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Astronaut Terry Virts Sees Blueprint For Orioles From Astros Rebuild

January 2, 2019
In 2011, Terry Virts attended a meeting with George Postolos, then the Houston Astros' president, during which Postolos laid out a vision to completely blow up the team and rebuild it from the ground up.

Virts, a Columbia, Md., native had moved to Houston in 2000 to become a NASA astronaut. Though he is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, Virts adopted the Astros as a second team. He even befriended Astros front office executives including Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal. Elias began with the Astros in 2011 as the director of amateur scouting, while Mejdal was hired in 2012 as the director of decision sciences.

Postolos was suggesting historic levels of losing for a chance to be successful years down the line.

"I was skeptical," Virts said on The Bat Around Nov. 17. "But then at the end of his presentation, I was like, 'You know what, that makes a lot of sense.'"

The Astros suffered three consecutive 100-loss seasons from 2011-2013 before finally winning the World Series in 2017. Mejdal was integral in helping the team apply analytics to the organization's draft choices, which led to players like infielders Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman becoming cornerstones of the franchise.

In the first 18 years of Virts' life, before he left Maryland in 1985 to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, the Orioles never had a record below .500. Virts went on to become an astronaut, eventually commanding the International Space Station and logging more than 3,600 orbits of the Earth during his career before he retired in 2016.

The Orioles went on to suffer a franchise-worst 115 losses in 2018 and now face a long-term rebuild similar to what the Astros went through at the beginning of the decade. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was not brought back after the season, and the Orioles hired Elias Nov. 16. The Orioles hired Mejdal as assistant general manager, analytics, Nov. 21.

Virts sees a blueprint that mirrors the one the Astros implemented to return Baltimore to the top of the American League East, and Mejdal represents the new era in baseball of data and analytics-based approach to team development.

"Any problem in an organization is culture," Virts said, "and baseball guys, they know certain things, they do things a certain way -- that's not how you do it, this is how you do it -- and the reality is, the data shows that's not always how you do it. ... In 2018, you're either on board or you're not working in MLB."

Virts' friendship with Mejdal has given him a unique view into how the analytics guru works.

"He's just a really unique guy, he is super smart, one of the smartest guys I know, but he's also a people person," Virts added.

As for Elias, Virts said he understands that a balance of data and human elements is key to building a successful organization.

"I think they have an acronym -- it's like a combination of statistics and scouting. In other words, the data is important, but [so is] the human side -- these are men with girlfriends and wives and babies. It's not just robots," Virts said. "... It's not just all data, but it's also not just all old-school baseball guys. It's a combination of the two."

However, the ultimate goal of winning a World Series has to start with acquiring good talent via trade, and the Orioles' return for infielders Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop wasn't "off the charts," according to Virts.

"Making your team bad -- just trading your best players -- doesn't make you ready for the World Series. You actually have to get good talent," he said. "If you wait until July 31 and you trade Manny Machado with two months left, you aren't going to get that much for him."

Virts says for Elias, the key is to look at the Orioles' current roster and project it out several years.

"If you've got a guy that's going to be major league-ready next year, well, are we going to be World Series-ready next year? It's worth trading away in 2019 and 2020 to have Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve in 2022 and 2023," Virts said. "The first thing I would do is I would figure out what year we're going to win the World Series and move back from that there."

"The Astros did that, and it worked really well," Virts added. "And they started from a pretty bad spot ... and it took them about five years."

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

Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox