Next week, the movers and shakers of MLB will convene in Nashville, Tennessee, for the apex of the offseason.

Whether the Orioles are among the teams that make a splash remains to be seen, but this year’s meetings will see Baltimore in a vastly different spot than in previous years of executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias’ tenure. His first few offseasons were spent as the leader of one of baseball’s worst teams, and while the Orioles were buyers this time last year, the upcoming meetings will bring more pressure for the club to upgrade its roster after a 101-win season that ended with a thud in the playoffs.

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Ahead of the winter meetings, Baltimore Sun beat reporters Nathan Ruiz and Jacob Calvin Meyer and editor Tim Schwartz give their thoughts about how the next week might progress.

Ruiz: Making headway on a significant starting pitching acquisition, whether it be through free agency or trades. Elias noted at last year’s winter meetings that he doesn’t view the event as one “where we feel pressure to do something.” It is, after all, four days amid a four-month offseason, and Orioles leadership doesn’t need to make a move while in Nashville. But progress toward adding a starter who slots at or near the top of the rotation — and not solely because he’s a veteran — will be welcome, and it can be built upon from there.

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Meyer: A front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher would be great, but the cost of said addition would likely be more than what the Orioles are willing to spend. This isn’t to say Baltimore shouldn’t participate in the starting pitching market, but the bullpen is perhaps a greater need. The Orioles will be without Félix Bautista — the recently named American League Reliever of the Year — for all of 2024, and the bullpen was a major area of concern down the stretch in 2023. Baltimore needs to shore up the back end of its relief corps and fortify its middle relief if the club wants to have anywhere near the same success in 2024.

Schwartz: An ace. Sure, Kyle Bradish and Grayson Rodriguez could be the answer, but the rest of the league will take the Orioles seriously as a World Series contender if they get a true No. 1 starter. It won’t be easy to get one, but no team has more capital than the Orioles. It’s time they realize that, push some chips in and go for it.

Ruiz: At this event last year, Elias described the Orioles as having “the capital to trade for basically anyone who’s on the market.” They’ve parted with a handful of mid-tier prospects since then, but that sentiment largely remains true. Of course, Elias was adamant both then and in advance of the trade deadline that the team won’t burn through its system just for the sake of making a splash. If the Orioles wanted to make a big trade, they certainly could, but them actually doing so seems unlikely, given how they’ve generally operated.

Meyer: How aggressive should Elias be in pursuing trades? Very. How aggressive should he be to make a trade? Not too much. Yes, the Orioles have a prospect stockpile that is perhaps the best in the sport. Yes, in theory, some of those players are locked. But a look at Baltimore’s top prospects shows players that — for the most part — would be more valuable remaining with the Orioles than being included in a trade. The Orioles should be pursuing significant upgrades via the trade market and make one if it’s reasonable, but they shouldn’t pay a premium simply because they have the prospects to supply.

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Schwartz: Is there an answer that’s more clear than very? As mentioned, the Orioles have the resources to trade for just about any player in baseball. It costs a lot to get a lot, but that’s the business. The Orioles have shown an ability to draft talented players beyond the No. 1 pick (see: Gunnar Henderson), so in theory they should continue to hit more often than not in the draft and replenish their stockpile of prospects. At some point sooner rather than later, their 40-man roster is going to be difficult to manage unless they start moving some of these prospects.

Right-hander Marcus Stroman could be an option as a starting pitching upgrade at a cost the Orioles are willing to pay.

Ruiz: There is a wide gap between “should” and “will.” Given the Orioles ended each of the past five seasons with one of the majors’ three lowest payrolls, per Spotrac, one would think they have plenty of financial flexibility, the likes of which could allow them to target top free agents. But Orioles CEO and Chairman John Angelos also told The New York Times the organization would be “financially underwater” if it gave out too many nine-figure contracts, though he has a history of not telling the full truth. Regardless, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a 25-year-old right-handed sensation out of Japan, is seemingly an ideal fit — except for, well, the expected price tag.

Meyer: Shohei Ohtani? (pauses for laughs). OK, but actually, right-hander Jordan Hicks would provide the type of back-end bullpen support the Orioles need while not having to break the bank like they would to get left-hander Josh Hader. Hicks is coming off the best season of his career, posting a 3.29 ERA and 28.4% strikeout rate with the St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays. Right-hander Marcus Stroman could also be an option as a starting pitching upgrade at a cost the Orioles are willing to pay. Stroman was an All-Star in 2023 and boasts a 3.38 ERA since 2019.

Schwartz: Stroman is a good choice if they’re looking for a free agent to fill their void in the starting rotation, but I don’t suspect they will get their No. 1 guy from free agency. So my vote is Hader. The Old Mill graduate still has elite stuff and would be an ideal fit, especially in 2024 without Bautista, and his being on the roster would allow Bautista to ease back into the closer role in 2025. But imagine seeing Hader in the eighth and Bautista in the ninth in 2025. That would be scary.

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Ruiz: I guess I dived into this subject a question early. The likelihood they add a starter and reliever this offseason at minimum paired with the arbitration raises coming down the pipe means the Orioles’ 2024 payroll figures to be higher than the 2023 version. Whether that qualifies as, ahem, “liftoff” largely depends on who those pitchers are. But the Orioles just won 101 games and the AL East after an offseason in which their top free agent additions were Kyle Gibson and Adam Frazier. If they do decide to spend big, they might be better served doing so internally, but that also shouldn’t stop them from making a significant addition.

Meyer: No.

Schwartz: It’s difficult to imagine Angelos ever spending big money. I’ll be surprised the day their payroll exceeds $100 million — assuming that ever happens. So, no.

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