The message was much the same Thursday as it was last month at the winter meetings in Nashville, Tennessee, and the month before at the general managers meetings, and the month before when a 101-win Orioles season ended in swift fashion.

Baltimore is looking for an additional starting pitcher.

That’s not a news flash. It doesn’t require a chyron blaring across the television screen in bold lettering. The Orioles began their search for a starting pitcher in early fall, and it has continued into the heart of winter without materializing in a splashy free agent acquisition or a blockbuster trade.

With a little more than two weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota, Florida, for spring training, Baltimore has stayed the course in many ways. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias said Thursday on the first day of Birdland Caravan events that the Orioles have spoken with all 29 other teams about potential trades.

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And yet, in an offseason that has taken time to thaw since the holidays, they haven’t lined up a deal yet.

What is clear, however, is that the Orioles see the trade market as their most likely avenue to adding a starting pitcher who could slot into a key rotation role. With that understanding come two other considerations: Baltimore is not in a position — be it by choice or by force — to sign a high-priced free agent, and with the top farm system in baseball, the asking price around the league for a trade is high. Potentially too high, at this point.

So, as spring training approaches, the Orioles remain in a similar position to the one they inhabited earlier this offseason. The search goes on, and that search largely revolves around potential trade candidates.

“I don’t think there’s any bones about it. We’re better equipped to bring in impact starting pitching via the trade route, so we’ve been exploring that pretty heavily,” Elias said. “There’s some really big signings of starting pitchers that have happened, and they have, by and large, gone to really large-market teams in really large cities. And it’s just a reality of baseball. It doesn’t mean we’re not talking to those people or checking on them, but I think we have an advantage with the trade firepower that we have.”

The Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox — some of baseball’s traditional big spenders — have loaded up with Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Sonny, Gray, Aaron Nola and Lucas Giolito. Those teams have payrolls projected near or above $200 million, according to FanGraphs. Baltimore’s projected payroll sits at $81 million, 28th in the majors.

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Eduardo Rodriguez, thought to be more in Baltimore’s price range, signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks on a four-year, $80 million deal. And, while Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery remain on the market, both will command high-value contracts.

Meanwhile, the trade market has been relatively quiet. The two major trades that have involved starting pitchers both came from the American League East, and, as Elias noted, Baltimore’s division rivals have less incentive to cooperate with a direct competitor.

The Red Sox traded left-hander Chris Sale to the Atlanta Braves, and the Tampa Bay Rays traded right-hander Tyler Glasnow to the Dodgers. The latter pitcher might have been the rotation-elevating arm Baltimore is searching for; instead, he is part of a growing stable of starters in Los Angeles.

“We’ve got good options, but, like I said, there’s always room for more pitchers,” Elias said. “Every team is looking for more pitchers. The Dodgers keep signing pitchers. So it’s just something that everybody is on the prowl for, which just makes it tough. But we’re no exception to that, and we’ll take more if we can get the right guys in the right deals.”

Asked whether there’s less pressure for the Orioles to overspend on a pitcher considering how successful 2023 was and how the vast majority of the team is returning, Elias demurred. “There’s a lot of pressure all the time,” he said, but the general manager acknowledged there is a level of comfort with the group already assembled in Baltimore.

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Kyle Bradish enjoyed a breakout season that resulted in Cy Young Award consideration. Grayson Rodriguez posted one of baseball’s best ERAs in the second half of the year. DL Hall could slot into the bullpen, but his electric arm is intriguing. Dean Kremer, Tyler Wells, a healthy John Means, all of them showed their high-end promise, underscoring a belief that the Orioles don’t necessarily need to make a trade or signing to compete once more.

“I think all those guys in that rotation can easily take a step forward,” said Means, who is full go after recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. “I think that there were some games last year that they did really well, and some streaks that you’re like, ‘Wow, this could be one of the best pitchers in the league.’ I think all four of those other guys had moments like that. And, when you get more experience, it’s just about being more consistent.”

Still, Elias knows one injury or hiccup can change the outlook of a pitching staff. It happened to the bullpen last year, when an elbow injury forced closer Félix Bautista into Tommy John surgery. After a superb first half, Wells lost momentum, was optioned to the minors, then returned late as a reliever.

That reinforces the idea that Baltimore could use another starter. With their farm system, the Orioles could swing a deal for just about any player. But Elias has certain no-trade prospects, such as Jackson Holliday, and he must balance the temptation to put blinders on in order to win in 2024.

“You can look back and teams make aggressive trades, and it can really set the franchise back if the guy shows up and he gets hurt, or if you trade guys and you miss out on their long careers,” Elias said. “There’s been examples with the Orioles where that’s happened. We’re aggressive. We’re in a win mode. We want to make the team better. We’re looking for these things. But it would be very irresponsible for me to not measure the cost of anything that we’re doing, and we’ve got a lot of really talented young players with really bright futures, and we’re excited about them, too.”

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So here the Orioles are, pushing for starting pitching as spring training approaches.

There’s still time. They’re “probably being as aggressive as any team out there,” Elias said. But, for the moment, the winter is passing without a major splash.

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville.

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