Back on the East Coast after a few days at the General Manager meetings in Arizona, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias is ready to begin the work on making additions to his pitching staff, both in the rotation and bullpen.
During a phone interview Friday with MASNSports.com, Elias made it clear that a late-inning reliever is at or near the top of his wish list. Right-hander Felix Bautista, who posted a 1.48 ERA and 33 saves with a 16.2 K rate, is expected to miss the entire 2024 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery Oct. 9.
It leaves a big hole in the back end of the Baltimore bullpen.
“It is a top priority,” said Elias. “I’m characterizing it as a back-end reliever. I think if that guy has closer experience, that’s great. It would be nice. I am worried about Bautista’s absence and I don’t believe we felt that fully in September of 2023. We are going to try like hell to bring in some help from the outside for the back of our bullpen.”
And that help could come via free agency or a trade.
“Sure, yeah, both. We’re looking at both,” he said.
Trying to predict how the offseason market will play out for free agents and/or trades is always challenging. But Elias said he got a strong sense in Arizona on which way it could go this winter.
“I think people are really charging pretty hard out of the gates,” he said. “It seems like there are a lot of teams going for it. Part of that is the new wild-card rules. Part of that is just happenstance. But there are a lot of aspirational teams. Lot of teams looking for pitching, it sounds like. And everything is picking up pretty quickly. It seems like it’s going to be a bit of a bull market again.
“We had meetings with the league about rules and league business, things like that. We also spent all day meeting with every major agency and talking with certain other clubs, comparing some notes and just getting the process going. It takes a lot of work to gather information so that you can successfully navigate the market the way you want. It’s just a good jumping off point for that.”
And so the process of the Orioles reaching out to some free agent reps is underway.
“We spent our first few days with various agencies. You are not necessarily getting into offers and dollars and cents. But you are circling names and they are circling theirs. We did a lot of that in Arizona,” he said.
Elias added that Baltimore has become, for some obvious reasons, a place that free agents will readily consider.
“We are hearing it loud and clear, more than ever, and it’s unsolicited,” Elias said. “There seem to be every year increasingly more players that are proactively mentioning us at the top of their list or toward the top of their list. That’s great. They want to win and we are a winning team. They want to have fun and this is a great environment and it’s a loose, hard-charging style of play. And then our coaching staff and the clubhouse have really good reputations, and so does the analytics department. So, it’s all there. I think that, in terms of intangible factors, this has very quickly in the last two years become a very attractive destination. So, then it comes to competing on contracts.”
If the market is moving fast and players are receptive to talking with the Orioles, is the club open to an early free agent strike or making an early move rather than waiting for the market to be set?
“In my experience, it’s a really tough business, whether it’s trade or free agent, to line up on stuff. It’s not the kind of thing where you can purposely wait and get what you want," Elias said. "So, from our point of view, if we find something we want and we line up on it, we’ll pull the trigger. Whether that is November or whether that is January."
As it relates to starting pitching, while it would be a real surprise to see the Orioles become big players for top free agent pitchers demanding the biggest dollars, Elias indicates he'd like an addition that could impact the top half of the Orioles rotation.
"Yeah, we’re keeping it relatively open because we have to see what opportunities present themselves in this market," he said. "We’ve got two guys in (Kyle) Bradish and (Grayson) Rodriguez that basically pitched like front-end starters all year, most of the year, and they are coming back. But there is pressure on them and it would be nice to bring them some help. If we are able to import a clear upgrade to one of our rotation spots that’s going to radiate out into the rest of the rotation. We’ll see what the best opportunity is, who the best person is for the job. Whether we are able to get our hands on this guy. It is hard to narrow yourself too much going into an offseason. There are not that many people (as starters) available."