Elias, O's set for 'next steps' at Winter Meetings

December 10th, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- One year ago, Mike Elias and the Orioles arrived at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas to the ground floor of a rebuild in its most infantile stages. It was not Elias’ fault. The rookie general manager had only been on the job nearly three weeks. He needed a manager, a coaching staff, farm director, international scouting director and more.

While the rest of the Majors focused on the trade and free-agent markets, Elias and a skeletal support staff spent the week finalizing the hiring of manager Brandon Hyde. They had been the only team without a skipper.

Fast forward 12 months, and the atmosphere around the Orioles is, in Elias’ words, “a lot more focused.” When Hyde ducked out of the Orioles’ San Diego hotel suite Monday afternoon, he did so having interviewed bullpen coach candidates, discussed potential rotation candidates and been briefed on trade talks.

Down in the lobby, new director of player development Matt Blood attended the morning’s technology expo with an eye toward bolstering the Orioles’ growing capacities on that front. The Orioles also began conducting interviews for several vacancies in scouting and strength coaching positions, and they had at least 10 executives on site exploring an array of other initiatives.

“We are dealing more with player personnel issues, which is good. The staff that is here, a lot of the new group that’s come in with me this year,” Elias said, “I think we’re able to branch out [this year] and take the next steps in a lot of those areas. … There is a sense of calm looking ahead to that stuff, rather than just trying to keep the trains running.”

That dynamic freed Elias up Monday to spend significant time engaging in trade discussions with other clubs, though he characterized them as “basic and preliminary.” The focus? The Orioles' two biggest trade chips, right-hander and first baseman/outfielder , both of whom the club remains willing to part with for the right price.

Elias said he’s also inquired on middle-infield and pitching options, though Baltimore’s needs in those areas are more likely to be filled later in the winter through free agency.

“We’ll make progress toward that, but its such a tight timeline,” Elias said.

On the other hand, deals have a tendency to materialize quickly this time of year. That means the Orioles may find themselves motivated to move Givens or Mancini this week. None of this is new exactly -- the Orioles have been listening on both for a year, and markets exist for both, as they did at this past July’s Trade Deadline. The question is how they’ve evolved over the past four-plus months.

“The Winter Meetings put a pressure on everybody to talk to one another, so you learn a lot about all your players,” Elias said. “One thing that is nice about me this year vs. a year ago, I have not just an academic understanding of who they are, not just their trade value, but their value to us. I’ve lived it for a year, and I know what types of conversations that have taken place. I have a lot more comfort for what that is. Sometimes, all of a sudden, somebody jumps up and gets super interested, and you never know when that’s going to happen.”

Of the two, Givens seems more likely than Mancini to be dealt, given the shallow free-agent market for relievers and the premiums placed on bullpens in the modern game. But his value may be complicated by a few factors.

One: Givens' down year in 2019, when he was tasked with handling many of the Orioles’ high-leverage situations, often in multi-inning stints, and pitched to career worsts in ERA (4.57), FIP (4.50), WHIP (1.19) and home run rate (1.9 per nine innings).

Two: He did so while missing more bats than ever, posting a 33 percent strikeout rate and whiffing 12.3 batters per nine innings. Both were career highs.

And three: the fact that any team targeting Givens would probably do so for the type of reduced role he hasn’t had for some time. He was one of baseball’s best setup men from 2015-17, when he owned a 2.75 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. But it may be challenging for Baltimore to find the type of return it's looking for if the rest of the Majors sees Givens as a middle-inning specialist.

“I think people are very aware of his strikeout rate and the quality of his stuff and his body of work over the years, with the Orioles' teams both good and bad over the last 4-5 years,” Elias said. “I do think other teams, if I were in their shoes, you look at the amount he has to shoulder in our bullpen, relative to one where there are more helping hands, it’s something to consider. I think mostly, people, when they evaluate Mychal, they see what we all see: the punch-out stuff, the electric arm, the athleticism. Regardless of the role he’s in, you know he’s a plus reliever.”

Diplan claimed by O's

The Orioles opened the Winter Meetings by turning to the waiver wire for pitching depth, claiming right-hander Marcos Diplan from the Tigers.

Diplan, 23, split last season between the Brewers' and Twins' organizations, posting a 4.85 ERA in 38 games (seven starts) at the Double-A level. He struck out more than a batter per inning but struggled with command, walking 5.8 per nine innings. The addition brings the Orioles’ 40-man roster to 38 players.

“He is a very interesting arm, a former top prospect who is still very young,” Elias said. “Elite fastball, pretty good slider to righties and a changeup that is intriguing, that is really on the come. He’s walked a few too many guys in his career, and he hasn’t gotten out of Double-A. But given the upside and the age and the prospect pedigree, he’s a little more interesting than your usual guy on waivers, especially for a team in our situation.”