NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The cluttered hotel suite of Monday and Tuesday was sparse by Wednesday. The table, where members of the Orioles’ front office stood and analyzed the free agent and trade market early this week, was bare. Mike Elias’ bags were packed.
On Wednesday evening, as the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center wound to a close, the Orioles had gotten their first major piece of business done.
Baltimore signed right-hander Craig Kimbrel to a one-year deal with an option for 2025. At a guaranteed $13 million, it’s the largest contract Elias has sealed since he became the Orioles’ general manager in 2018. At a winter meetings that otherwise waited for Shohei Ohtani to make an anticipated decision, Baltimore emerged as the big spenders — a title that didn’t last long.
“We’re the winners here of the biggest free agent contract so far,” Elias said with a smile, before the Arizona Diamondbacks were reported to agree on a deal with left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. “I hope everyone had that on their bingo card.”
That’s only the start, though.
The Orioles checked off one of their two major winter priorities in signing Kimbrel, a nine-time All-Star charged with replacing Félix Bautista. But the Orioles are also focused on adding a rotation upgrade, and as they leave Nashville and head back to Baltimore, the rest of the winter’s to-do list comes into focus.
They’ve secured a closer. Now they’re going for a starter.
“I’m very pleased with the timing,” Elias said. “We don’t force this stuff while we’re here, but it’s nice to go home with one of our big wish-list items under the tree.”
Elias said Kimbrel’s agent was the first he reached out to when the offseason began, and when the financials of the deal were finalized Monday night, the two days at the winter meetings to turn his attention elsewhere were beneficial.
Many of the top available starters remain available, although ESPN reported Thursday night that Rodriguez and the Diamondbacks agreed to a four-year deal worth approximately $80 million. Still, right-hander Dylan Cease is a trade target, as well as several potential fits within the Seattle Mariners’ rotation. Baltimore could aim for left-hander Blake Snell, a Cy Young finalist who will command a large price on the open market.
“We were able to turn our attention to this vast starting pitching market of possibilities and chip away at that,” Elias said, adding that they’ve made progress on a deal, even if nothing is imminent.
“Progress in the sense of us gathering a lot of information here, making progress in talks,” Elias said. “Not that we’re closer to a deal, but that we have a more refined understanding of what the possibilities of the deal are right now, and just kind of moving the football down the field a couple yards at a time, which sounds pretty mundane but honestly it’s a lot of work in this business to do that.
“A lot of conversations — you’re checking with agents, you’re checking with teams, you’re going back and forth. It’s a big puzzle that you’re trying to put together, and the winter meetings help with that.”
Half of the puzzle is complete — or, at least, one of the two major pieces is in position.
Elias said he is open to additional bullpen depth, and there’s a chance he could seek a right-handed-hitting outfielder. But the two largest orders of business for the Orioles were a late-inning reliever and a starting pitcher. And, with much of the offseason still ahead, Baltimore laid a positive foundation.