Elias: 'There's always room for more' in Orioles' rotation

January 25th, 2024

BALTIMORE -- As the anticipation for Spring Training heats up, the Orioles’ pursuit of a starting pitcher hasn’t cooled off.

Before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Fla., on Feb. 14, Baltimore would like to acquire a proven starter to add to its rotation mix. General manager Mike Elias reiterated the objective on Thursday afternoon, when he met with the local media during the first day of the Orioles’ annual Birdland Caravan events.

“We’ve got a rotation right now with five, six, even more really accomplished guys that had good seasons last year, but there’s room for more if we can find it,” Elias said. “We’ve got to find the right deal, the right fit, the right trade, the right signing, the right investment. This isn’t something that we want to address in a vacuum. That’s an operating model that has gotten us to this point, and we’ll continue to apply it and look for moves that we like.”

It remains more likely that Baltimore would swing a trade to land a starter rather than dip into the pool of available free agents, and Elias has indicated as much multiple times. But the trade market has been fairly slow during an offseason that is still continuing to develop.

The major trades that have featured starters include Chris Sale being dealt from the Red Sox to the Braves and Tyler Glasnow moving from the Rays to the Dodgers. The Orioles likely would have struggled to convince their American League East counterparts to send either player their way, nor would they have wanted to help replenish a division rival’s farm system.

Most of the pitchers who have been heavily featured in trade rumors -- White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, Guardians righty Shane Bieber, Brewers righty Corbin Burnes and others -- have stayed put.

“There just really hasn’t been anyone that we’ve been in on that’s been traded,” Elias said. “We’re certainly turning over every rock in that market, and just things haven’t happened yet around the league, and maybe they won’t. But it doesn’t mean we’re not going to keep talking to people.”

How much is Baltimore willing to give up in a trade? That’s where discussions could possibly stall. Jackson Holliday (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect) is untouchable, and there are a lot of other highly regarded youngsters coming through the farm system (most of them position players) the club could want to retain.

“We’re in a win mode. We want to make the team better,” Elias said. “But it would be very irresponsible for me to not measure the cost of anything that we’re doing, and we’ve got a lot of really talented, young players with really bright futures, and we’re excited about them, too.”

Coming off a 101-61 season in which they captured their first AL East title since 2014, the Orioles have a strong rotation core in place. Kyle Bradish (the fourth-place finisher in AL Cy Young Award voting), Grayson Rodriguez, John Means and Dean Kremer should be locked in, while internal candidates for the fifth spot include Tyler Wells, DL Hall and Cole Irvin.

Baltimore finished with a 4.14 rotation ERA that ranked seventh in the AL, and the trio of Bradish, Rodriguez and Kremer should continue to improve as each gains more experience.

“The rotation is pretty solid,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot of confidence in the guys we have right now.”

Added Means: “All those guys in that rotation can easily take a step forward. There were some games last year that they did really well and some streaks that you were like, ‘Wow, this could be one of the best pitchers in the league.’”

However, the Orioles lost right-hander Kyle Gibson, who threw a team-high 192 innings last season before signing with the Cardinals this offseason. And Baltimore’s need for a frontline starter was evident during the AL Division Series, when it was swept in three games by Texas.

It can never hurt to add arms to a Spring Training competition for rotation spots, either.

“We’ve got good options, but like I said, there’s always room for more pitchers,” Elias said. “Every team is looking for more pitchers. The Dodgers keep signing pitchers. It’s just something that everybody is on the prowl for, which makes it tough, but we’re no exception to that. We’ll take more if we can get the right guys in the right deals. ...

“We’re working on it. We’re probably being as aggressive as any team out there.”