With a trade deadline that saw the Orioles lose two significant contributors complete, executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias left Baltimore for Texas, first to deliver a message to the team and then to the public.
He met with “a number of core players” — including Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays— and assured them an Orioles rebuild now in its fourth full season is trending in the right direction. That memo came after Baltimore traded away Trey Mancini, its longest-tenured player, to the Houston Astros and Jorge López, its closer and lone All-Star, to the Minnesota Twins while the club was within reach of a wild-card spot.
Elias tried to add to the roster, he said Wednesday, but Baltimore’s lone addition at the deadline was outfielder Brett Phillips, an energetic player but one who struggled immensely before the Tampa Bay Rays designated him for assignment.
Those moves, he told them, could be seen as a step back for the major league team but represented a step forward for the organization. After this deadline, Elias suggested, the Orioles’ rebuild will trend only upward.
“While I’m super excited about 2022 and what’s ahead of us and our chances, we’re going to continue with the plan of building for a bright, long future in the American League East, and I think we’re right there,” Elias told reporters Wednesday at Globe Life Field. “I think that it’s liftoff from here for this team.”
He said he expects the Orioles to try to make significant additions this winter, a possibility he’s “very excited about.” Although they might have been able to add to a team that entered Wednesday 1 1/2 games out of a playoff spot at 53-51, Elias said he did not want to do so at the risk of jeopardizing the organization’s long-term plans, ones that have been fully in the works since he took over Baltimore’s baseball operations department in November 2018.
“This is not something, obviously, where we’re putting all of our chips and all this work that we’ve been doing around the organization for the past 3 1/2, four years into the second half of 2022,” Elias said. “This is a decade-long window that I think is opening up, and I couldn’t be more excited about it for Baltimore, for the Orioles, for these guys.”
It’s a shift from the mindset he publicized entering the previous offseason, when he said “the time for the Orioles making the largest splash at the winter meetings is not right now.” Under Elias, the largest free-agent contract Baltimore has given out went to right-hander Jordan Lyles, a veteran the team held onto through this year’s deadline to continue to eat innings for their inexperienced but emerging pitching staff. Lyles is guaranteed to receive $7 million this year, with the deal increasing to $17 million if a team option for 2023 is picked up.
By trading Mancini and López, the Orioles added six pitching prospects to their farm system. Mancini was likely bound for free agency after this year — it was doubtful both sides picked up the 2023 mutual option in his contract — but López won’t be a free agent until after the 2024 season. Elias noted how relievers, especially ones who have pitched as well as López did as Baltimore’s closer, are “more leveraged” at this time of year, potentially allowing for a better return from a team seeking bullpen help. The four-player package the Orioles got from the Twins included left-hander Cade Povich, who Elias said the organization views as a potential front-of-the-rotation starter.
The trades also allowed them to shed the remainder of those veterans’ 2022 salaries from their payroll, though they included cash in the deals that sent López to Minnesota and brought in Phillips. Baltimore has the lowest payroll in the majors at $43.6 million, according to Spotrac. Elias’ comments suggest an intention to add to it this winter.
“I see a homegrown team that we want to build around and supplement, and I think that that’s going to start this year,” Elias said. “There’s a lot of help coming from the minor leagues, and it’s going to start this year, and we’re just going to keep adding from this point forward.”
The fact Elias traveled to meet with players in person resonated, manager Brandon Hyde said. He was hand-picked by Elias to guide this team through the lean of this rebuild. Under contract for 2023, Hyde will get the chance to manage a wave of prospects approaching the majors, as well as whichever additions Elias is able to secure this offseason.
“It just shows care, which is huge,” Hyde said of the meetings. “Shows we’re invested in our players, and we’re going to do everything we can to take care of them and communicate with them, and not only care about them as professionals but care them about them as people, also. I think that’s super important for a player to know, and for Mike to take the time to come here to talk to some guys individually, I think that showed a lot.”
Even with the deadline passed, the Orioles can continue to make additions to their roster this year via a farm system that ranks among the sport’s best.
Elias said he and Hyde spoke with Triple-A Norfolk left-hander DL Hall, Baltimore’s No. 3 prospect according to Baseball America, on Wednesday morning to “encourage him that we’re counting on him.” Kyle Stowers, who got a taste of major league action as a substitute player in Toronto but was passed over for Phillips as the Orioles sought a left-handed outfielder, is ranked ninth in the system and is “certainly somebody that we are getting into the mode where we have daily discussions about bringing him up,” Elias said. Grayson Rodriguez, the game’s top pitching prospect before suffering a right lat muscle strain, is throwing from 120 feet, Elias said, with hopes he can get into game action at some level before the end of the year. Well-regarded infielders Gunnar Henderson and Jordan Westburg are excelling at Norfolk.
But until that group arrives, it’s on the players left after the trade deadline to push the Orioles to a surprising 2022 playoff berth. After trading Mancini, Elias cited the club’s lowly playoff odds — derived from expectations heading into this season, their remaining schedule and the teams still in front of and around them in the standings — as something that comforted the front office in that decision.
On Wednesday, he reiterated his belief in the players still standing, both in speaking with them and to reporters.
“I don’t want [to let] us utilizing the opportunity of the trade deadline the way we did the last couple of days speak to the fact that this is a team that is going to have to be reckoned with, from now and this point forward, in our division,” Elias said. “We want to win as many games as we can possibly win. We want to get into the wild card, but it’s my job to manage the organization as a whole from top to bottom, and at times, there are opportunities that feel like a step back. But in the big picture, it’s a step forward for the entire organization.”
The offseason could bring even more of them.