Elias braces for off­sea­son loaded with un­cer­tainty

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Nathan Ruiz

ORI­OLES

A day be­fore the finale of a reg­u­lar sea­son whose com­ple­tion, let alone ex­is­tence, was far from guar­an­teed, Ori­oles ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager Mike Elias looked ahead to another area of un­cer­tainty for his or­ga­ni­za­tion and all oth­ers: an off­sea­son amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

Through­out Ma­jor League Base­ball, the ex­act im­pact of the pan­demic — which pre­vented fans from at­tend­ing games and thus se­verely lim­ited a sig­nif­i­cant rev­enue source — on var­i­ous’ teams spend­ing and free-agency ef­forts

Sea­son finale re­mains un­known. But Elias said Satur­day dur­ing his end-of-sea­son me­dia ses­sion that he ex­pects it to be an atyp­i­cal off­sea­son.

“We’re go­ing into a very

un­cer­tain off­sea­son from a num­ber of an­gles,” Elias said. “Out­side of base­ball, busi­nesses in gen­eral do a lot of plan­ning, bud­get­ing. Base­ball teams do a lot of plan­ning, look­ing ahead, and just all of that is just to­tally out of the win­dow be­cause of this event that came in and turned the world up­side down.

“We can’t es­ti­mate our rev­enue or our at­ten­dance. We can’t es­ti­mate var­i­ous things that we look at when we look into a player or a ros­ter bud­get. It’s just so day to day — there’s new info com­ing out ev­ery week. The rules are evolved.

“There’s been a lack of abil­ity to plan that I ex­pect will per­sist through this win­ter, and we’re just go­ing to take it as it comes and nav­i­gate it as well as we pos­si­bly can. But I don’t have sweep­ing an­swers on that front.”

Tied into that is the ever-loom­ing con­tract of first base­man Chris Davis, who has two sea­sons re­main­ing on his sev­enyear, $161 mil­lion deal. Through the first five sea­sons, he has hit .196/.291/.379, end­ing 2020 on the in­jured list with no home runs and a left knee in­jury.

Given that this year’s short­ened sea­son led to the pro­ra­tion of play­ers’ salaries — while play­ers who had been re­leased be­fore the pan­demic re­ceived full pay — it’s pos­si­ble the Ori­oles wait un­til there is more clar­ity on the 2021 sea­son be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sion about Davis’ fu­ture with the or­ga­ni­za­tion. As he has in the past, Elias em­pha­sized Satur­day that Davis is un­der con­tract and that the Ori­oles take that se­ri­ously.

“It was not a suc­cess­ful year for Chris on a num­ber of fronts,” Elias said. “It’s a frus­tra­tion for ev­ery­one in­volved, and it’s a tough sit­u­a­tion for ev­ery­one in­volved, and that in­cludes him. We’re tak­ing it as it comes. He is un­der con­tract with this team. There’s a lot that goes into that, and we do not have plans to al­ter that fact.”

For an Ori­oles or­ga­ni­za­tion that re­mains fo­cused on the de­vel­op­ment of the play­ers in its mi­nor-league sys­tem, the lack of clar­ity in that re­gard also ham­pers Elias’ plan­ning ef­forts. He said he hopes the team is able to have some form of off­sea­son in­struc­tional league, es­pe­cially for play­ers who weren’t in­cluded in the club’s player pool and able to par­tic­i­pate in ac­tiv­i­ties at the al­ter­nate train­ing site in Bowie.

“We do have a lot of anx­i­ety over what the lack of a real mi­nor-league sea­son may cause th­ese guys in terms of de­vel­op­ment,” Elias said.

That said, he was over­all pleased with the growth of play­ers who were part of the al­ter­nate site or ma­jor-league ros­ter, cred­it­ing man­ager Bran­don Hyde and his staff for the lat­ter.

“It’s been an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult year to be a ma­jor-league man­ager, which is one of the hard­est jobs in sports to be­gin with,” Elias said. “Ev­ery­thing that he’s had to deal with, on a day-in and day-out ba­sis, it’s been crazy. I think he’s han­dled it with grace and hu­man­ity, and he also con­tin­ues to be a good base­ball coach.”

Be­tween 2019 Most Valu­able Ori­ole Trey Mancini’s colon cancer di­ag­no­sis in March and ev­ery­thing the mid-pan­demic short­ened sea­son has brought with it, Hyde called it “an ed­u­ca­tional year.”

“It’s been a wild one,” Hyde said. “There’s been a lot of things thrown my way. I feel like I’ve han­dled things the best I pos­si­bly could. There’s been a lot of non-base­ball stuff that’s come into my of­fice and in our club­house.

“This is one of those years that you can never pre­pare for, and there’s no course to take on how to deal with the things that we’ve done on a daily ba­sis. But I am proud of how we have han­dled ev­ery­thing.”

Elias was es­pe­cially grate­ful that the Ori­oles gen­er­ally avoided the virus im­pact­ing their ros­ter, with a hand­ful of cases dis­cov­ered dur­ing pre­sea­son in­take test­ing and no pos­i­tive tests dur­ing the cam­paign. He praised the ef­forts of head ath­letic trainer Brian Ebel, “who has babysat the en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion day and night through all kinds of is­sues and work and drama,” and his staff in help­ing the team fol­low coro­n­avirus-re­lated pro­to­cols.

Elias also ex­pressed ex­cite­ment for the con­tin­ued im­prove­ment of the Ori­oles’ mi­nor-league sys­tem, boosted through the ad­di­tion of a col­lec­tion of prospects in a five-round draft and non-tra­di­tional trade dead­line. But he rec­og­nizes there re­mains room to grow on the ma­jor league ros­ter.

“On the field, while our record does not re­flect where we ul­ti­mately strive to be and ex­pect to be, we feel that even de­spite the cir­cum­stances we man­aged to make the progress in our plan that we wanted to see, saw a good al­beit short draft that has along with other trades and player im­prove­ment have helped el­e­vate our farm sys­tem firmly into the top 10,” Elias said. “I think it’s very dif­fi­cult for me to la­bel any sea­son a suc­cess where we have a los­ing record and don’t make the play­offs, but I see enough pos­i­tive things where we can feel good this year was far from wasted and that there was progress made to­ward our ul­ti­mate goals.”

Around the horn

■ With Mancini com­plet­ing his chemo­ther­apy treat­ments this week, Elias said the Ori­oles are hope­ful he’ll be able to re­join the team in 2021, as­sum­ing his ef­forts to re­gain strength and per­form base­ball-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties go well this off­sea­son.

■ Elias de­clined to say whether the Ori­oles will pick up short­stop José Igle­sias’ $3.5 mil­lion op­tion for 2021, but he said of the vet­eran in­fielder, who en­tered Satur­day hit­ting .370/.397/.543 for Bal­ti­more: “His im­pact on the team has been plain to see this year. He’s re­ally helped us, and we love hav­ing him.”

JULIO CORTEZ/AP

Ori­oles gen­eral man­ager Mike Elias says the strange na­ture of the 2020 sea­son has made it more dif­fi­cult to plan ahead for 2021.

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