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Ben Reiter: Mike Elias 'Really The Ideal Person' For Orioles GM

November 27, 2018
New Baltimore Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was part of the front office in Houston that revitalized the Astros and brought home a World Series championship in 2017. The Orioles added another former Houston executive Nov. 21 in Sig Mejdal to assist Elias. 

The rebuilding process in Houston is detailed in Sports Illustrated senior writer Ben Reiter's book, "Astroball." Reiter believes Elias was misconstrued during the interview process as a numbers-oriented executive coming from an analytics-heavy organization.

"He was often pigeonholed as an analytics guy," Reiter said on Glenn Clark Radio Nov. 19. "Yes, he has a full command of how to use analytics, which as he just said in his press conference are essentially table stakes for any organization in modern baseball. He knows how to properly use them, how to incorporate them into an organization's processes, but Mike Elias is a scout."

Elias hit the road with the St. Louis Cardinals for five years after graduating from Yale in 2006, scouting players around the Atlantic region, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, per Reiter. This gives him a unique perspective in the front office.

"In some ways he's really the ideal person to take over this job," Reiter said. "He's not just coming at it from the math angle; he's coming [at] it with a full view of all of the different sources of information and all of the different ways to evaluate players that can lead to the type of success that he experienced down in Houston."

Reiter added the signing of Mejdal adds another aspect of connectivity at the executive level, as the pair have worked together for many years and are "completely symbiotic, completely cohesive." Mejdal will lead the data effort in a similar capacity as his previous positions in St. Louis and Houston. 

Analytics departments have traditionally been considered in opposition to the scouting side of an organization, as Reiter explained, but Houston was able to connect both units to create a winning product. Reiter expects the setup to be the same in Baltimore. He also posited Elias and Mejdal will be able to work with autonomy regarding baseball operations, likely part of the influence behind Elias accepting the job.  

"I think it's a reasonable assumption that that [of autonomy] was the promise made to Mike," Reiter said. "If they do indeed have the autonomy, as they certainly should based on their track record, to reimagine this organization from its lowest levels all the way up, then I think that is a move that the Angelos family will be glad that they made in turning over that decision-making power to baseball people who really know what they're doing."

One of the primary challenges faced by Elias and his team is resurrecting a farm system that FanGraphs recently ranked 28th in baseball. The Astros also faced an uphill battle as they built a contender, and restocking young talent was a big reason for their success, Reiter said. The most glaring parallel is possession of the top pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, the same spot in which Houston sat in 2012.

Reiter said shortstop Carlos Correa was far from the consensus No.1 overall choice in 2012, but Elias had gotten to know the shortstop's work ethic and drive through individual interaction. Elias led the internal charge for selecting Correa with the top pick and he became a major part of the Astros' return to prominence. Reiter expects a similar process for Baltimore's choice.

The draft isn't until June, so Elias has plenty of decisions to make before then, including a new manager to replace Buck Showalter. Reiter said Elias might consider a placeholder to endure the rebuilding years, similar to Bo Porter in Houston, who gave way to A.J. Hinch in 2014 right before the team's ascension.

"It's possible Elias might look for a caretaker type of figure for the next couple of years or several years as they rebuild the organization underneath him," Reiter said. "Somebody who can help young players improve and can help spearhead these changes from the top and embrace the new analytics."

Reiter hesitated to predict when the turnaround might arrive, saying it may take more like five years instead of the three it took Houston. Baltimore plays in a difficult division with two powerhouse teams in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees that are equipped to compete for the foreseeable future, and the team doesn't play in the market or operate under the payroll that the Astros did during their rise.

But Reiter said fans now have a reason for hope going forward and should expect to see steady improvement in the team under Elias.

"One thing I can guarantee is that this team by 2022 is not going to be losing anywhere near 115 games," Reiter said

For more from  Reiter, listen to the full interview here: