SAN DIEGO — Mike Elias, the executive vice president and general manager of the Orioles, uncinched Baltimore’s purse strings in a way he has never done before.

He spent $10 million. On one player.

In signing right-hander Kyle Gibson, Elias committed the most guaranteed money he has ever given to a free agent during his time in Baltimore. Yet as the rest of the league combined to commit more than $2 billion to free agents during the winter meetings, that signing was a ripple, even in the context of Elias’ low-spending tenure in Baltimore. And it came up far short of what fans had hoped for — based, in part, on what Elias had said his plan would be for this offseason.

Elias seems to sense that frustration, and has extolled his steadfast approach with reporters this week. He may have arrived hoping that there would be a front-end starter available — via free agency or trade — but he said Wednesday, as the winter meetings came to a close, that the Orioles aren’t any closer to signing another starting pitcher.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“It’s not something we’re just going to force and do all at once and have it encumber our roster because we went out and made some deals that don’t make sense for the next window,” Elias said. “But I do expect that our payroll is going to increase steadily from this point forward now that we feel that we have a competitive team and we feel like the internal talent is there to fuel a competitive team.”

All signs now point to that steady increase not involving major leaps this offseason. According to Cot’s Contracts, Baltimore’s projected opening day payroll is $53.5 million — still 29th in the majors despite a rise of about 20% compared to last season’s opening day squad.

There could be more free agent movement in the future, with spring training still two months away. But by not securing a long-term deal for a front-end starting pitcher at the winter meetings, the brakes have been pumped on an offseason many expected to include a sizable increase in spending and activity in the free agent market.

Sources at the winter meetings indicated that, while the Orioles contacted top free agent pitchers, they were unwilling to offer the longer contracts those players typically demand.

Elias has never signed a player for more than one guaranteed season, and even as Baltimore approaches the end of a rebuild and has entered a “win-now” mode, multiple sources tell The Baltimore Banner the Orioles are still more willing to seek short-term deals, lasting a year or two.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Orioles had met with right-hander Jameson Taillon last month, but he signed a four-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. A source said the Orioles didn’t make a major push on Taillon, aiming to attract a starting pitcher on a shorter-term deal.

Baltimore has expressed some level of interest in left-hander Carlos Rodón, the top remaining free agent starter on the market, a source said. But Rodón, turning 30 this month, is seeking a deal more in the range of six years. Another option, right-hander Chris Bassitt, could go for around four years, potentially dampening the Orioles’ pursuit.

“Some of the players at the very, very top of the market tend to command not only high salaries but also really long commitments to go with those salaries,” Elias said, although he noted the Orioles have offered some starting pitchers multi-year deals this winter.

“There’s a lot of guys out there still that we’re still engaged with, in some cases, with multi-year contracts that are free agent starters,” Elias said. “Look, we’ve seen the market out here. It’s been very fast, very competitive. A lot of people are looking for pitching. It’s something that all 29 other teams are looking for, and it’s made for some really robust deals so far for these guys, but there’s still some other people out there we’re targeting, and that’s not to speak of any trade possibilities.”

A starting rotation option who could be more amenable to a short-term deal is right-hander Noah Syndergaard, a source said. After a Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2020, Syndergaard threw two innings in 2021 and 134 2/3 innings between the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels in 2022, holding a 3.94 ERA.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

That puts Syndergaard in position for a prove-it deal, and he did meet with the Orioles via Zoom this offseason.

Elias has done his best to redirect expectations at the winter meetings. At the trade deadline, after parting ways with closer Jorge López and first baseman Trey Mancini, Elias announced it was “liftoff from here.” But liftoff, so far, has looked more akin to a stomp rocket than a NASA launch.

On Monday, Elias clarified that “liftoff,” to him, meant improved results on the field rather than rapidly expanding free agent spending. However, when Elias met with the media at the end of last season, he said “this is the time to start to make more significant investments in the major league payroll.”

Elias’ decision to avoid bulky long-term deals for position players makes sense. He doesn’t want to block the path for the myriad Orioles prospects coming through the pipeline; catcher Adley Rutschman and infielder Gunnar Henderson have arrived, but outfielder Kyle Stowers and infielders Joey Ortiz and Terrin Vavra are due for an increase in playing time next year.

It is less clear why Elias believes signing a solid front-of-the-rotation pitcher would detour from his plan. Beyond right-hander Grayson Rodriguez the starting options on the horizon for Baltimore are thin.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Left-hander DL Hall will likely be used as a multi-inning reliever entering spring training, manager Brandon Hyde said, with the opportunity to play his way into the rotation. But MLB Pipeline’s list of the Orioles’ Top 30 prospects includes just eight pitchers, with Rodriguez, Hall and right-hander Seth Johnson in the Top 10.

“You’ve got to play on the market so it’s competitive and you have to pay the going rate but line up with what we see as guys that are going to give us a boost,” Elias said. “And I think we have a lot of internal talent in the organization, especially in the position player side, to sort of plan forward. And we don’t want to run into a situation where we’re having to trade some of our core players away because we signed a guy to take their spot. It just doesn’t make much sense to us right now.”

Elias could see the free agent market for starting pitching at the winter meetings as being out of his ideal price range, and he hasn’t closed the door on trade possibilities to satisfy Baltimore’s need at a more reasonable value — even if that means parting ways with some of the organization’s prospects.

Many of the top free agent starting pitchers have been swooped up by other teams. Baltimore wasn’t in the mix for the top-tier free agents, but second-tier options, such as Taillon and right-hander Taijuan Walker, have signed.

It’s underwhelming in some ways. But then again, Elias has also emphasized that four days in December don’t mark the end of Baltimore’s offseason.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

So for the time being, the Orioles are maintaining a preference for short-term deals, preferring roster flexibility over a marquee addition that would signal a change of direction for the organization. That could still arrive; there’s plenty of time before Opening Day.

But to leave the winter meetings with nothing more than minor leaguers and Gibson proves that “liftoff” will be seen through the continued progression of prospects and on-field performance, not necessarily a major increase of the major league payroll.

“We’re still in a very hopeful part of what I think is going to be an upward curve here for the organization,” Elias said. “I feel great about where we’re at. But we want to be very careful and strategic about building on this group we have.”