Advertisement
Baltimore Orioles

Orioles to approach free agency ‘very cognizant of who we are and where we are,’ GM Mike Elias says

The Orioles’ approach to this offseason will not be all that different from their previous ones under executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias, the man in charge of their rebuild indicated Thursday before the team’s final home game of the 2021 season.

In his season-ending news conference at Camden Yards, Elias said the Orioles will be open to signing a free-agent pitcher to a multi-year contract but won’t force that to be the case to strengthen a pitching staff that has largely led to the organization’s third season in the past four years with at least 107 losses. He also said it’s unlikely they will be among the teams making the biggest waves this offseason when asked specifically about the top-tier class of free-agent shortstops.

Advertisement

That group includes Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Javier Báez of the New York Mets and Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros; Elias is largely credited with Houston’s selection of Correa with the first pick of the 2012 draft.

“I can’t rule anything out,” Elias said, speaking broadly about the class. “But we’re going to be very cognizant of who we are and where we are, and I do think that the time for the Orioles of making the largest splash at the winter meetings is not right now.”

Advertisement

He then noted Camden Yards “has historically been a ballpark that some hitters like to come to on shorter-term deals.” Each of the past two winters, the Orioles have signed a free-agent shortstop to a contract with one guaranteed season after trading away their incumbent earlier in the offseason.

Under Elias, who took over the club’s baseball operations department in November 2018, Baltimore has never signed a free agent to a guaranteed contract of longer than one year. José Iglesias, their shortstop addition ahead of 2020, signed a one-year deal with an option for 2021 and was traded after it was exercised, creating an opening for Baltimore to sign Freddy Galvis for this year. A pending free agent, Galvis was the lone player on the major league roster Baltimore moved at this season’s trade deadline.

On the pitching side, the Orioles have signed four pitchers to major league contracts during Elias’ tenure: Nate Karns, Dan Straily, Kohl Stewart and Wade LeBlanc, who was initially signed to a minor league deal last offseason and was released before returning. Of the four, only Straily pitched more than seven innings for Baltimore while on his respective deal.

The Orioles have had the majors’ worst ERA in both of the 162-game seasons with Elias at the helm, with their 5.80 mark entering Thursday’s home finale ranking as the fifth-worst in the American League’s 120-year history. Many of the pitchers responsible are young or inexperienced, with a handful of those entering the year among Baltimore’s best-regarded pitching prospects. With the Orioles in an American League East division in which the other four teams could each win 90 games this year, Elias said their current stable of arms would not be enough to compete in 2022 and will need to be fortified in some manner.

“I think it would be very overly optimistic of us to assume that we have enough pitching to compete in our division, just by bringing back returning players,” Elias said. “This group, by and large, is still part of our future plans, and there’s a lot of talent here, and it’s not surprising when guys have struggles pitching in the American League East in their first year or two in the big leagues or when players have sophomore slumps in general. But we need to get more talented in a lot of areas and pitching’s certainly at the top of the list, so we’re going to be looking at external reinforcements for sure.”

Whether that’s in the vein of the type of the additions they made last offseason — signing veterans LeBlanc, Matt Harvey and Félix Hernández to minor league contracts — or something more impactful in the long term remains to be seen. Elias noted that the organization can point to its available roles as starters and leaders in encouraging free-agent pitchers to come to Baltimore.

“I think that if it’s the right player and the right fit and the right value, we will entertain that and hope to and look for it,” Elias said. “I think, very frankly, we may not be assured of getting something that we like, and I’m not gonna artificially force something like that, just to be able to say that we did that.

Baltimore Orioles Insider

Baltimore Orioles Insider

Weekly

Want to be an Orioles Insider? The Sun has you covered. Don't miss any Orioles news, notes and info all baseball season and beyond.

“They have a say in it, too, the players out there and just who happens to be in the market that year and who’s competing on whom and so on and so forth. But clearly, it sounds good.”

Advertisement

The Orioles this season used six pitchers who Baseball America ranked among their 20 best prospects entering this season. Beyond left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, none have an ERA in the majors lower than 6.60.

Brandon Hyde, who will return as Baltimore’s manager in 2022, said he believes part of the young pitching staff’s issues stem from last season, when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the minor league campaign and shortened the major league one while thrusting development to training camp sites where it was difficult to fully simulate game action.

“Our pitching definitely needs to improve,” Hyde said. “We’re really, really young on the mound with guys that lost a year last year, and so let’s see what they are like next year, and I’m sure [the front office will] bring in guys to compete. That’s one area where, for us to to make big strides, is definitely we need to be better on the mound.”

There are potential reinforcements already in the organization, with No. 3 prospect DL Hall, a left-hander taken in 2017′s first round, likely to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason and right-hander Grayson Rodriguez, baseball’s top pitching prospect who trails only catcher and top overall prospect Adley Rutschman in organizational rankings, expected to be part of major league spring training. Neither has pitched above Double-A, but “I don’t think that it’s 100% necessary to pitch in Triple-A,” Elias said.

Still, help will be needed beyond two promising prospects. Despite saying this offseason won’t be one where the Orioles hand out the league’s biggest contracts, Elias said team ownership will back such a move if one comes to fruition.

“I think that we will continue to have full financial support for executing our strategy of getting this team back to the playoffs in a realistic, viable, sustainable way,” he said. “To the degree that that comes in the form of kind of fortifying our roster with free-agent investments that we want, because they’re strategic, that will be there.”


Advertisement