Here's how the O's can use Winter Meetings to supplement roster

November 29th, 2023

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

BALTIMORE -- The Orioles have made it known that they’re targeting pitching help this offseason. They plan on adding a starter, ideally one who can occupy a top-three rotation spot, and a back-end reliever, preferably one with closing experience who can help offset the loss of Félix Bautista (out for 2024 following Tommy John surgery).

Here’s the pressing question, though: How will Baltimore acquire these types of pitchers?

That will be the hot topic surrounding the Orioles at this year’s Winter Meetings, which begin on Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. The event serves as an opportune time for Baltimore and MLB's 29 other clubs to lay the groundwork for offseason moves as executives, agents and other personnel will converge at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center for four days.

Since the Orioles hired Mike Elias as general manager in November 2018, the club hasn't been a major player during the Hot Stove season. They haven’t signed any free agent to a multiyear contract, nor have they swung any blockbuster offseason trades.

The O’s also haven’t been big spenders. During Elias’ tenure, only Kyle Gibson (who signed a one-year, $10 million deal during last year’s Winter Meetings) has had a salary of at least $10 million.

Times have changed in Baltimore, though. The rebuild is over. The Orioles are coming off a 101-win season in which they won the American League East and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2016. With a window of contention open, it’s possible they could now be more aggressive with their offseason moves.

“We’re now in a mode where we’re adding Major League players rather than subtracting them, so I continue to see all this growing,” Elias said at the GM Meetings in early November. “When it happens and how much is not something I’m going to box myself into. But I think we’re going to just see continual growth from the Orioles, and that’s going to include the Major League payroll.”

Perhaps Baltimore could sign a pitcher to a sizable multiyear deal this offseason. The starting-pitching market has slowly started to take shape in recent weeks. The Cardinals signed a trio of veteran right-handers -- Gibson (one year, $12 million), Sonny Gray (three years, $75 million) and Lance Lynn (one year, $10 million) -- while the Tigers recently inked righty Kenta Maeda to a two-year, $24 million deal.

It seems unlikely that the Orioles would commit to the type of contract that the Cardinals gave to Gray, who will average $25 million per year, with a $30 million club option for 2027. So Baltimore could get outbid if it pursues the likes of Josh Hader, Jordan Montgomery, Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and other top free-agent pitchers. The O’s also probably won’t hand out anything close to the seven-year, $172 million megadeal that right-hander Aaron Nola received from the Phillies, either.

If Baltimore is active in the free-agent pitching market, it is more likely to sign a starter below the top tier and a veteran closer on a one-year deal. Eduardo Rodriguez, Lucas Giolito, Michael Lorenzen and Marcus Stroman are among the available starters, while Craig Kimbrel, Hector Neris and David Robertson could be possible closer targets.

While the Orioles may not win any free-agent bidding wars, they could assemble an enticing trade package by leveraging the position-player talent in their stacked farm system. Completing a deal with another team could be their most likely avenue to acquiring a solid starter this offseason.

The Rays’ Tyler Glasnow, the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and the Guardians’ Shane Bieber have been featured in trade rumors, but each will be a free agent at the end of 2024. White Sox righty Dylan Cease could be a better fit for the O’s, as he is under team control through ‘25.

When Elias and the rest of the Orioles’ front office leave Nashville next week, they may still not have any new pitchers on their roster. However, the Winter Meetings will allow them to meet with agents and engage in trade talks with other clubs, moving them closer to completing their primary offseason objectives.