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GM Mike Elias says Orioles still have time to make improvements after a quiet offseason so far

FILE - Baltimore Orioles general manager Mike Elias, center, responds to questions during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Dec. 5, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Elias is preaching patience during what has been another quiet offseason for Baltimore. (AP Photo/George Walker IV, File)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Orioles general manager Mike Elias is preaching patience during what's been another quiet offseason for Baltimore.

Spring training hasn't arrived just yet.

“It’s been kind of a later, slower offseason than normal," Elias said Thursday while meeting with reporters as the Orioles began their Birdland Caravan. "We’re working pretty furiously, but since we spoke at the winter meetings, just haven’t lined up on particular opportunities. But there’s still time for that.”

After a 101-win season, the Orioles entered the offseason with a small payroll and a great farm system, so in theory the defending AL East champions should have plenty of flexibility. But aside from signing veteran closer Craig Kimbrel, Baltimore hasn't done much. The everyday lineup may not need help, but the starting rotation and bullpen can always use an upgrade.

Of course, there's plenty of competition in that pursuit.

“I think the whole league, all 30 teams, have publicly stated that they’re looking for starting pitching. And it just speaks to the state of the sport and pitching, and the nature of it," Elias said. "A pitcher fits on every team.”

Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish emerged last season as consistently effective starters down the stretch for the Orioles, and Dean Kremer won 13 games. John Means returned from Tommy John surgery.

But with young stars like catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson already established in the big leagues — and top prospect Jackson Holliday on the way — there's some pressure to maximize the window of contention created by one of the most impressive farm systems in recent baseball history.

Henderson, Holliday and Jordan Westburg — who made his debut last year — are all infielders. So are Joey Ortiz, who hit .321 at Triple-A Norfolk last season, and Coby Mayo, who hit 29 home runs across two minor league levels in 2023.

“When I got here we were talking about how we didn’t have any infielders, and now we’ve got probably one of the better stockpiles in baseball, and we’re cognizant of that,” Elias said. "We don’t want to not use somebody who’s ready, but we’re putting the best team out on the field.”

That surplus could give the Orioles an advantage in pursuing a pitcher via trade, but Elias pointed out there haven't been many deals involving starters this offseason. Tampa Bay traded Tyler Glasnow to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Boston sent Chris Sale to Atlanta.

Tampa Bay and Boston are both in the AL East with the Orioles.

“The Rays and the Red Sox are not going to pick us to trade with if they have other options," Elias said.

There are still a few interesting free-agent starters available, including Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery.

“If you look last year, almost every single free agent was cleared about a week or two ago," Elias said. "This year there’s a lot left. So this seems to be a slower offseason.”

But pursuing top free-agent starters would require the type of financial commitment the Orioles haven't been willing to make in recent years. The comments from chairman John Angelos in the New York Times last year — when he said the team could be “financially underwater” if it gave out huge contracts — still raise questions about how the Orioles will be run over the next few seasons.

At some point, the Orioles will need to offer some significant money, or their dazzling array of young players might not be in Baltimore for the long haul.

As for the short-term question of what the team will look like in 2024, Baltimore has a strong base of talent — and still has time to improve before opening day.

“We're still working. This is a team that is in really good shape," Elias said. "We won 100 games last year, won a division, and 90, 95% of the team is back. This is a team that we're looking to upgrade and supplement and not reimagine.”

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