Orioles still in hunt for starters after giving Gibson $10 million contract

SAN DIEGO – Veteran pitcher Kyle Gibson passed a physical and signed his contract today with the Orioles that pays $10 million in 2023.

The deal was made after the Orioles declined Jordan Lyles’ $11 million option and gave him a $1 million buyout.

“I think that we targeted Kyle. He was a priority for us,” executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said today in his suite at the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

“Our jobs as front office evaluators is to look at what we think is going to happen in the future, and not what somebody’s baseball card numbers were last season, and we saw a lot of things to us that project well into the future for Kyle. I think he’s going to have a really nice season for us and is a really good fit, and it puts us in a position of security with our rotation, our pitching staff, as we proceed through the rest of the offseason.

“It’s nice for us to have him in the fold already in this early juncture.”

Gibson made 31 starts for the Phillies this year, the fifth time in his career that he reached the 30 mark. He went 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA and 1.336 WHIP and had a career-low 2.6 walks per nine innings.

“This is a guy who’s thrown (1,504) innings in his 10-year major league career, just took a trip to the World Series with the Phillies, tremendous reputation around the league as a leader, but also the type of linchpin that I think will benefit our young pitching staff quite a bit in the rotation,” Elias said.

“Projects to cover a lot of innings and a lot of starts for us and is a guy who keeps your team in ballgames. He’s got six pitches, really knows how to pitch and mix them. Plus changeup. He’s a guy that our pitching department thinks can help tap into a new gear and have a great season with us.”

Elias again kept the door open for Lyles’ return.

“We’re trying to bring in at least one more major league starter,” Elias said. “We’ll see what happens. I can’t predict the future and guarantee anything, but it’s definitely on our wish list to get another veteran major league starting pitcher, and anyone who’s out there that is a free agent is on our wish list in some way, shape or form. So we’ll just have to see where the market goes and what we decide to do and what comes to us.”

Asked whether he’s searching for a potential No. 1 starter, Elias said, “We’re going to look for acquisitions that make sense for us, and there’s a lot of activity out there right now. We’ve seen some really big news today. I think we have to have different plans in place and different avenues of targets that we’re looking at.

“I just don’t really know. I just know that we want to get another pitcher at least at some point who we feel like we can pencil into the rotation, whether it’s the opening day spot or in the top five somewhere. I don’t know yet.”

The Orioles won’t shy away from pitchers who were given a qualifying offer, which would cost their third draft selection.

“You don’t love giving up a third-round pick, but I don’t think it’s any type of non-starter,” Elias said. “Fortunately, we’ve got a great farm system right now, so I think that would put you in a little bit of a position of comfort.

“We’ve got guys up and down the system getting repetitions and it puts you in a little easier mindset if that does end up being the case.”

The club has held video calls with around eight starting pitchers, in Elias’ estimation, with more to come. Elias said he’s floated multiple offers to free agents that exceed one year. The Orioles aren’t locked into short-term deals.

“We’ll just see where this goes,” he said. “I think it’s all so case-by-case that it sounds a little boring for me to answer it this way, but it’s the truth. It just depends on the situation and the position and the players and the dollars and everything little thing that we look at.”

The Orioles are attempting to sign another pitcher but also are exploring their trade options. The two avenues remain in play.

“A major league acquisition via trade is a wide-open possibility,” he said. “We’re working on that right now. Trades by nature, I think you’ve got to put the odds against them happening, generally thinking, just for two teams to line up and 29 other competitors out there. Very, very low percentages usually, but we have tons of conversations and constant ideas going on, and eventually you do end up finding a match sometimes.

“We have the farm system depth to do it. It doesn’t mean we want to lose those guys or give them away, but I think we have the capital to trade for basically anyone who’s on the market. It’s just whether or not we’re going to want to meet the acquisition cost of some of these players versus the alternatives in free agency.”

The Orioles aren’t placing weighted emphasis on a left-hander for their rotation while they wait for John Means, who’s throwing on flat ground in Sarasota in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. They had five right-handed starters for the bulk of the 2022 season.

“I think you do miss the lefty a little bit,” Elias said. “We would love to have one. There’s just so few out there, it’s hard for me to say that’s mandatory for us to get a left-handed starter. Now with Gibson in the fold, it might lean us a little bit that way, but I don’t think we’re in a position of having enough free agent pitchers out there to go around to where you want to rule out 70 percent being the righties."

Elias did point out that the ballpark has become “really attractive for a left-handed pitcher,” noting the new dimensions in left field.

“There might be some mutual appeal with left-handed starters in that regard,” he said.

Elias also talked about the positional flexibility and athleticism up and down the organization, with these players forming a core, particularly up the middle at premium spots. He wants to build around and supplement it.

“Not block too many of those guys as we see where exactly their career arcs go in the next year or two,” Elias said.

“I do think we’re going to want to take advantage of the fact that we’ve got this positional group that we have right now in the organization. I think it allows us to be a little bit choosy.”

Elias confirmed what’s been reported about the Orioles also seeking left-handed bats, with playing time available at first base/designated hitter, the corner outfield “when it’s time to get (Anthony) Santander and (Austin) Hays off their feet,” and maybe second base. Right field at home is the more likely corner spot.

Ramon Urías, who won a Gold Glove at third base, projects to play a lot of second “with the current roster construction,” Elias said.

The Orioles also are checking on available veteran relievers and feel like they can be patient as the market plays out.

It became clearer today that another starting pitcher is the top priority among the club’s needs.

“I think so just because of how fast this pitching market seems like it’s going,” Elias said. “Pitching is something that all 30 teams are always looking for, whereas with position players, there’s only certain roster fits at any given time. Stuff has a weird way of changing on you overnight at the Winter Meetings, but we’ve been very aggressive talking to the free agent starters who are out there.”

These calls include manager Brandon Hyde, pitching coach Chris Holt, assistant pitching coach Darren Holmes and pitching strategy manager Ryan Klimek.

“We’ve had a presentation for each guy,” Elias said. “They’ve been really good and we’ve cast a pretty wide net.”

Many of the selling points have changed since previous years.

Elias can point to the new left field dimensions, the “great” pitching program, analytics department and medical staff, and what he described as “four Gold Glove caliber defenders at catcher, shortstop, third base and center field.”

“And that’s not counting Gunnar Henderson, who’s an impact defender,” Elias said. “There’s really a lot there for a free agent pitcher.”

Which, in turn, can offer more thrust with the Orioles ready for liftoff, a term that made Elias smile today when reminded of his usage back in August.

Perhaps it’s been a bit misunderstood.

“I rattled that word off in Texas,” he said. “I feel very organically that is what I meant. I mean I think that this team is going to continue to get better from this point forward. We’re sitting here with this young nucleus that’s extremely talented. It’s going to be here for a long while. We’re sitting on the No. 1 farm system. We’ve got a roster and a payroll that we can custom build over the next few years because right now we don’t have any long-term contracts to build around. (It was) not a specific proclamation for we’re going to do it all at once at the Winter Meetings, but that the next several years of baseball in Baltimore is going to be excellent. And I think that the team is going to continually improve and we’re going to build the business of Baltimore baseball back up over the next several years.

“We’re on the upswing. That’s what I mean when I say that. It’s a very exciting time for us. It’s been a long time coming and a lot of work getting to this point, but to be on the upward arc of where we’re at, regardless of what we do or don’t do this winter, I think is very encouraging for all of us in this organization and for the fans and for the players.”

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