SAN DIEGO — During Mike Elias’ four-plus years leading the Orioles’ baseball operations department, he has never traded for an established major leaguer, only traded Baltimore’s away.
But a trade seeing a major leaguer head back to Baltimore in return for a current Orioles player would present a challenge at this late stage of their rebuilding process, the team’s executive vice president and general manager acknowledged Tuesday at the winter meetings. With Baltimore’s front office working to maximize the team’s immediate playoff odds for the first time during Elias’ tenure, he said it would be difficult to simultaneously hurt and boost those chances by trading any of Baltimore’s major leaguers for another club’s, even if it meant achieving the Orioles’ top desire of improving their rotation.
“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 of our major league team, it kind of bites into that. But we’ve definitely entertained those types of discussions when it comes to importing starting pitchers.”
There is a large gap between entertaining and executing such a possibility, and Elias noted Monday the difficulty in two sides coming to an agreement on the evenness of a suggested deal. The Orioles undoubtedly have major league players who would be of interest to other organizations. Outfielder Anthony Santander has been floated in rumors for several years and for now stands to be the Orioles’ highest-paid position player in his third of four years of arbitration, coming off a season in which he led all switch-hitters in home runs. Asked by MLB Network at last month’s GM meetings about the possibility of trading Santander, Elias said the Orioles “see no real strategy in moving him.”
“But obviously, we do our jobs and we listen to people,” he said.
The Orioles also have a collection of intriguing relievers, with Dillon Tate the only one in the group who has reached arbitration. Center fielder Cedric Mullins would draw significant interest if made available, but Baltimore would much prefer to build around him.
Elias’ use of “liftoff” after he traded away first baseman Trey Mancini and closer Jorge López at last year’s trade deadline became tangled with him saying Baltimore would try to make significant additions and increase payroll this offseason, perhaps setting external sights higher than he intended. But he largely meant that the club’s moves going forward would improve its major league outlook and not take away from that.
In that sense, it’s far more likely that any trade the Orioles make sees them pull from their top-ranked farm system. With the starting pitching market continually proving to be pricey, Baltimore might better serve its internal payroll desires by trading from its deep stock of prospects for a controllable starter. Elias said Monday “a major league acquisition via trade is a wide-open possibility.”
“We have the farm system to do it,” Elias said. “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. Just whether or not we’re gonna want to meet the acquisition cost of some of these players versus the alternatives in free agency, so we’re going to be simultaneously looking at free-agent and trading pursuits when it comes to the rotation.”