In the four-plus years that Mike Elias has run the Orioles’ baseball operations department, he has never traded for an established major leaguer, only traded for Baltimore.
But a trade in which a major leaguer returns to Baltimore for a current Orioles player would present a challenge this late in the 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 chances for the first time in Elias’ tenure, he said it would be difficult to simultaneously hurt and boost those chances by trading either of Baltimore’s major leaguers with those of another club, even if that would mean the achievement. the Orioles’ top desire to improve their rotation.
“We’ve brainstormed things with other teams where it’s a trade between major leaguers and major leaguers,” Elias said. “Obviously, nothing has happened yet, but we’re definitely open to it. I think it’s a little bit harder in our situation because our goal this year is to increase our chances of making the playoffs, and if we take guys off our team from the major leagues, it kind of bites into that. But we’ve certainly had those discussions when it comes to bringing in starting pitchers.”
There’s a big gap between entertaining and executing such a possibility, and Elias noted Monday the difficulty of two sides agreeing on the uniformity of a suggested deal. The Orioles undoubtedly have major league players that would be of interest to other organizations. Outfielder Anthony Santander has been rumored for several years and is now the Orioles’ highest-paid player in his third of four years of arbitration, coming off a season in which he led all home runs. Asked by MLB Network at last month’s GM meetings about the possibility of trading Santander, Elias said the Orioles “don’t see any real strategy in moving him.”
“But obviously, we’re doing our job and listening to people,” he said.
The Orioles also have a collection of intriguing relievers, with Dillon Tate being the only one of the group to reach arbitration. Center fielder Cedric Mullins would draw significant interest if he were available, but Baltimore would much rather build around him.
Elias’ use of “liftoff” after trading away first baseman Trey Mancini and closer Jorge López at last year’s trade deadline became fraught with him saying Baltimore would try to make significant additions and increase payroll this offseason, probably placing the external objectives higher than he intended. But he largely meant that the club’s moves going forward will improve his major league prospects, not eliminate that.
In that regard, it’s much more likely that any trade the Orioles make will see them shed their top farm system. With the starting pitching market continually proving to be expensive, Baltimore could better serve its internal salary cap desires by trading from its deep stockpile of prospects for a controllable starter. Elias said Monday that “a major league acquisition via trade is a wide open possibility.”
“We have the farm system to do that,” Elias said. “It doesn’t mean we want to lose those guys or give them away, but I think we have the capital to basically trade for whoever is on the market. It’s just whether or not we want to cover the acquisition cost of some of those players versus the alternatives in free agency, so we’ll be looking at both free agent and trade activity when it comes to the rotation.”