Elias: "The offseason is still going, there’s a lot left on the board and a lot of discussions still happening"

The sluggish nature of the free agent and trade markets haven’t stalled the Orioles pursuit of starting pitching.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said again today at the Birdland Caravan that he’s working the phones and trying to get a deal done.

“This is a team that is in really good shape,” Elias said. “We won 101 games last year, won the division and 90-95 percent of the team is back. So, this is a team that we’re looking to upgrade and supplement and not reimagine. But the offseason is still going, there’s a lot left on the board and a lot of discussions still happening.

“It’s been kind of a later, slower offseason than normal and we’re working pretty furiously, but since we spoke at the Winter Meetings, just haven’t lined up on particular opportunities, but there’s still time for that.”

The Orioles reportedly remain engaged with Mike Lorenzen, who drew their interest at last year’s trade deadline. Elias has been locked into talks with the White Sox about Dylan Cease and the Marlins about multiple starters, but the asking price in prospects is too high. They aren’t pursuing right-hander Domingo Germán in free agency despite reports.

Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer return from last season’s rotation, and the Orioles expect a full season out of veteran John Means. Cole Irvin, Tyler Wells, DL Hall and Bruce Zimmerman are counted among other options for the backend.

“I think the whole league, all 30 teams, have publicly stated that they’re looking for starting pitching,” Elias said, “and it just speaks to the state of the sport and pitching and the nature of it, where a pitcher fits on every team. But we’ve got a rotation right now with five, six, even more really accomplished guys. They had good seasons last year, but there’s room for more if we can find it. But we’ve got to find the right deal, the right fit, the right trade, the right signing, the right investment. It isn’t something that we want to address in a vacuum, and that’s an operating model that has gotten us to this point, and we’ll continue to apply it and look for moves that we like.”

Elias doesn’t recite a roll call of untouchable prospects, though baseball’s No. 1, shortstop Jackson Holliday, certainly is off limits.

“There’s definitely a couple that, it’s just hard to find anything else in baseball that you’d reasonably want to trade them for when they’re some of the very top prospects in the game,” Elias said. “But we have conversations and it’s just a matter of what we’re getting back.”

“I’ll say this about the starting pitcher trade market, there’s really only been two major trades on that front so far and they’ve both been AL East teams making the trades,” Elias added, referencing the Rays sending Tyler Glasnow to the Dodgers and the Red Sox shipping Chris Sale to the Braves. “There just hasn’t been anyone we’ve been in on that’s been traded. We’re certainly turning over every rock in that market and things just haven’t happened yet around the league, and maybe they won’t. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to keep talking to people.”

A franchise flush in prospects rather than cash seems more likely to consummate a trade.

“I don’t think there’s any bones about it,” Elias said. “We’re better equipped to bring in impact starting pitching via the trade route, and so we’ve been exploring that pretty heavily. There’s some really big signings of starting pitchers that have happened and they’ve by and large gone to really large-market teams and really large cities, and that’s just a reality of baseball. Doesn’t mean we’re not talking to those people or checking on them, but I think that we have an advantage with the trade firepower that we have.

“We have a lot of methods and a lot of people up here in the warehouse who measure the risks and rewards of these possible moves and we do it in the smartest way that we can using a lot of sophisticated methods. Other teams do it, too. But you can look back and teams make aggressive trades and they can really set the franchise back if the guy shows up and he gets hurt or if you trade guys and you miss out on their long careers. There have been examples with the Orioles where that’s happened. So, we’re aggressive, we’re in a win mode, we want to make the team better, we’re looking for these things, but it would be very irresponsible for me to not measure the cost of anything that we’re doing, and we’ve got a lot of really talented young players with really bright futures, and we’re excited about them, too.

“When you’re talking about trading, you’ve got to give something up, so we’re working on it, we’re probably being as aggressive as any team out there. There just haven’t been a lot of sell trades on the pitching side of things this winter.”

The pressure exists to supplement a roster that produced the best record in the American League. Elias said he feels is “all the time.” But there are limits to how much influence it wields.

“Not just this winter, but during the season, throughout the season, everything we do,” he said. “It’s a good thing. It keeps us going. But we also check ourselves with things that are less emotional. If you make bad moves, you end up in a bad spot pretty quickly in this business, so we’re trying to make good ones.”

Elias said he’s considered “the whole spectrum” of starting pitching, whether for the front, middle or back of the rotation.

The net cast has been as wide as possible.

“We’ve talked to all 29 other teams and seeing if any starters are readily available, and there just hasn’t been too many of these trades,” he said. “You saw Chris Sale and Glasnow, but the Rays or the Red Sox aren’t going to pick us to trade with if they have other options. … I do want to repeat that there’s a lot of free agents out there still. This thing, if you look last year, almost every single free agent was cleared about a week or two ago, and this year’s there’s a lot left. We’re staying on the phones every day.

