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Will Orioles be aggressive in early free agency?

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Will Orioles be aggressive in early free agency?

Twenty players were given $15.8 million qualifying offers by Friday afternoon, the most in the four-year history of the system. Three of them were Orioles, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis and Matt Wieters.

There weren’t many surprises among the 17 others, but would the Orioles consider losing their first round draft choice to sign one, or perhaps two of them?

A few of the names on the list are intriguing. There are some starting pitchers who conceivably could fit into the Orioles’ price range: Brett Anderson, Marco Estrada, Yovani Gallardo, Ian Kennedy, John Lackey, Jeff Samardzija and Jordan Zimmermann.

Daniel Murphy, star of the first two rounds of the postseason is on the list, and so is Justin Upton, who had been linked with the team at the trade deadline.

The Cubs' Dexter Fowler and Kansas City’s Alex Gordon are on the list, too.

While Zack Greinke and Hisashi Iwakuma were given qualifying offers, they are not likely to be Orioles targets. Greinke would prefer to stay in the National League where he can hit, and Iwakuma is seen as re-signing with Seattle.

Others on the list: Ian Desmond, Justin Heyward and Howie Kendrick either play positions where the Orioles don’t have a great need, or in Heyward’s case, will likely be too expensive.

The other name on the list is Colby Rasmus, who turned down the Orioles’ one-year contract offer a year ago, and will probably not get another one.

Some of the more intriguing names on the free agent market are Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist. Both were traded to the Kansas City Royals in July and not eligible for a qualifying offer.

It will be interesting to see how aggressive Dan Duquette is in the early weeks of free agency. In the past, he was never a serious early pursuer. His biggest conquests, Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez, didn’t come until spring training 2014.

That year, several names on the qualifying offer list went unsigned for months. Last year, that wasn’t the case, but this year there are so many more that there may be a few names still unsigned come late January.

Late signings don’t faze Scott Boras, who represents Chen, Davis and Wieters. It will be interesting to see if Boras, as he has in the past, holds his clients back from signing in the early part of free agency.

While the Orioles are eager to re-sign Davis and will make a competitive offer, would they wait until January if Boras continues to survey the market?

They’ll have to make a decision on 2016’s first baseman, and they may not want to wait until mid or late January since there isn’t a logical successor to Davis on hand.

The most interesting thing about the players on the qualifying list is that many aren’t necessarily seen as top tier free agents. While some fans may want the Orioles to take a run at David Price, who doesn’t have a qualifying offer attached to him, he’s likely out of their price range.

But absent Greinke, Heyward and Upton, it doesn’t seem that many here are out of their market.

It will be interesting to see if they make more than a token offer to Wieters, who will likely reject the offer and move on. He’s been linked in print to the Nationals, but multiple people with knowledge of the team’s workings say that they don’t see a fit there.

Friday morning, Peter Gammons tweeted that the Braves, who were widely seen as Wieters’ landing spot, were not going to pursue him.

The Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers have been mentioned as possible homes for Wieters.

There weren’t any relief pitchers on the list, but Darren O’Day figures to be a prized commodity. He’s in a great spot, probably the best relief pitcher on the market, and coming off four stellar years with the Orioles.

O’Day, who just turned 33, could sign with the Dodgers. While there has been talk he could sign with the Nationals, they’ve been reluctnat to sign a reliever for three or four years, which is what O’Day might be able to get elsewhere. And for now at least, the Nationals say they intend to keep both Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen.

Washington is a possible destination for the only Orioles free agent who wasn’t eligible for a qualifying offer, Gerardo Parra. The Nationals tried to get him at the trading deadline, but the Orioles beat them to it.

While we await the countless rumors and rumors of linkings for Chen, Davis, O’Day, Parra and Wieters, there is some good news.

Other than Brian Matusz, who may be traded this offseason, there are no Orioles currently eligible for free agency next year.

MORE ORIOLES: Orioles make qualifying offers to Chen, Davis, Wieters

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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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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.