SAN DIEGO – The Orioles will return home from the Winter Meetings on Thursday satisfied with the advancements made in trying to improve their roster. To find another starting pitcher and some left-handed bats.
They just won’t have the bodies to show for it unless something breaks soon.
“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 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 views these meetings as more of “an information gathering event, first and foremost.” But if there’s an opportunity to make a move for a player, “we’ll get into that competition.” That’s how the Orioles reached an agreement Saturday with starter Kyle Gibson, becoming more aggressive before boarding a flight to San Diego and more bidders began to surface.
“It’s pretty apparent here at the Winter Meetings that this is not some reticent market. People are getting after it. It’s a good sign for the sport,” Elias said.
“It’s always fun. It’s nice after having two Winter Meetings off to have this happen. I think we’ve been in the middle of a lot of things. That’s really encouraging, that dialogue with agents and teams, and I’m glad we’re able to get Gibson in the fold for us because I think it’s a nice fit for us for what we’re looking for with veteran presence in the rotation.
“I don’t really see this as like, you’ve got to come here and do something kind of a thing, but it’s been a very productive trip for us.”
There are complications to it.
The Orioles don’t seem comfortable with the length and dollars of contracts being distributed around the league. They are cognizant of maintaining clear paths for prospects in the organization. A hefty commitment to a free agent can force moves they don’t want to make.
“Some of the players at the very, very top of the market tend to command not only very high salaries, but also really long commitments to go with those salaries,” Elias said. “I think one thing we’re looking at as we built this team for the next few years is what we have internally … and we’ve got a couple guys at shortstop, we’ve got some more shortstops in the minor leagues, we’ve got a great catcher, we’ve got a great center fielder, and we have more coming, too, so we have a lot of internal core players already that we want to build around.
“Obviously, we’re trying to add to the starting rotation and the pitching staff. That’s why we signed Gibson, that’s why we’re hopefully going to find somebody else to bring in. But the length of the commitment is just something that’s dictated by the market.”
Elias didn’t offer a cutoff on the number of years the club is willing to dangle at a free agent pitcher. Second-tier starters are getting four.
“There’s a lot of guys out there that we’re still engaged with on, in some cases, multi-year contracts with free agent starters, but we’ve seen the market out here has been very fast, very competitive,” Elias said. “A lot of people are looking for pitching. It’s something that all 29 other teams are out there looking for, and that’s made for some really robust deals so far for these guys, but there’s still a few out there that we’ve targeted, and that’s not to speak of any trade possibilities.”
Asked if the bigger issue for the Orioles is years or the amount of money, Elias said, “The length tends to go with the money.”
“It’s just bigger deals,” he said. “Unless a player’s coming off a down year or an injury and wants to reestablish some market value, then at least how this market is operating, there’s a correlation between the length of the deals and the annual average value on the contract. So, first and foremost, we’re looking at the 2023 team, our chances of getting into the playoffs, who really helps us with that the most, going out into the market and seeing if we can get deals that line up fairly well.
“You’ve got to play on the market so it’s competitive and you have to pay the going rate. But line up with what we see as guys that are going to give us a boost. And I think we have a lot of internal talent in the organization, especially on the position player side, to sort of plan forward. And we don’t want to run into a situation where we’re having to trade some of our core players away because we’ve signed a guy to take their spot. It just doesn’t make much sense for us right now. We’re still in a very hopeful part of what I think is going to be an upward curve here for the organization. I feel great about where we’re at. But we want to be really careful and strategic about building on this group we have.”
Liftoff never meant that the payroll would skyrocket in 2023, but Elias said it’s going to “increase steadily” now that the team is becoming competitive, while also keeping the underpinnings of the organization healthy, “which is something that the Orioles haven’t done historically while still funding a competitive team in the American League East.”
“It’s not something that we’re just going to force and do all at once and have it encumber our roster because we went out and made some deals that don’t make sense for the next window,” he said.
“It doesn’t do me a lot of good to get too specific about that because there’s a lot of other people I’m competing with out in the industry who are reading and listening to this stuff, but I feel very healthy about where our organization is at and where it’s going, and there’s a lot of stuff that we’re still working on in terms of the future of the franchise with lease, the Camden Yards renovations that come with that. This has been a pretty major effort and I think we’re more on track. I think we’re ahead of schedule on the baseball side, but we’ve got realities that we’re going to take into account so that we don’t put ourselves back in an unhealthy position like we were in in 2018.
“Baseball is set up the way that it’s set up. There are teams and markets out there that are, frankly, just hard to keep up with, but there’s other teams and markets that look the way that Baltimore does that have really healthy and successful programs. … There’s ways to have a very healthy Orioles franchise for the next 10, 15, 20 years and that’s kind of what we’re transitioning ourselves into.”
Elias said that he still has the financial wherewithal that was discussed at the time of his hiring.
“I think we're going to get into a mode where we find a very solid water level for what the Orioles' payroll is going to be,” he said. “It’s going to be best-done in combinant with the revenues and attendance going up, which is going to happen as the team gets more competitive. So this isn't something where we're going to flip a light switch and get to our max capacity again.
“I’m extremely confident that we’re going to take the plan to its logical end course, which involves continually increasing payroll, and it going to start this year.”
Elias also wants to increase the playoff odds, but to what extent?
He won’t do it at the expense of his clubs in future years.
“Look, in the division we’re in and the teams that were at the top of the division this year, where we came from last year, I think it’s really hard to sit there and chart a course and say, ‘We’re likely to win the division,’” he said. “Now, you see some young teams pop up all the time and that’s going to be our goal when spring training breaks, but with as daunting as the American League East is, I think our goal this year is to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a better position to make the playoffs, and that’s been the stated goal.
“I also think that our team and our organization is going to continue to get better in 2024, in 2025, in 2026, in 2027, and I don’t think we want to steal from those teams to juke the odds of the 2023 Orioles getting into the playoffs because we see this as a window opening up, so we’re going to have to be a little bit careful about how we go about that. Doesn’t mean that we’re not looking at trades where we’re either trading prospects or maybe trading players on our major league team, but we’re being mindful of the next several years because I think we’ve got a very healthy period of time coming up for us.”
An opening day assignment has been dangled in front of free agent starters during negotiations. And the left-handed hitters that Elias is checking on would serve as more than just depth.
“I think that we’re in talks with players that would be in the starting nine on opening day, or however you want to put it,” he said. “We have a group that’s positionally flexible, it’s pretty deep, and right now as presently composed, we’ve got players that we’re going to want to give rest, we’re going to want to give DH days to, and we’ve got the flexibility to kind of rotate people around. So I would view the probable additions at this point that we’re talking to as guys that will come in and kind of be on the same level as our other starters, of people that go into this rotation of playing time.”