The Orioles have the cash and the prospects to improve. So why aren’t they?

The Orioles look like they might “we tried” their way through another offseason.

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The Orioles appear to be close to signing free agent reliever Craig Kimbrel to help out a bullpen that’s missing the injured Felix Bautista, who is out for the 2024 season following Tommy John surgery this year. That’s good, that they’re being proactive. The Orioles’ problem hasn’t been that they make no moves, though: it’s that they aren’t making enough of them. And the non-Kimbrel parts of this offseason so far are a good reminder that this issue remains.

On November 29, Jon Meoli, writing for the Baltimore Banner, discussed that the pitchers who could help the Orioles’ rotation were already coming off the board, and once they were gone, that was going to be that. Options still remain and all, but the Orioles haven’t exactly shown a willingness to go out and get them if it’s going to cost money — recall that Kyle Gibson was thought to be maybe just the start of something last winter, especially when the Orioles went after him so quickly, but that didn’t turn out to be the case at all.

Which wouldn’t be a problem in and of itself, but the team also lacks the desire to move their non-financial assets in deals to improve the club, too. Can there be any meaningful help via trade for an organization that is on the record as believing that staying the course and prospect hoarding is more important than shoring up for a postseason run? Mike Elias, the O’s general manager, said that they didn’t want to “set the minors on fire” with a trade deadline deal this past season, which was a silly thing to say at the time and only sillier after their quick exit in October that came in no small part due to the lack of upgrading the roster for that moment.

Certain members of the rotation, like the young Grayson Rodriguez, could improve in 2024, sure, but they need the kind of starter who can help them in October, not just the kinds that can get them through the season with the bullpen doing so much of the heavy lifting otherwise. They need to go out and get them, whether with cash or through trade, but the organization seems unwilling to do either.

Why all the urgency, for a squad that just won 100 games and the American League East, and has such a promising, talented young core at their disposal? Because even that is finite, and Elias, once again, is the reason we know that to be the case. Via Baltimore Banner’s Andy Kostka, here’s what the GM recently said about extensions for the young talents like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson:

“This is something we quietly work on in the background, and I hope if we find good deals — we certainly have good players — I hope if we find the right deals, which is not easy to do, then we’re able to add some of those to the list from the Orioles.”

Couch a little more there, will you? What are “the right deals,” you ask? Ones that heavily favor the Orioles, of course. Though you already knew that if you remember what team owner John Angelos was on about earlier in 2023 with regards to the future of the team and its core, when he claimed that the profitable Orioles simply can’t compete with the teams that are spending out there. An unwillingness to spend is not the same thing as not being able to spend, but owners like Angelos pretend they’re the same. Which is how promising players under team control become stars on someone else’s team through free agency.

Which all means that this window will not be open forever, and the Orioles, as constituted, don’t seem to mind all that much. If someone falls into their lap, they’ll sign them. If a player agrees to sign a below-market extension, then the team will have it ready. They don’t seem to want to take any financial risks, and they don’t want to trade prospects to fill the holes they need filled in order to avoid leveraging free agency, so what’s the plan then? Mostly, to hope that what they already have will be enough. It’s not the best plan, but it could still work, of course, given the considerable talent the organization has compiled under Elias. The chances are at least as good, though, that this talented core will not deliver on its promise through no fault of its own, and then the window will be shut, as it was for the Pirates after their flirtation with relevancy from a decade ago. Or, we’ll simply do the whole thing over again with the next core of players that don’t get locked up and don’t get the help they need, like so many Rays teams before them.

Neither is an ideal result if you’re a fan, but if the team is competitive and not costly, then it’s exactly what Angelos and Elias want. Spending more to win it all simply isn’t worth it to this bunch, and the proof is in their actions, or lack thereof.

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