Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias’ reshaping of the organization continued Friday with the firing of 11 members of the team’s scouting and front office departments.
In an eight-minute meeting with media, Elias confirmed baseball operations director Tripp Norton was let go, while scouts Dean Albany, Jim Howard, John Gillette and Nathan Showalter, son of former Orioles manager Buck Showalter, were also among those fired, a source with direct knowledge confirmed to The Baltimore Sun.
“We’re in a period of change right now with the industry, and we’re in a period of change right now with the Orioles,” Elias said. “This is sports. Changes happen frequently, especially when you’re in a situation where the team has been losing, and it’s kind of what we all get into when we get into this business, but we are trying to make changes to the way that the organization conducts business in a lot of ways to adapt to the competitive environment that we’re in. “Sometimes, to make changes, you’ve got to make changes. It’s difficult. It’s the worst part of my job or anyone in my position’s job, but these are really good men who had a lot of really good contributions to the organization, and we’ll help them land on their feet.”
Elias said the Orioles will make “a lot” of scouting hires before spring training in preparation for the 2020 draft, in which they will likely have one of the top five picks a season after picking first overall for the second time in franchise history. He expects there to be more “cross-pollination” between the Orioles’ amateur and pro scouts going forward.
“We will continue to pro scout and do so heavily,” Elias said. “We expect to have a lot of new blood come in and bolster our staff.
“It's very possible that by the end of our hiring cycle, the overall baseball operations headcount is higher than when I came here.”
Using video databases: When Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal were in the Houston Astros’ front office, the Astros significantly cut their scouting departments late in the 2017 season, moving most of that work to office jobs that utilized the vast new video databases along with data to evaluate amateur players.
This week, the Milwaukee Brewers, also led by an Astros front office product in general manager David Stearns, took steps to cull their scouting ranks. Stearns also made major changes at the end of 2016, his first season in charge there.
“There are changes going on in the scouting business in terms of greater availability of information in general, video and data,” Elias said. “It just changes the way that scouts do their job. I'm a scout by trade, and a lot of these guys I've been scouting with for 12 years, and I spent five years as an area scout. So I have as much appreciation for what they do, what they offer, how they go about their jobs as anyone. And it's not a profession that's going away. But it is changing. It's been changing for 70 years, 80 years. The information landscape changes. The player landscape changes, and we need to adapt with that.”
Wants to give people time to get new jobs: This batch of Orioles moves span the country and removes coverage from large portions of the country, with Elias saying the timing of the firings came so those let go would have ample time to find another organization ahead of and during the next offseason hiring cycle. Many of the scouts and player development staff in place for the 2019 season who remained from former executive vice president Dan Duquette’s front office were tendered contracts last October by interim general manager Brian Graham, though a handful — including Duquette’s son Dana, special assistant Matt Haas and supervisor Kirk Fredrikson — were dismissed at that time.
Norton had a significant role in the transition between front offices, often traveling with the team as their front-office representative. He and interim farm director Kent Qualls, who Elias said will be retained in his current role along with interim scouting director Brad Ciolek, were credited with running the team’s offseason preparation for the Rule 5 draft, which yielded shortstop Richie Martin. Norton joined the Orioles in 1998 as a player development administrator and has served as assistant director of player development, director of baseball administration, and was named director of baseball operations in 2014.
Showalter took over the Mid-Atlantic, which included Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Washington, when Albany, the team’s longtime scout in the area, was promoted to a supervisor role. Albany signed, among others, major-leaguers Josh Hader (Old Mill) and LJ Hoes locally. Showalter was credited with drafting 2019 draftees Dan Hammer, Toby Welk and Craig Lewis.
Gillette’s coverage included Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, El Paso and Las Vegas, which this year produced 2019 second-day picks Joey Ortiz and Darrel Hernaiz.
Howard was one of four professional scouts in an already-slim department listed in this year’s media guide. In all, there are 24 domestic scouts listed in the Orioles’ media guide.
“We’re reconfiguring quite a bit,” Elias said. “We are going to be hiring quite a bit. We’re going to be very busy bringing people into this organization. This organization is gonna grow over the next few months but also the next year or so. We plan to have a lot of hiring in the scout space and analysts, front office personnel. We’re gonna have a lot of new people coming in. This is just the organization moving along and adapting to the sport today.
“We have a great group of people here. We’re going to continue to add to them, and this is not to disparage the contributions that have taken place in the past, which are significant, but it’s my position to look to the future and make tough choices sometimes, but we wish everybody well.”