Elias angling for a SP deal, if the price is right

January 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jake Rill’s Orioles Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BALTIMORE -- This offseason, the Orioles have added two players to their 40-man roster, which presently sits at 38. Only one of those acquisitions is a lock to make the team in Spring Training.

On the final day of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 6, Baltimore signed right-hander to serve as its fill-in closer for 2024. Twelve days later, the O’s acquired righty Jonathan Heasley in a trade with the Royals, a move to add pitching depth to the system.

Although it’s been more than a month since the Orioles have added to their 40-man roster, it doesn’t mean that general manager Mike Elias hasn’t been attempting to do so.

“I’m sure he’s trying -- I know he’s trying,” manager Brandon Hyde said at the opening ceremony for the Orioles Dominican Academy earlier this week. “I’m sure there will be some names popping in at some point, but I can’t give you any information today if there’s anything happening. But I know Mike is making all the effort to try to improve our roster.”

Baltimore remains in the market for a starting pitcher -- ideally one who slots closer to the top of the team’s rotation than the bottom. Elias first stated his desire to bring in a solid starter at the GM Meetings in November, then reiterated it the following month at the Winter Meetings.

The free-agent pool has thinned a bit, but plenty of big league-caliber starting pitchers remain unsigned. Others could be available by trade and are featured in rumors almost daily. The Orioles still have time to land a starter before departing for Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla., where pitchers and catchers will report on Feb. 14.

For much of the winter, Baltimore has been linked to White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease. The 28-year-old was the runner-up in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2022 and could provide an upgrade to the Orioles’ rotation. Chicago wants prospects, and the O’s have a deep farm system filled with youngsters to use as trade chips.

It seems like a perfect match, but it’s not always easy for two sides to work out a trade. In this instance, the cost required to acquire Cease may be too high.

“The White Sox are not budging on price, and teams don’t seem to have interest in paying that price,” a National League executive told MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand earlier this week.

The Orioles won’t be moving Jackson Holliday -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 overall prospect is untouchable in the organization’s eyes. Samuel Basallo, the club’s No. 5 prospect, may be reaching that level as well, considering he’s only 19 and a rising star in the system.

According to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Baltimore doesn’t want to part with Jordan Westburg, the 24-year-old infielder who was solid during his 68-game stint as a rookie in 2023. There are surely other young players the Orioles want to keep, even if it seems like there may not be room for all of them in the future.

“This perception that we have too many prospects and we need to get rid of some of them -- that doesn’t register with me,” Elias said at the Winter Meetings. “We want to have a very talented organization. We need to make good trades. We don’t need to jettison players. So, that’s what we’re focused on doing.”

Elias also understands he can’t trade for a noteworthy player without losing prospects.

“You’ve got to give something to get something,” Elias said then.

If no trade materializes, it’s still possible the Orioles could accomplish their goal of acquiring another starter via free agency. Heyman reported the market for the second tier of free-agent starting pitchers should soon “heat up,” naming Baltimore as a team that could be involved.

Among the top remaining starters in free agency are Jordan Montgomery, Michael Lorenzen, James Paxton, Hyun Jin Ryu and others. There’s also reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell, although it’s unlikely the Orioles would pay the amount needed to sign the lefty.

At this point, Baltimore’s rotation for the upcoming season would likely look something like this: Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez, John Means, Dean Kremer and one of Tyler Wells, DL Hall or Cole Irvin. But the O’s lost depth with the departure of veteran righty Kyle Gibson, who threw a team-high 192 innings last year and signed with the Cardinals earlier this offseason.

The Orioles could use another starter, and there’s ample time for them to get one, especially because they can continue their search after Spring Training begins, if necessary. Until then, Elias will keep trying to make a move happen.