It was five years ago Thursday that Orioles general manager and Executive Vice President Mike Elias was introduced in that role at Camden Yards. In addition to all the work behind the scenes to modernize the Orioles, there have been scores of transactions, hours of interviews and plenty to evaluate in that time.
Elias has made dozens of trades, averaged over a waiver claim per month and more recently started signing major league free agents. Some were good, some less so. In honor of his fifth anniversary with the club, here are the best and worst of Elias’ tenure with the Orioles.
Right now, it’s one of the first: sending Dylan Bundy to the Los Angeles Angels for pitchers Kyle Bradish, Isaac Mattson, Zach Peek and Kyle Brnovich in December 2019. Bundy was finally learning to pitch backward and cope with life without his best fastball. His trade represented a disappointing end to an Orioles career that held plenty of promise but was derailed by injuries, and he went on to pitch well for the Angels in 2020.
Bradish, however, turned into a front-line starting pitcher on the Orioles’ watch, something pretty much only they saw happening at the time of the trade. Peek and Brnovich remain interesting after having Tommy John elbow reconstruction last year, though any impact they make would be a bonus. Bradish is going to be crucial to the Orioles’ continued progress through this decade, and acquiring that at any cost is worth it.
The obvious answer here is Mike Yastrzemski’s trade to the San Francisco Giants in 2019 after he was deemed surplus to requirements in a crowded Orioles outfield scene in spring training, with middling right-hander Tyler Herb coming back the other way. Yastrzemski could have really helped the Orioles, but it was so early in this process, misevaluating him was simply a costly mistake.
Dishonorable mentions go to every trade during the 2020 season, when the Orioles dealt Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Mychal Givens and Tommy Milone with little impact from the return. Terrin Vavra has a useful skill set but was outrighted this week, and the dream of landing a potential star in the form of a yet-to-pop prospect from Latin America for a reliever didn’t come to fruition in any of the returns.
Not a ton of candidates here. The Orioles’ free agent forays have been light during Elias’ time, but at least we’re past the stage when there’s only one each year to consider. Shoutout to Kyle Gibson, but I think the best and most impactful free agent signing was José Iglesias, who in just 39 games in the 60-game 2020 season had a .956 OPS and was worth 1.7 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. He was really good that year, and a lot of fun to watch, and there weren’t a lot of players on the 2020 (or 2019 or 2021) Orioles that could be said about.
Many more candidates here. Part of that, at least early on, came down to the fact that the Orioles were in the low-cost bucket and signing players who either had health issues or were unproven. This unfortunate distinction has to go to the reunion with Givens, who signed for $5 million guaranteed but pitched just six times as he dealt with knee and shoulder injuries. It would have been really helpful to have a healthy Givens as a late-inning piece this year and potentially next. It didn’t work out.
Sig Mejdal was the first and most impactful, given how the Orioles’ assistant general manager went on to influence the analytics and player development staff. That was probably an easy call for Elias to make, bringing who he called the “intellectual core” of everything they do from Houston to Baltimore.
I’m going to go with Brandon Hyde here, though. It was a diverse set of candidates he emerged from, and it was a hire the Orioles easily could have fumbled. There wouldn’t have been any consequence other than time wasted if they had, considering this team’s nonexistent ambitions in those first few years. Instead, they took a candidate four times passed over in that hiring cycle and watched him lay the groundwork that produced this year’s 101-win club and led to Hyde winning Manager of the Year.
The correct answer was probably him funneling a beer during the team’s September celebration, but I’m going off the grid with my choice. A few weeks into his tenure at his first winter meetings, reports came out that the Orioles were hiring Hyde shortly before Elias was set to meet with the media in the Orioles’ suite. He was asked, albeit indirectly, several times about whether he’d hired or decided on a manager and said no to all of them. As other topics came up, the television, tuned to MLB Network, was discussing Hyde’s hiring with a large graphic across the bottom of the screen. I asked about that, and he called the report premature. It was Nathan Fielder-level awkward in the moment, and very funny to think back on in retrospect, though I doubt Elias would agree.
While on the baseball side acquiring Chayce McDermott and Seth Johnson for Trey Mancini could easily end up supplanting the Bundy trade as his best in a few years’ time, everything about that week was pretty rough, from Elias trading Jorge López and Mancini then explaining that it was “not a probability” that the surging Orioles would make the playoffs to having to fly to Texas to walk that back and making the now-infamous “liftoff” comment. Long story short, it was a bad time. The long-term benefit to the organization might mitigate that, and that was probably always Elias’ view, but it didn’t make it any better in the moment.
Best Waiver Claim
A lot of waiver claims helped the Orioles in some form or fashion over this period, but López was not just the only one to turn into an All-Star but also to yield them an All-Star when it came time to trade him. Granted, there were a whole lot of frustrating nights watching him hit the fifth-inning wall before he moved to the bullpen at the beginning of 2022, but to have him emerge as a lights-out reliever and net the Orioles four pitchers, including Yennier Canó and prospect Cade Povich, puts him atop this group.
Worst Waiver Claim
Plenty of waiver claims ultimately made no impact whatsoever and were hardly worth the roster spot the Orioles used on them, but tie goes to those who took the roster spot of someone who was or had the potential to be useful. In my mind, Hunter Harvey was lost on waivers so the Orioles could claim Lucius Fox and keep him on the roster for a few days, but that’s not actually how that went, so Fox is spared here. I’m going to go with Domingo Leyba, who might not have been the worst of the players the Orioles claimed (because most of them never even appeared in the majors) but who was memorably not very good and was claimed on a day they outrighted reliever Shawn Armstrong. Armstrong was having a bad year in 2021 but has been good for the Rays since.