"There’s always room for more pitchers. Every team is looking for more pitchers. The Dodgers keep signing pitchers. It’s just something that everybody’s on the prowl for, which makes it tough, but we’re no exception to that. And we’ll take more if we can get the right guys in the right deals."

Hall has been most effective coming out of the bullpen and could break camp in that role, though his future isn’t set as a reliever.

“I think it’s TBD what he does,” Elias said. “I think it’s a good possibility that, he saw a lot of really good success last year in the bullpen and perhaps depending on how spring training goes, we keep him there, slowly stretch him out over the next year or so. It’s also possible we make the move to stretch him out right away. It’s something that we’ve been talking about with him and his camp. But he’s in a good spot right now and he’s somebody that long-term we view as a starting pitcher.”

Means returned last summer to make four starts before elbow soreness during a workout at Camden Yards nixed his chances of pitching in the Division Series.

“I feel really good. Had a nice buildup this offseason and should be ready to go,” Means said.

“It (elbow) was just tight and we looked at the MRI and told me to take a break on it and just kind of build up in the offseason and be ready to go for next year.”

Asked about the rotation as it stands now, Means said, “We did pretty well last year, so I think that the guys we have there are just going to get better and better on a young team. It’s going to be good. I’m pretty confident with the guys we have now.”

Relief pitching remains an avenue if Elias fails to land an impact starter. Shorten the games with a dominant bullpen.

“We’re looking for help for the team, and the bullpen would be an area where you can bolster,” he said. “And even on the position player side, those are probably more best characterized as supplementations that we’re looking at there. But we’re going to keep looking for ways to improve the roster, and we do it all the time. We do it during the season. But certainly, until the very last minute of the offseason, we’ll be looking, and I hope that there’s more coming, but if there’s not, this is the reigning championship team of the AL East and most of it’s back, and we’ve got waves and waves of young talent behind them. So, I think we’re in pretty good shape but we’re trying to get better, for sure.”

The injury report is skimpy as the opening of camp draws near. Closer Félix Bautista is the only one assured of missing games in 2024 after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October.

“Fingers crossed right now,” Elias said. “Hope the baseball gods aren’t listening to me say that. … I’m sure that will evolve. We haven’t even started spring training yet.”

Manager Brandon Hyde recently saw reliever Dillon Tate throwing in Sarasota and said the right-hander is healthy and looks “unbelievable.”

Hyde knows that Elias isn’t done trying to make moves, but he’s happy with his current roster.

“We had a special year last year, a lot of these guys are coming back,” Hyde said. “They’re going to be hungry and they’re already starting to talk about it. Spring training’s right around the corner and everybody’s getting super excited, so we’re excited for the guys that we have.”

The Orioles returned corner infielder Tyler Nevin to the organization earlier this week, acquiring him from the Tigers in a modest cash transaction. Nevin is out of minor league options.

“We’ve always liked Tyler,” Elias said. “Just kind of a roster juggling situation and it happened to him again, so we picked him up. … We’re always looking for depth and right-handed hitting depth. He’s really good against left-handed pitching and he provides us some depth, and he’s somebody we’re comfortable with and we’ll see how it all shakes out.”

* The Orioles signed left-hander Ronald Guzmán, a former first baseman, to a minor league contract.

Guzmán, 29, converted to pitching and tossed one-third of an inning with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2022 but missed most 2023 with a forearm injury after signing with the Giants. He’s made two appearances in the Dominican Winter League and allowed three runs with four walks in one-third of an inning.

The left-hander is a career .225/.302/.410 hitter in parts of five major league seasons with the Rangers (2018-21) and Yankees (2022). He totaled 18 doubles and 16 home runs in 123 games in 2018 and 20 doubles and 10 home runs in 87 games the following year.

* The Orioles haven’t reached contract agreements with four arbitration players - relievers Danny Coulombe and Jacob Webb, outfielder Austin Hays and first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. The club is file-and-go unless it can include an option to the contract.

Elias hopes to reach settlements and avoid hearings, but he said, “We’re not going to force it.”

“It’s not something we enjoy, haggling over salaries, but it’s a big part of the history between the clubs and the players side, and this is the system we have for figuring out how people should be compensated for their work,” he said. “I don’t make the system but I do live in it, and it’s very normal and it’s also something that we’re going to have more and more of now that we’re a young, talented organization with a lot of players that are going through their pre-arb and arb years.

“It’s certainly nothing personal and it’s just the business part of this business that I wish wasn’t so front and center.”

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