Across the major league landscape, free agent deals have moved quickly. But in Baltimore, the Orioles have stood still and watched as many of the top starting pitchers in the game signed with rivals — on deals both long and short.

The initial source of hesitation for executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was that he did not want to saddle a young squad with a heavy contract that would reduce roster flexibility in future years. There’s sense to that, particularly when attempting to sign their young stars to long-term deals as free agency approaches for them.

And on a segment with SiriusXM at the winter meetings last week, Elias said “the first year of it is likely to be the best year” of a long-term pitching contract, “so we’ve got to think about that.”

But after the first tier of starters found new teams, the second tier followed rapidly — with many of them signing the sort of two-year deals with which Baltimore could be more comfortable. On Tuesday, right-hander Ross Stripling signed a two-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. The Giants also signed left-hander Sean Manaea to a two-year contract, and the Toronto Blue Jays nabbed right-hander Chris Bassitt for three years on Monday.

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And on Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers secured right-hander Noah Syndergaard on a one-year deal.

With each development, the options become thinner.

The Orioles are committed to talking to most of the position players and pitchers on the market as part of their due diligence this offseason, a source with direct knowledge of the organization’s thinking told The Baltimore Banner. This deliberate approach — rather than targeting specific players — suggests they might not be enamored with this free agent class and could be more likely to seek out a trade.

If they do end up signing a pitcher, though, here are the best of the rest.

A trio of veterans

It’s not who many thought the Orioles might target this offseason, but with left-hander Carlos Rodón the last marquee starter still on the market — and with Baltimore presumably out of the running, considering his aim at securing a long-term contract — the Orioles might have to turn to their sights at lower targets.

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That brings the possibility of a trio of veterans: right-handers Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke.

At 37 or older, the grouping has ample experience. But they have still found results, and they’d presumably be available on a one-year deal. Greinke, for instance, managed a 3.68 ERA in his 19th season in the major leagues, pitching for the Kansas City Royals in 2022. Cueto gave the Chicago White Sox 158 1/3 innings last season and did so with a 3.35 ERA. And Kluber, a two-time Cy Young award winner, threw his most innings (164) since 2018, posting a 4.34 ERA in the process.

As Elias hopes to avoid bulky contracts that could cut into the team’s growth in future years, a look at Greinke, Kluber and Cueto makes more sense. Plus, they all produced a wins above replacement (WAR) value above 1.9, trailing only Rodón in that territory.

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Michael Wacha

Right-hander Michael Wacha isn’t far off Syndergaard, with a 1.5 WAR last season. He also comes with two seasons of experience competing in the American League East, first with the Tampa Bay Rays and last season with the Boston Red Sox.

Another former All-Star, Wacha’s career trajectory has involved three teams in three years since departing the St. Louis Cardinals, and he could be on his way to a fourth team this offseason. Wacha rebounded well last season, pitching to a 3.32 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP in 127 1/3 innings — down from three straight seasons with an ERA at 4.76 or higher.

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The 31-year-old has evolved over the years, too, but his changeup has still been a dominant offering. That fits well with the Orioles and pitching coach Chris Holt, who especially values changeups in a pitcher’s repertoire.

Drew Smyly

With left-hander John Means expected to remain sidelined until midway through next season, the Orioles’ rotation could be without a southpaw, particularly if DL Hall slots into a multi-inning relief role instead.

Left-hander Drew Smyly — and in a similar vein, Wade Miley — could fix that issue on a short-term deal. Smyly recorded a 3.47 ERA with the Chicago Cubs last season in 106 1/3 innings; Miley, meanwhile, had an injury-shortened season with the Cubs, managing 37 innings.

Smyly is the more intriguing option, with a 1.3 WAR and just 2.2 walks allowed per nine innings.

Nathan Eovaldi

At the winter meetings last week, Elias said a free agent receiving a qualifying offer doesn’t necessarily rule Baltimore out of the running to sign him. But the prospect of losing a draft pick in compensation would be a deterrent, even if Elias doesn’t publicly admit it.

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In the case of right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, the Orioles would owe the Red Sox a pick after the completion of the fourth round of the MLB draft. And as the Orioles have built the backbone of their organization through the draft, that is a disincentive when there are other options out there.

Still, Eovaldi — who has been linked to the Yankees — is one of the few remaining pitchers on the market who could conceivably be slotted into the top end of the Orioles’ rotation. The 32-year-old is a season removed from a 2021 All-Star appearance, and while he made 12 fewer starts in 2022 than 2021, Eovaldi still held a 3.87 ERA in those appearances for the Red Sox.

Eovaldi has an above-average four-seam fastball as part of a five-pitch mix, and he walked just 4.3% of the hitters he faced last season. He’d give Baltimore’s rotation a veteran presence with a different makeup than right-hander Kyle Gibson, who signed last week.

Jordan Lyles

The signing of Gibson seemed to spell the end of right-hander Jordan Lyles’ time in Baltimore, but there’s still potential for a reunion, even after the Orioles declined Lyles’ $11 million team option. Should the Orioles miss out on a few more free agent starters, a known commodity such as Lyles would be a solid fallback plan.

Lyles threw to a 4.42 ERA and served as a clubhouse leader. He’s close friends with Gibson and helped convince Gibson that Baltimore was a strong setup to join. Perhaps before the offseason is over, the two friends will find themselves in the same rotation.

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com