NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Mike Elias smiled. The throngs around other general managers within the ballroom at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center exhibited the largest storyline hanging over the baseball world at this year’s winter meetings.

Hidden by the mass of cameras and reporters stood Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and Los Angeles Dodgers headman Brandon Gomes, buffeted by questions they couldn’t answer in a public setting about the sport’s top free agent, Shohei Ohtani.

There was a smaller group around Elias, the Orioles’ general manager. His team is coming off a 101-win season, in which Baltimore secured its first American League East championship since 2014, and with the vast majority of the roster set to return, the Ohtani sweepstakes hasn’t swept into Baltimore.

“Seems like there are executives disappearing left and right,” Elias joked, referencing Atkins’ reported trip to Dunedin, Florida, to host Ohtani. “So maybe if you see me do that, you can draw some conclusions, but I’ll leave it at that.”

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No, the Orioles aren’t signing Ohtani.

And to the Orioles, that’s just fine.

The front office is continuing to peruse the market for a starting pitcher and reliever, and they could look for an experienced outfielder to add to the mix. But there’s less pressure to engage in a deal during the winter meetings because of the players already in Baltimore, which meant Elias had a smaller gaggle of reporters compared to the crowds surrounding the executives potentially courting Ohtani.

And as the attention follows the two-way Japanese star, the rest of baseball seems to wait for that one move to uncork the rest.

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“It would probably be the best theory I can have for why this seems to be a slower-developing winter meetings,” Elias said. “When you’ve got a — generational is probably not the right word; it’s like a century, Babe Ruth talent, pretty big deal. There are some really big teams that seem to be focused almost entirely on him right now, and that’s by nature going to clog things up.”

The major dominoes haven’t begun to fall in Nashville. Right-hander Aaron Nola signed a seven-year, $172 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies last month, and right-hander Sonny Gray latched onto the St. Louis Cardinals, but the starting pitching market — including free agents and trade candidates — has yet to take off. The same goes for the relief market.

That leaves ample options out there for the Orioles, including right-hander Dylan Cease, left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and left-hander Josh Hader.

But if none of them come through? If spring training opens and the Orioles hold roughly the same roster they do now?

“I think we’re really talented,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “I think our guys are going to continue to get better. I think we have two young starters that — they’re only going to get better, with Kyle [Bradish] and Grayson [Rodriguez]. Dean [Kremer] really established himself as a really good major league starter last year. Tyler Wells was arguably our best starter in the first half last year and he was lights-out in the bullpen for us late in the year. So I’m excited about the talent we have on the mound, and we’re really athletic position-player-wise. If we started tomorrow with what we have right now, I’d be more than happy with it.”

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Hyde isn’t yet over the three-game sweep to the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series that ended Baltimore’s season. He might never be. Hyde, though, sees that disappointment as instructional for his group of players, a first taste of postseason baseball that could prepare them for further experiences.

He sees a second full season for Rodriguez and AL Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson as pathways to further success. Catcher Adley Rutschman will continue his growth in his third season, and a young core all around him — if Baltimore’s internal projections are to be trusted — should build on their 2023 season. And there’s a group of highly rated prospects in Triple-A, knocking on the door to help the big league club.

“We won the division last year. Ninety percent of the team is back,” Elias said. “It would not be ideal, I think, for us to be totally dormant all winter, but we’re going to do our best to avoid that. But we’re viewing this as a winter to augment this group and reinforce it and supplement it, and not reinvent it or supplant this group. So that’s a great starting point.”

There isn’t a long wish list this winter, then, for Elias. He’d like to sign or trade for additional arms, citing one rotation upgrade and a back-end reliever as his major focuses.

But with many spots on the lineup card filled, Elias can plot and plan, knowing the AL East is always reloading with stars and the Orioles will need to improve, too. And he can wait for Ohtani’s decision, just like 29 other teams are doing.

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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