Could Orioles pivot away from trying for a No. 1 starter and lower expectations?

The Orioles have a stated goal of placing a starter at or near the top of their rotation, but they also are prepared to deliver a counter punch. They’re a team that could bob and weave, backpedal and head in the other direction.

A last resort might be to insert a pitcher toward the back end and hope that returnees Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez can be true aces.

Spending is limited for a franchise that’s more than reluctant to launch the payroll into the upper echelon. An anchor is dropped. The room for movement is limited, small-to-mid-market status cutting off the ring.

Outbidding the many deep-pocketed clubs isn’t a strategy. Offering left-hander Eduardo Rodríguez $80 million over four years, as the Diamondbacks did to sign the former Orioles farmhand, never seemed like a realistic maneuver. projected a nine-year, $225 million contract for Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a seven-year, $200 million deal for Blake Snell and a six-year, $150 million contract for Jordan Montgomery.

Aaron Nola received $172 million over seven years from the Phillies, and Sonny Gray received $75 million over three years from the Cardinals.

That’s main event payments.

The last one was closer to the Orioles’ reach, but they haven’t signed a free agent for multiple guaranteed years since Alex Cobb in March 2018, their last big swing before throwing in the towel and beginning to tear down their roster. Eight months before Mike Elias was hired as executive vice president/general manager and tasked with orchestrating a turnaround.

Elias has indicated a willingness, and hinted at some recent attempts, to lock down a player for more than one season. It hasn’t happened. Club options are as far as it’s gone.

Four days at the Winter Meetings seemed to confirm that a trade was the likeliest outcome in acquiring an impact starter. The Orioles can out-prospect teams rather than outspend them. But they aren’t going to begin draining their supply, and untouchables apparently were further identified in Nashville.

Which leads us back to the back of the rotation, or maybe to the middle.

“We definitely feel a lot smarter about what possibilities are out there for starting pitching, particularly in the trade market, but we’ve got a lot of work left to do to see if we’re going to be able to bring anything home,” Elias said Wednesday afternoon in his suite at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, shortly before his flight home.

“I think everybody would rather have a one starter than a two starter and a two starter than a three, generically speaking, but I think we’re in a position where we have two really interesting guys in Grayson and Bradish coming back who have the potential to continue pitching like front-line starters. And I think if we’re able to upgrade the third or the fourth spot in the rotation instead, that would just as well present a pretty good upgrade and stability to the rotation.

“I think we’re in a little different mode than where we were last year, where we signed Kyle Gibson, we traded for Cole Irvin. We were kind of focused on fortifying the back end of the rotation and getting some really experienced, quality innings-eats, and that’s still something that we value, but probably a little bit less of a mission now than it was at this time last year.”

Gibson became the Opening Day starter based on veteran status, a track record of success and solid production in spring training. And also, out of need on a young staff waiting for John Means’ return from Tommy John surgery.

Means is expected to be healthy in camp, long recovered from the elbow soreness that kept him off the Division Series roster. And manager Brandon Hyde expressed confidence at the Winter Meetings in the right-handers who started Games 1 and 2 against the Rangers.

“I think we have a couple guys who have top-of-the-rotation-type of stuff, like Kyle,” Hyde said. “Grayson, for me, has top-of-the-rotation stuff. Now, is he going to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in his first full year? Probably not. But he showed flashes last year of a guy that can go dominate a lineup like a No. 1 starter can. Kyle did that quite a bit last year.

“Whether we go in and try to get a No. 1 guy, I’m not sure, but I feel really good about these two young guys that have made such huge strides. Grayson made huge strides over the course of last season, and Kyle from 2022 to 23, just massive improvements. I hope they continue to get better.”

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