NASHVILLE – Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias cited his No. 1 priority earlier today as making the team better, with more avenues to do so on the pitching side because the group of position players is almost entirely back. And more are coming.
The miles traveled from Baltimore didn’t disrupt the team’s plans or rearrange its goals. Only the time zone changed.
Conversations have picked up lately in attempts to upgrade the rotation and back end of the bullpen. However, Elias isn’t driven by a sense of urgency to complete any deals before leaving the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.
“I’ve never been one to view these meetings as some type of compressed time frame where you’ve got to do something. It’s just not the way we approach these meetings,” he said this afternoon while meeting with local media in his suite.
“I think they’re very efficient from an interaction and info gathering. I think in our business it’s kind of hard to get all your executives and scouts and manager in the same room, and so it tends to speed up trade conversations, idea generations, some creativity. Sometimes that leads to deals here. Most of the time it doesn’t. But we’re not worried about making any deals while we’re here.
“I think it’s possible that something happens or you hear something, but in no sense are we feeling any pressure just from the event.”
Elias has observed in trade talks that there aren’t many teams openly rebuilding. All but a handful are talking about trying to make the playoffs.
“There’s not a huge glut of sellers right now,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean trades can’t happen, and we’re having a lot of ongoing conversations with teams that are going for it and just seeing if we match up parts. Some of that’s on the starting pitchers’ side, but a lot of it’s been on the bullpen side, too. We’re exploring a bullpen addition, and a lot of those conversations have picked up on the trade front recently. But we’ll just have to see what happens.”
A trade seems like the easiest course of action because of a wealth of prospects and the reluctance or inability to outspend other clubs.
“I think that we’re as well equipped as any team to rattle off prospect packages for any player,” Elias said. “That doesn’t mean that we want to do that just because we have the No. 1 farm system, we could theoretically outbid any team. At some point it becomes a trade you don’t want to do regardless of who’s bidding on it. It’s nice because it equips us to get involved in every conversation, but there’s more to making trades than just being the highest bidder. The trade’s got to make sense.
“I think another thing, too, is that a lot of our prospects are so close to the majors if they’re not there yet that these are guys that are going to help the 2024 Orioles, too, so we’ve got to keep all that in mind, and we’re having those conversations simultaneously talking to agents.”
Elias stresses that having the top farm system and the resources to match or top other proposals, with teams asking about his prospects “left and right,” doesn’t entice him to “just throw those guys into trades and write it off.”
“Those are players that are going to be helping not only soon, but helping for a long time. We’ve got to balance that,” he said.
“I think it’s fun for us to be in position where we can get into every trade conversation, but I also think this perception that we have too many prospects and we need to get rid of some of them, that doesn’t register with me. We want to have a very talented organization. We need to make good trades. We don’t need to jettison players. So, that’s what we’re focused on doing. But I think we’re very open to and very realistic about making our prospects available because there’s some impact players out there, possibly, on the trade market and you’ve got to give something to get something.”
Finding a reliever with closing experience is preferred but not required.
“It would be nice,” Elias said. “There’s only so many of those guys. You don’t want to restrict yourself too much. But it is something that we are talking about and placing a little bit of value on. There’s guys that we’re talking about trading for, there’s free agents that have had that ninth-inning experience in their career. It’s just a little bit of a warm fuzzy, I guess, but it’s definitely not a requisite for us to make the acquisition.”
* Elias confirmed the hiring of Braves bullpen coach Drew French as pitching coach. Chris Holt remains in his role as director of pitching, without the second set of responsibilities.
“We had a great run of pitching development in our organization and it continues to be the case,” Elias said. “Chris Holt was the person who took our pitching program to a whole new level, starting in the minor leagues at the end of 2018, early 2019, and we’re at a place now where we think it’s the best use of his skill set to allow him to supervise the entire system and put some focus back on the minor league development with his skill set, and also get a new voice in the dugout for these young pitchers as they kind of go into the next phase of their careers.
“These are guys who have had pretty successful maturation, whether they’re first-year pitchers or second-year pitchers on the starters side. But I think it’s often helpful to have some different influences as you’re graduating into another phase of your career.”
French and Holt came from the Astros organization and have “a longstanding relationship,” Elias said.
“This won’t be a wholesale philosophical change,” Elias said. “It just kind of strengthens our pitching department up and down.”
An assistant pitching coach is expected to be hired to replace Darren Holmes, who’s no longer in the organization. Ryan Klimek stays as pitching strategy coach, focusing on game-planning, pitch sequencing and selection, and working with the analytics staff.
* The roles for pitchers Tyler Wells and DL Hall don’t have to be defined over the winter.
“I think that we won’t know until we get into spring training and even into next season, but I’m happy about the fact that we’re able to talk about both guys in a starter context and also a reliever context,” Elias said. “I think that’s going to be determined, obviously, by how well they’re throwing, but also who their teammates are and what their teammates look like, because we know that both guys have had success in the bullpen.
“Obviously, DL’s was a shorter stint, but we’re very familiar with him, having him in the minor leagues now for seven years, that we’re really confident he can help there. But long-term, both of these players have the pitch mixes and the deliveries and the skill sets to start. I think we may see one in the rotation, one in the bullpen. We may see both in the bullpen. Probably, both of them to get in the rotation would probably require an injury or something to somebody else that we hope doesn’t happen. But both guys are really well positioned to impact the team regardless of what the role is.”
* Good news for the bullpen: Reliever Dillon Tate, who didn’t pitch last season due to forearm and elbow injuries, is healthy again and throwing off a mound.
“He’s not feeling any symptoms, so I feel really optimistic that he’s going to be Dillon Tate in Sarasota,” Elias said. “That really sucked last year. We thought we were going to get him back in late May and it was just one of those things that didn’t quite resolve the way he wanted to. His command and just the feel that he normally has for where the ball’s going wasn’t there. With the type of injury he had, a flexor strain, it’s not unusual. Michael Baumann, for instance, had one at the alternate site (in 2020) and it took him about a year to really get back to himself, so it's not terribly surprising.
“I think we’re going to get a much different Dillon Tate experience in 2024 than we had in 2023, and that would be great for our bullpen.”
* Elias said position players in free agency or trades are on the “back burner,” but he could attempt to acquire another outfielder. Aaron Hicks is a free agent and might be replaced from outside the organization, though Elias also noted the “internal options.”
“I think there’s some interesting guys there and we’re probably going to get somebody who pops out of that group and is able to step into those shoes,” Elias said, adding that the player doesn’t necessarily have to bat from the right side.
* Asked about payroll, Elias said the Orioles are “equipped” to conduct business this offseason but he isn’t going to announce the budget.
“We’re in business, we’ve got clarity, we’re working hard to improve this team, and usually when you bring in major league players, they’re making some money,” he said. “Whether that’s trade or free agent, we’re aware of that and equipped to assess this market and participate in it.”