the organization’s course, the Astros had a winning season and reached the postseason. Two years later they won the World Series.

Hiring Elias signals the Orioles, long viewed as one of the stodgier organizations in baseball, are shifting to the modern era. Baltimore was known more for its reticence to embrace analytics as opposed to its use of the information. The move may also calm the ongoing rotation of the front office bosses. Elias will be the organization’s fourth general manager since the Nationals started playing baseball again in the District in 2005. 

Among Elias’ initial tasks is finding a new manager. The Orioles fired Buck Showalter after 8 ½ seasons. Three of them led to the postseason. But, the mess of last season forced a change.

They also need to hit in the draft. The Orioles hold the 2019 top overall pick.

Elias will try to conjure a way to resuscitate the Orioles while fighting the expansive cash flow of the New York Yankees and World Series champion Boston Red Sox within the division. 

He’s been part of turnarounds before. This one would fully be in his hands.