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Orioles' front office remains committed to rebuild as tanking, 'Astroball' roots come under scrutiny

Jon Meoli, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Baseball

SAN DIEGO -- After years of slowed-down signings in free agency and a general cooling of baseball's hot stove, the winter meetings kicked off Monday with a flurry of activity and World Series Most Valuable Player Stephen Strasburg re-signing with the Washington Nationals for a record contract.

But as the player movement that's made the baseball calendar so fun to follow this time of year returns, the Orioles are one of a handful of teams going in the opposite direction: subtracting instead of adding, with no sign of a win-now mentality.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias is in his second offseason in charge of the Orioles, and this one is clearly centered around trading pieces off their major league roster and flipping them for far-off future assets that more align with the timeline and fashion of when he expects another contending Orioles team. Last week's trades of Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy proved as much.

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It's the blueprint he brought from the Houston Astros, who pioneered a type of teardown at the major league level that runs counter to what observers of the game have come to expect but brought unprecedented on-field success, even if both that organization and the tanking they took to new heights have come under scrutiny.

"We are only going about rebuilding our roster this way because we have to," Elias said. "This is, in my opinion, the only avenue available to the Baltimore Orioles right now to restore greatness as an organization and a consistent, playoff-caliber team, especially in our division.

 

"It's a very difficult thing to endure at the major league level. It's tough for me on a nightly basis. It's very tough for (manager) Brandon Hyde and the coaching staff on a nightly basis. It's tough for the fans. It's tough for the business side of the organization. It's tough for the owners, but it's where we are, and it's what we have to do, and I think in many ways the Houston Astros in 2011 were in a very similar situation, and it was not only the only realistic path, but it was the right path, and also the quickest path to restoring the team to the playoffs."

How Elias, who along with assistant general manager for analytics Sig Mejdal worked in St. Louis and then Houston for general manager Jeff Luhnow, meant to bring the Astros' way to Baltimore is nothing new. Nor is how Houston did it -- stripping the major league roster to the bones and diverting resources toward scouting and player development to build a long-term contender.

In Houston, they've done just that, winning the 2017 World Series and losing Game 7 in pursuit of a second title this year. While the Astros earned plenty of criticism earlier this decade as the progressive front office broke all kinds of norms in remaking themselves, the success mostly justified that.

What's come lately has been different. Executive Brandon Taubman was fired for taunting female reporters during a playoff celebration over the role of pitcher Roberto Osuna, who had previously received a 75-game domestic violence suspension, but not before the organization fumbled its response for days. Then, after the World Series, stories on the 2017 team's methods of using video to steal signs and relay them to hitters launched an MLB investigation.

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