Wrapping up the 2023 Orioles season: Observations from a final news conference

Camden Yards named 5th nicest place in America
Posted at 6:00 PM, Oct 12, 2023

BALTIMORE — Orioles general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde spoke Thursday at the annual “postmortem” news conference to dissect what went right and wrong during the newly ended season.

What went wrong is still fresh – a three-game sweep by the Texas Rangers in the ALDS that made the Orioles look deficient in nearly every way.

What went right should have a longer shelf life – a 101-win campaign that catapulted the Orioles from curiously improved to legitimate force. There is nothing flukey left here; only how they build on a club that needs a few tweaks to be among the AL favorites in 2024.

Much of what was said could have been scripted before the questions were asked. Elias, famously close to the vest, wasn’t revealing specific plans for the offseason. No details about whom the Orioles might target, whom they’ll keep, whom they may re-sign or extend.

That’s to be expected. Still, there were several things to consider while walking out of Camden Yards for the final time this month.

The Elias-Hyde partnership works

It strikes me how different the personalities of Elias and Hyde are. Both men were visibly exhausted when they took the podium Thursday. Elias was clearly frustrated by the sweep. And Hyde was “still pissed, to be honest with you.”

Elias looked like he wanted to walk away from the media spotlight, kick off the loafers, get a bourbon, sit alone somewhere and evaluate the recent nadir. Hyde looked like he wanted to get a beer or six and then punch a wall.

Both would be appropriate reactions, just different. And, in this sense, the contrast works.

We’ve seen completely different personalities in this position before. GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter were both good at their jobs but had such varied approaches that, ultimately, they couldn’t work together harmoniously. Showalter lived and breathed the game 24-7. Duquette might have too, but he sometimes couldn’t be reached by his own people. Showalter communicated constantly. With everyone. Sometimes to a fault. Duquette would pick and choose. And sometimes chose not to communicate at all.

Elias and Hyde, however, seemingly have a similar passion. Elias is calculating and often unemotional, but he can get fired up. Hyde studies his craft and explores all angles, but he wears his emotions on his windbreaker. There is a mutual respect there, and an understanding of boundaries, and I think it’s why these guys stay on the same page.

OK, so the partnership works, but for how long?

One of the most frustrating things about covering this organization is what it considers confidential state secrets, and how many there are. Granted, the past administration may have aired the dirty laundry too often, but refusing to share basic facts is confounding.

Case in point: The contract situations of Elias and Hyde. We know Hyde’s deal initially was three years and an option – which is standard. We assume Elias’ original was slightly longer, maybe four or five. And we know they’re currently on extensions, but we have no specifics.

I asked again Thursday, and this was Elias’ reply.

“I approach this position that I'm in to maximize our ability to be successful and winning, and it comes sometimes at the expense of putting information out there or feeding public info,” Elias said. “I don't see how it's beneficial to the Orioles team for that knowledge to be out there for our leadership or for anyone, for our coaches, for our scouts.”

Well, here is how it is beneficial. Two years ago, the question was whether these guys would be canned if the losing continued. Now the question is, ‘Will these guys stay if they can get better jobs elsewhere – either more money in Hyde’s case or a president title in Elias’ situation?’

There’s not just power in knowledge, but comfort. Especially for a fan base that saw Duquette attempt to interview for the Toronto Blue Jays presidency after the division-winning 2014 season; he was under contract and was not permitted to interview by the Orioles.

In that sense, anyway, Elias addressed his situation and Hyde’s on Thursday.

“We are 100 percent in on this. We're giving our hearts and souls and minds and quite a bit of experience to this. And I hope that lasts forever.”

He did extend an obvious nugget when pressed: “We’re back next season. I’ll give you that,” Elias said, chuckling.

Pitching – and starting pitching – must be the offseason focus

When asked about his main priority for this offseason, Elias said that would be the front office’s focus for the next few weeks and months. Fair. But there’s not much of a mystery here.

The pitching staff took a step forward in 2023, led by Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, Félix Bautista and Yennier Cano. But Bautista, the club’s shutdown closer, underwent Tommy John elbow surgery this week and is out all of 2024, which Elias said created “a massive hole.” Cano took over the closer’s role but struggled toward the end of the season. DL Hall and Tyler Wells could be late-inning relievers but also might fit into the rotation.

Bradish, Rodriguez and Kremer all have rotation spots to begin 2024, but they combined to allow 13 earned runs in just eight innings pitched in the ALDS. Having them and a healthy John Means return next year is a major positive, but the Orioles could desperately use at least one, top-of-the-rotation starter for 2024.

Hyde said Thursday that both Bradish and Rodriguez could be aces but are still developing.

“When you talk about No. 1 starters, it's a handful in this league, true No. 1s. And it's hard to be a true No. 1,” Hyde said. “So, does (Bradish) have the ability to? Absolutely. Does Grayson have the ability to? Absolutely. They’re a ways away. You know what I mean? They’re a ways away. A true No. 1 is a guy that is going to stop any sort of losing streak, a guy that's going to go dominate a team in the postseason. … Those are hard to find. But those two guys have the stuff and the ability to be that type of guy.”

The sad truth here is that one of Bradish, Rodriguez, Means and Kremer likely will lose significant time to an arm injury next year. Maybe more than one. That’s the reality of being a starting MLB pitcher these days. So, the Orioles must bring in more depth, but they also need an ace at the top. And if one of the existing starters rises there, too, that’s even better.

Spending money and resources on roster improvements

None of you thought Elias would fully address this, did you? We didn’t either. But it’s the elephant in the room. It had to be asked.

“Obviously, we're looking to get better, and we also have to look to maintain. that's part of the game, too,” Elias said. “I gotta really sit down and look at things and look at what's out there in the market and you can't force stuff. And sometimes the market is the market, and you need to know what's there before you start picking and choosing your goal.”

My take on this: I think Elias understands this is the time for a big offseason move to make this team even better. But I’m still doubtful they’ll pay much for a free agent. I think it comes down to what they can get in a trade for some of their young prospects. I think he’ll pull the trigger on a trade for a pitcher, but only if he views the deal as not giving up too much of the future.

Extend, extend, extend

Owner John Angelos told the New York Times recently that to extend the club’s young talent could mean making it more expensive for fans to attend and enjoy Orioles games. I, of course, don’t buy that. At all. And Elias made it sound that Angelos – who hasn’t talked publicly since – shouldn’t necessarily be held to those statements.

“Speaking from personal experience, sometimes when you stand somewhere and talk to the media and try to say things and have them be interesting for 40 minutes, things don't come out exactly how you meant them, or especially little snippets of what you said,” Elias said. “We are very focused on keeping this organization as successful and healthy as possible within the constraints of reality.”

So, is an extension in the works this offseason for Gunnar Henderson or Adley Rutschman or Rodriguez?

“We have players here that we love, and you look at it right now and you go, ‘Boy, I wish we had those guys under contract for longer than they currently are.’ And a big part of the calculus of keeping this franchise healthy is pursuing or examining opportunities to possibly keep some of these guys longer,” Elias said. “I've said it over and over. We quietly work on this in the background. I don't want to be the one now talking about it. But obviously that's a part of our job as a front office to tackle that subject.”

I’ve heard nothing within the industry that an extension for any of the highly regarded young Orioles is close. So, I’m skeptical that something major will happen this winter. But I’ve been wrong before. And, starting now, it’s a long offseason.