When Mike Elias took over as general manager of the Baltimore Orioles in 2019, there was so much work to do building up the infrastructure of the team that he didn’t pay much attention to the standings.
It was just as well. The Orioles were 131-253 his first three seasons, the worst record in the majors over that time by 18 games.
Now Baltimore is ready to flip the switch.
“Our objective this winter is to add to the major league roster for the purpose of getting into the playoffs,” Elias said. “We think that this team is ready to, hopefully, incrementally take steps forward. We’re in win-now mode.”
For fans of a franchise that last won a playoff series in 2014, those are magic words. Reasonable ones, too. The Orioles are coming off an 83-79 season that saw them go 11 games over .500 after July 1.
“We had a lot of young pitchers take steps forward. I’m very happy about the base of talent that we now have,” Elias said. “We have the flexibility with our roster construction and payroll to supplement as we see fit. This is a very unique offseason for us.”
The resurgence coincided with the arrival of rookie catcher Adley Rutschman in late May. It’s hard to imagine a better organizational cornerstone than a 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher with power, strong defensive skills, and innate leadership qualities.
“He has seemed too good to be true since I met him at Oregon State in Corvallis in January of 2019,” Elias said. “I sat down with him and I was like, ‘This is a very special human being,’ when I came out of it.”
That Jorge Mateo showed he could hold down shortstop defensively was a second building block.
The Orioles also put together a strong bullpen, so strong that Elias traded closer Jorge Lopez to the Twins on Aug. 2 for three prospects.
“It was enormous. When you have a really good bullpen you win more than your share of close games. There’s also a psychological component for a young team,” Elias said.
Now what? The Orioles need to improve the rotation. Their starters were close to the bottom of the league in strikeouts and only Jordan Lyles, now a free agent, threw more than 125⅓ innings.
“We’ve got a lot of interesting starters. But they’re not guys who have a track record of being front-end-of-the-rotation starters,” Elias said. “If we’re able to go out this winter and get more veteran certainty, that would be big.
“We’re going to be out in the market for that, for sure.”
There also is an opportunity to improve the lineup.
“I do want to add a bat or two,” Elias said. “The positional flexibility of the guys that we have on the current team makes it possible for that to come in some different shapes and sizes defensively.”
Elias was Houston’s director of amateur scouting in 2012 and remembers seeing more Rangers gear around the city. Baltimore is going through a similar renaissance as weekend series against the Red Sox or Yankees at Camden Yards started to attract just as many Orioles fans as ones rooting for the opposition.
“You can see it happening, the flashes are there,” Elias said.
The revamped schedule will help the Orioles. They were eight games under .500 against division opponents this past season. Two fewer series against each of those teams are welcome.
“We were a handful of games away from the playoffs,” Elias said. “We can hopefully close that gap. It’s an exciting time.”
Click makes history again with Astros
Astros general manager James Click watched his team win the World Series on Nov. 5 and was fired less than a week later.
Click took the job in 2020 in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal and helped put together a team that was 28-14 in postseason games over three seasons, twice reaching the Series.
But owner Jim Crane didn’t discuss a deal with Click until two days after the Series. When no agreement was made, Click was essentially fired. Assistant GM Scott Powers, who was hired in January, also was bounced.
“I was feeling pretty good riding in that parade,” Click said in Las Vegas on Monday while attending the GM Meetings. “We’ll see what happens.”
Going back to the summer, there were reports that Crane didn’t agree with Click expanding the baseball operations staff to include more scouts. Crane also canceled a trade Click wanted to make that would have landed Cubs catcher Willson Contreras.
The friction continued into the playoffs. Manager Dusty Baker, who only rarely mentioned Click during the postseason, got a new contract this past week. Click was not invited to attend that news conference.
If he wants, Click will surely land at least a consulting job with another team.
▪ The Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, and Twins are teams with an obvious need at shortstop. Don’t discount the Phillies chasing after one of the All-Stars on the free agent market.
“We have complete flexibility,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We have [Bryson] Stott, who we like a lot. He can play short or second. We acquired Edmundo Sosa from the Cardinals [in July]. We think he has a chance to be an everyday shortstop.
“If we started the season today, we’d be fine. But it also gives us complete flexibility to keep an open mind on anything.”
Yes, that includes a free agent.
The Phillies won two of the first three games of the World Series before the Astros came back. Dombrowski has a mandate to win from owner John Middleton and plenty of experience with Xander Bogaerts.
▪ Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals make a quick move to sign Christian Vázquez.
St. Louis needs a catcher with Yadier Molina retiring and Vázquez would be a good fit. Vázquez also is hopeful of signing quickly so he can get comfortable with a new organization and pitching staff before missing time in spring training playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
Molina is Puerto Rico’s manager.
▪ A.J. Pollock declined his $13 million option with the White Sox and took a $5 million buyout instead.
It would be a surprise if he can make up that $8 million in free agency. Pollock turns 35 in December and hit .245 with a .681 OPS this past season over 138 games. He’s better suited for left field now instead of center.
▪ It was a great week for relievers. Edwin Díaz landed a five-year, $102 million deal to stay with the Mets that includes no-trade rights and an opt-out after three seasons.
Then the Padres gave Robert Suarez five years and $46 million. That’s quite a deal for a 31-year-old who spent five seasons playing in Japan before joining the Padres last December and making his major league debut in April.
Suarez had a 2.27 ERA as a setup man and was dominant in the first two rounds of the playoffs.
▪ Martín Pérez’s renaissance continues as the Rangers gave him a qualifying offer. Pérez played two seasons for the Red Sox at $10.5 million, then signed with the Rangers for $4 million after finishing the 2021 season in the bullpen.
He then went 12-8 with a 2.89 ERA over 32 starts and now stands to make $19.65 million if he accepts the offer.
“We believe in him,” GM Chris Young said.
Sox gathering rotation pieces
The Red Sox certainly aren’t finished with their rotation for next season. But you can start to see a framework.
Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta are back, and GM Brian O’Halloran confirmed the decision was made to have Garrett Whitlock prepare as a starter.
James Paxton and Chris Sale are wild cards given their lack of work over the last three seasons. Both are said to be healthy and the upside is there. But you can’t necessarily pencil in a certain number of innings.
“They’re coming off of injuries. You always have to keep that in mind and plan for different scenarios,” O’Halloran said.
The Sox also could have Nate Eovaldi back. The righthander would like to stay in Boston and the qualifying offer of $19.65 million is a nice raise from $17 million, particularly when you consider he made only 20 starts because of injuries.
Even if he rejects the offer, the motivation is there to make a deal.
Bryan Mata, Brandon Walter, and Thaddeus Ward are prospects on the horizon and the Sox still have hope somebody from the group of Kutter Crawford, Connor Seabold, and Josh Winckowski can emerge as more than a space-filler.
Bringing Rich Hill back also makes sense.
But whether it’s Chris Bassitt, Jameson Taillon, or somebody coming via trade, the Sox need a No. 2-3 type.
“We’re looking to add starting pitching to continue to build depth and build a great rotation,” O’Halloran said. “We’re still going to be looking for more pitching.”
That comment came before the Sox made Eovaldi the qualifying offer. But it stands.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Normally the Red Sox hiring a minor league field coordinator would not merit much attention. But Andrew Wright could be impactful.
Wright was director of operations in the Dominican Republic for the Yankees and has previous experience as a college coach.
“We didn’t want to lose him, but it was a promotion and the team didn’t stand in his way,” said a Yankees executive who worked closely with Wright. “Sharp guy with a bright future. The Red Sox were smart to hire him.”
Among other tasks, a field coordinator typically oversees the minor league coaching staff, how fundamentals are taught, and runs minor league spring training.
▪ The group of minor league free agents from the Sox organization included a few familiar names. Lefthander Kyle Hart appeared in four games during the 2020 season, starting three.
Hudson Potts was one of the prospects obtained from San Diego for Mitch Moreland. The infielder has since struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances and hit .225.
José Peraza, who appeared in 34 games in 2020, played eight games for Triple A Worcester after being dropped by the Yankees.
The Red Sox already have re-signed Michael Gettys, a former second-round pick of the Padres as an outfielder who is now pitching. The 27-year-old appeared in 40 games this past season and had a 2.23 ERA. He finished the season with Double A Portland.
▪ Voters in Pawtucket approved a $330 million expenditure to build a new high school where McCoy Stadium stands. It’s expected to take five years to complete the project. McCoy opened in 1942 and was home of the Triple A Red Sox from 1970-2019.
Here’s hoping the new school is named after Chico Walker.
Evans shouldn’t have been omitted
That Dwight Evans was not included on the eight-man ballot the Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Baseball Era Committee will consider next month went way beyond surprising.
Evans was last considered in 2019 by what was then known as the Modern Baseball Era Committee. He finished third, missing induction by only four votes.
Evans received at least five more votes than Don Mattingly and Dale Murphy, who were listed among those receiving three votes or fewer. For both, it was their second time finishing with fewer than three votes.
But Mattingly and Murphy are on the ballot again and Evans is not. Albert Belle, who received little support in two appearances before the now-defunct Today’s Game Committee and was on the BBWAA ballot for only two years, also is getting another chance.
Reasonable people can debate the merits of the players involved, but that’s not entirely the point. Evans was next in line based on the voting in 2019 and he lost his place.
That the era committee ballots dropped from 10 choices to eight also hurt Evans.
The 11 veteran BBWAA members who put the ballot together seemed intent on cleaning up a mess for the Hall by including the controversial quartet of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, and Curt Schilling.
Fred McGriff is the other player on the ballot and may have the best chance of being elected.
There is a decent chance the BBWAA ballot will not produce a Hall of Famer this year. Scott Rolen, who received 63.2 percent of the vote, is the leading returnee but has five years of eligibility remaining.
The top newcomers are Carlos Beltrán and Francisco Rodríguez. Beltran has a Hall of Fame résumé but will likely lose votes for his role in the 2017 Astros scandal.
Among the items collected by the Hall of Fame during the World Series were Dusty Baker’s jersey from Game 3, his custom wristbands from Game 6, and a pack of the mint toothpicks he chews during games. One of Jeremy Peña’s jerseys was part of the haul, along with a ball signed by all four Houston pitchers who had the Game 4 no-hitter, as well as catcher Christian Vázquez … The Navy recently took delivery of the USS Cooperstown, a Freedom-class combat ship. It was named for the 70 members of the Hall of Fame who served in the US military. The ship will initially be commanded by Evan Wright, a Millis native and Red Sox fan ... Game 7 of the 1975 World Series between the Red Sox and Reds drew 51.6 million viewers. Game 6 between the Phillies and Astros this season had 12.2 million. That’s how much the rise of cable television and streaming services — along with the increased popularity of other sports — has changed television habits … It has been 22 years since the Yankees three-peated as champions from 1998-2000. It’s the longest streak without a repeat champion in the history of MLB, the NBA, NFL, and NHL. The previous long streak was 18 years in the NBA from the 1969-70 season until the 1987-88 season … Carlos Peña was inducted into the Northeastern Hall of Fame this past week. He hit .324 with 24 home runs and 94 RBIs in two seasons for the Huskies after playing at Haverhill High. Peña then played 14 years in the majors … FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange that paid for an advertising patch on MLB umpire uniforms, went bankrupt. Maybe call LensCrafters? … Happy birthday to Wade Miley, who is 36. The lefthander from Louisiana has 12 seasons in the majors, going 99-94 with a 4.13 ERA. Miley was 11-11 with the Red Sox in 2015. That included a June 11 start at Baltimore, when he allowed five runs on nine hits and three walks and got into a heated conversation with manager John Farrell after being taken out. Dan Petry is 64. His solid career (125-104 with a 3.95 ERA) ended with the Red Sox in 1991 when he appeared in 13 games in relief.