The clock is ticking louder for the start of baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, which were held virtually in December 2020 due to the pandemic and canceled in 2021 because of the lockout. The in-person sessions returned last year in San Diego.
Long flight but a short walk from the media workroom to the lobby and back.
The Orioles reached agreement on a one-year deal with starter Kyle Gibson on the weekend before those meetings, with his signing made official after we arrived. Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias provided more details, confirming the $10 million cost.
The next few days played out in typical Orioles fashion.
They signed right-hander Ofreidy Gómez to a minor league deal on Dec. 5 and outfielder Nomar Mazara and infielder Josh Lester the following day, and selected pitcher Andrew Politi from the Red Sox in the Rule 5 draft. Internet searches were conducted, stats consumed like hors d’oeuvres.
There wasn’t much of a payoff for the effort. I’ve had food stuck in my teeth longer than Mazara’s tenure in the organization.
Mazara didn’t make it through camp, his release granted on March 27, signed with the Nationals in April and was released in July. Gómez allowed 21 earned runs (24 total) in 21 2/3 innings with Triple-A Norfolk, was released in August and pitched for the independent Lancaster Barnstormers. Lester appeared in 11 games, collecting his first major league hit and RBI, and had 21 doubles, 23 home runs and 87 RBIs in 110 games with Norfolk. Politi was a camp cut and returned to the Red Sox organization.
Lester elected free agency again. Politi, who made a spirited run at the Opening Day roster, remains in the Red Sox’s organization after posting a 4.45 ERA and 1.45 WHIP in 54 games with Triple-A Worcester.
The importance of the Winter Meetings isn’t confined to signatures on contracts and getting to the podium. Elias mentioned last year that he didn’t feel “pressure” to make a move for the sake of appearance. If it happens, fantastic, but the offseason’s yellow tape is far down the road. Can’t see it yet.
“I don’t know that we’re any closer to any acquisitions than we were at this time last night or this morning, but a lot of info’s come in, a lot of conversations have taken place,” Elias said on Dec. 7 during his last media session inside his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.
“We still have a great deal of players out there. This is just really the beginning of the offseason. Whether or not something comes together in the next day or two, I think there’s a lot of information to claim here today.”
Elias said he viewed the meetings as “an information gathering event, first and foremost.” The same way that the general managers meetings in November can lay the groundwork for more talks the following month.
“I don’t really see this as like, you’ve got to come here and do something kind of a thing,” Elias said in San Diego, “but it’s been a very productive trip for us.”
Where the urgency comes is from teams peeling Orioles targets off the board. There’s a limited supply of starters within their price range in free agency who might slot high in the rotation. And they aren’t the only club searching for relievers with closing experience.
I’m not aware of the Orioles placing a higher priority on rotation versus bullpen. Both areas will be addressed, as you've heard and read countless times. It’s whatever deal is struck first.
Félix Bautista’s elbow surgery forced a counter move, but the Division Series enhanced the industry perception that they were short a proven starter. That Nathan Eovaldi or Jordan Montgomery with them instead of against them would have brought a different result.
Kyle Bradish pitched like an ace, Grayson Rodriguez has the ceiling of one, and John Means possesses no-hit stuff on his best days. The club isn’t forced to do anything with its rotation after posting the best record in the American League, but a No. 1 could push it much deeper in the playoffs. Maybe to the first World Series title since 1983.
Farther down the list of needs is a right-handed hitting outfielder. Elias also might want a veteran infielder as insurance, similar to Adam Frazier, though the influx of prospects is making space evaporate.
Roster structure is a process that plays out through the spring. The Winter Meetings are a modest part of it when measured in days.
Elias will get work done. It just might not get him to the podium.