Last weekend, it was reported by MASN’s Roch Kubatko that the Orioles had relieved 11 Orioles personnel of their positions within the organization. 10 of those personnel were scouts, signaling how the Orioles plan to conduct their business moving forward.
Restructuring is nothing new to MLB, but what is relatively new is the rash of scout firings we’ve seen over the past couple of years. It stems originally from the Astros, who chose to go with a video scouting method while preparing for the June draft. Consequently, teams like the Brewers and now Orioles have followed suit. The Brewers GM, David Stearns, is a former Astros executive and the Orioles GM, Mike Elias, was hired away from the Astros in the offseason. They seem to be following the Luhnow model of limiting traditional scouting because that path has proven to be successful. Even the most stringent sabermetricians acknowledge the importance of a scout’s eye, but it cannot be overstated enough how rapidly the game of baseball is changing. Scouting, while still important, is evolving and older scouts may be losing their place if they do not adhere to new philosophies and organization processes.
Colleges have radically increased their video capability, including adding Edgertronic high-speed cameras and Trackman radar technology to their parks to give MLB teams an idea of their players’ advanced data that may not show up in simple statistics. The need for traditional scouting is starting to go by the wayside. Besides the obvious logistics it takes scouts to be in many locations, money can play a factor in these decisions. Cutting staff could help to redirect funds to other areas, whether it be new technology or increasing an analytical staff to help decision-making. Regardless, this is less an economic reality than it is a process-based one.
The Orioles made this decision perhaps partly at a time in the baseball calendar to help those scouts pursue other opportunities. Although unfortunately, few may receive other opportunities if they seek to remain in the same role.
This also very much has to do with Elias wanting to bring in his ‘own guys.’ Elias brought along Sig Mejdal (Assistant GM) and Chris Holt (Minor League Pitching Coordinator) from the Astros, but assuredly will want to put more people he hand-picks in place by the start of the 2020 season. Elias was hired in November of last year, so he had little time and resources to select his staff. Elias has shown a willingness to promote from within, naming Brad Ciolek the interim Scouting Director, a role he will continue in for the time being. Ciolek started in baseball at a young age and joined the Orioles in 2011 for a role in Player Development. Ciolek then left baseball for a position with Bloomberg, before returning a little over a year later to join the scouting department. Elias likely held onto Ciolek to see if Ciolek’s graduate degree in Computer Information Systems could be useful in the Orioles new brand of baseball. The 2019 June Draft was likely Ciolek’s biggest test he would face in the interim role. The Orioles had the first overall selection, which was Elias’ decision of course, but after the first few rounds, it was Ciolek’s draft, with the help of scouting and analytics teams. Ciolek will remain as the Scouting Director for now, but it will be interesting to see how Elias configures his departments in the coming months.
What gets lost in this is the human factor that can be crushing to some of the families of the scouts that are suddenly unemployed. However, like other occupations, times change and so does demand for certain expertise. When Orioles fans were told they were going into a ‘full-scale rebuild’ at last year’s trade deadline, many probably didn’t know exactly what that entails. It entails a lot of losing. A lot of misery. An enormous amount of turnover. Even if these scouts, some of who had either been in baseball or the organization for awhile, didn’t know when it would be, they knew this day could come at any moment. Baseball is ultimately a business as cold as that sounds. The new brass of the Orioles are in it for the long term. They want to win, but they want to do this thing right. That includes allocating resources to pressing needs, but also trimming the fat if necessary — not to say these firings were even all necessary, because these scouts gave a lot to the franchise, but cutting scouting and personnel is what Mike Elias feels like he needs to do at this juncture.
I have blind faith in the new executives, partly because the proof of concept is there with the Houston Astros, but also partly because I don’t have an alternative. Mike Elias is one of the smartest young executives in the game and had a great understudy opportunity with Jeff Luhnow. But like fans were told last year in a metaphor: It’s better to raze the whole house than to go room by room. We’ve done that part, now it’s time to clean the house. Once we’ve cleaned house, then we can finally start to build. After drafting Adley Rutschman, becoming a factor in the international scouting world, and instituting data and information as an organizational process, I’d say the Orioles have gotten off to a pretty good start.
Well done, Matty!
Can he make Chris Davis a scout and then fire him?