The continued quest for starting pitching and other Orioles Winter Meetings nuggets

SAN DIEGO – Kyle Gibson may or may not count as a Winter Meetings acquisition, depending on your timeline. He reached agreement on a one-year, $10 million contract on Saturday but signed after the Orioles contingent checked into the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

This is the only major league deal brought back to Baltimore. There will be others before opening day.

Trust me on this. Or better yet, trust the process.

The pitching market hasn’t dried up, but logical fits for the Orioles are disappearing, with Jameson Taillon agreeing to terms with the Cubs, Taijuan Walker with the Phillies and José Quintana with the Mets. They were never linked to Jason deGrom (Rangers) or Justin Verlander (Mets).

So, who’s left?

Carlos Rodón would be zero-to-60 and then some, with his reported interest in a six- or seven-year deal at $30 million or more annually. I’m still not buying it.  

Chris Bassitt would cost the Orioles’ third-highest draft pick, but executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias, though not enthusiastically, is willing to make that sacrifice for a pitcher who received the qualifying offer.

Lefty Sean Manaea remains unsigned and keeps making sense. He’s a Scott Boras client, and Elias has spoken with the uber-agent multiple times. But would the Orioles go four years if necessary?

Would they go that far with anyone?

Noah Syndergaard has heard the Orioles’ sales pitch and he’s still on the board. Not the same stud ace who earned the nickname “Thor,” but the type of veteran starter that the Orioles could slot ahead of a young core that’s trying to build a track record.

Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling are unsigned. So is Nathan Eovaldi after he turned down the qualifying offer, and he wouldn’t require a long-term commitment.

The free agent market isn’t the only place to shop, of course. The Orioles could work a trade, which Elias also attempted at these meetings.

Rival executives are keenly aware of the farm system’s well-stocked prospect cupboard and would like to raid it. Elias is willing to let them rummage, but again, with little enthusiasm.

One of the moments from this visit to San Diego that will stay with me on the flight home is the picture that Elias painted of his trade talks. If conversations can be put on canvas.

Specifically, how Elias must weigh the pros and cons of dealing from the farm system or his 26-man roster. Surrendering prospects can backfire with tremendous force, and no one needs to be reminded of the Glenn Davis trade, but here it is. However, a team that contended until the final week in 2022 and is prepared for liftoff is understandably hesitant to part with veterans classified as chips.

Punching holes in the lineup in order to acquire a frontline starting pitcher could stall the launch, as Elias pointed out on Tuesday.

“We’ve brainstormed stuff with other teams where it’s a major-leaguer-for-major-leaguer trade,” Elias said. “Obviously, nothing’s happened yet, but we’re definitely open to that. I think it makes it a little bit harder in our situation because our goal this year is to increase our odds of making it into the playoffs, and if we’re taking guys off our major league team, kind of bites into that. But we’ve definitely entertained those types of discussions when it comes to starting pitchers.”

The interest in a backup catcher on a major league deal isn’t newsy. The Orioles will go the minor league route again if necessary, but they’re hoping to sign a veteran who immediately lands on the 40-man roster.

What’s a bit cloudy is how much of a workload he’d inherit.

Elias said he wouldn’t expect Adley Rutschman to catch more than 120-125 games. That was a maximum scenario. It certainly could be fewer.

While any buzz generated by the Orioles at the Winter Meetings beyond agent Scott Boras’ “feathered up” remark centered on possible pitching matches, some more realistic than others, there also was an impression left that a backup catcher wouldn’t necessarily be buried on the bench.

Of course, Rutschman can be pushed a little harder than in 2022 following his triceps injury, but he’ll rotate into the designated hitter spot and also receive sufficient rest in his first full major league season. The second catcher could get more starts than perhaps projected in some circles, which helps in recruiting, while also jumping into the DH spot if the bat is worthy.

Meanwhile, I talked to some Red Sox people who thought the Orioles made a smart Rule 5 pickup with right-handed reliever Andrew Politi. I’m told that Boston considered calling him up late in the season.

Politi has averaged 11.1 strikeouts in four minor league seasons. His fastball touches 97 mph, though it’s more 93-95. He shows middle relief upside. He’s 26 years old, so we’re not talking about a kid who’s potentially overwhelmed by his environment.

“We like the pitch mix,” said director of pro scouting Mike Snyder. “We like the upper-level performance. He blew through Double-A and then dominated Triple-A. He has a big league-ready arm. He has a power slider, a fastball with some hair on it. It’s tough for hitters to square up. And a curveball that can be very difficult, as well. He’s got deception, improved his strike-throwing ability.

“He’s undergone some positive changes over the years, and we’re optimistic that in camp we’ll give him a shot to make the team.”

It’s easier to introduce a reliever to the majors, which sounds nicer than saying “stash.” If he’s on the roster, and expansion to 26 players is helpful, he’ll need to contribute as the Orioles attempt to make a run at the postseason.

I’m sure the Orioles want to get their pitching program hands on him.

This is the usual low-risk acquisition. Pay $100,000 or offer him back for $50,000. Keep him for the entire season, with at least 90 days on the active roster, or move on from him like they’ve done with so many other selections.

The Orioles would need to make room for him in their bullpen, which becomes more congested if starter candidates drop into it. That scenario was mentioned by manager Brandon Hyde this week.

Hyde didn’t provide examples, but we can guess Austin Voth qualifies. Tyler Wells seems more likely to stay in the rotation, but we can’t completely dismiss the possibility that he reverts to relief duty under certain circumstances. And DL Hall will be built up as a starter in camp, but it’s conceivable that he continues his major league education in the ‘pen, where he finished strong this year.

The Orioles chose left-hander Trey McGough from the Pirates organization in the Triple-A phase. McGough, who pitched at Mount St. Mary’s, underwent Tommy John surgery in June, which explains the eight appearances.

Right-hander Alfred Vega, 21, was selected from the Yankees system. His fastball is clocked at 97-98 mph. He’s an intriguing prospect from the Florida Complex League.   

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