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Birds' hot streak may force GM to rethink approach

Sign reading "WATCH OUT FOR BATTED BALLS" at Oriole Park at Camden Yards
shootingsawk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Let’s start today with a question: If Mike Elias sidled up behind you at the grocery store checkout line, would you know who he is?

For three plus years, Elias, the general manager of the Orioles has managed to keep a pretty low profile around town and for a couple of good reasons.

First, most general managers are fairly anonymous types, known primarily by seam heads and baseball get-a-lifers and hardly by the general populace. GMs mostly keep their heads down and let the players and manager get the publicity.

The second reason for Elias’ anonymity is that the Birds have stunk. They’ve only managed to play .400 ball just once in Elias’ three previous seasons in town and that once was the 2020 season which only lasted 60 games.

But things are looking up for the Orioles, what with that 10-game winning streak before the All-Star break, which got them to a .500 record.

That’s the latest a Baltimore baseball team has been at the breakeven point, since the 2016 season when they last made the playoffs.

Indeed, these are quite different times for the Birds and, by extension, Elias.

In recent years, as the calendar approached the late season trading deadline -- the last point at which a team could trade a player and still have him qualify for postseason play – the Orioles have been sellers, sending some of their best talent off to other clubs in exchange for young players.

That’s how Manny Machado got his departure ticket from Birdland stamped in 2018 on the way to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That deal yielded five minor league prospects, only one of which, pitcher Dean Kremer, has done anything of consequence in Baltimore.

But that was before Elias arrived here from Houston, where he had been part of an Astros’ organization that bottomed out in the last decade before emerging as a consistent winner since, capturing a World Series title in 2017 and two more American League pennants since.

With the blessing of the Angelos family – the Orioles’ owners -- Elias has effectively been given permission to tank the team and he has done exceptionally well at his job.

He has cobbled together rosters with bargain-basement payrolls and watched them lose spectacularly over his three-year tenure. No doubt, Elias operated under the assumption that he’d have this year and possibly next before the bill came due and expectations were raised.

But, lo and behold, the Orioles are on the doorstep of success a bit ahead of schedule. With a third wild card spot in the American League, the Birds are within hailing distance of a playoff spot.

And that leaves Elias and his staff with decisions to make ahead of the August 2 trading deadline.

Do they stand pat with their roster and let things play out? Do they trade veteran players like Trey Mancini to more established contenders for talent? Or do they go out to find a pitcher or hitter to bolster the lineup for a playoff run?

Whatever happens, one thing is certain: Mike Elias won’t be anonymous at the deli counter anymore.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.