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Trade may be the only way for the Orioles to get to their starting point. They have the flexibility to pull it off.

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Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias was clear at this month’s winter meetings that any off-season additions wouldn’t derail the long-term trajectory of the company’s growing prospects. Last week’s one-year deal with second baseman and outfielder Adam Frazier certainly aligns with that.

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But it also potentially enhances the possibility that the club will explore pulling out of that potential stock this winter to make trades, which are starting to look like the only way the Orioles can make a significant upgrade to their rotation this offseason.

In general manager meetings last month, Elias told reporters the team’s focus was to “bring a solid start to one of the top three positions, for example, in the rotation.” With the likes of Jacob deGrum, Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodon and Chris Bassett signed, the options to do so via free agency are becoming more limited. Elias somewhat mitigated that possibility in the winter meetings after the club signed veteran right fielder Kyle Gibson to serve as a spinning piece at the back end, saying he wanted another starting pitcher but adding “whether it be on opening day or in the top five in Somewhere., I don’t know yet.”

But with Frazier joining a starting rotation that includes Gunnar Henderson, Ramon Llorias and Jorge Mateo, the Orioles can have more flexibility to be aggressive in the starting pitching trade market. Additional major league depth would be appreciated, but perhaps Baltimore could explore moving Mateo or Uriahs. Frazier, as a left-handed hitter will see time at second base and possibly points out, most likely He takes the bats away from Kyle Stowers and Terrin Vavrawho have had inconsistent playing time in their first major league stint in 2022. Any of these players, having shown they can handle major league offers even in those limited opportunities, could be an attractive piece in the trade package, with varying Long term opportunities for each in Baltimore.

Baltimore’s third draft pick under Elias in 2019 behind Adley Rochman and Henderson, Stowers delivers a solid left-handed batter and can certainly compete for a spot in the Orioles lineup as an outfielder or designated hitter in 2023 and beyond, with another left-handed player, Colton Kauser, Pushing for the first time. Vavra is in many ways a younger version of Frazier, perhaps with a better eye but similarly possessing strong bat-to-ball skills to make up for the lack of strength. He faces more challengers for future playing time in the Baltimore system, with players Jordan Westberg, Joey Ortiz, Connor Norby and Kobe Mayo all in the upper minors and ranked among the top 10 Orioles players according to Baseball America. Vavra, though, is the lone hitter in that group, though 2022 first pick Jackson Holiday is also one, and could prove a quick pick-me-up.

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This depth also represents a clear field in which to operate. Westburg, Ortiz, and Norby all finished 2022 at Triple-A and showed power potential there, although, as right-handed hitters, there are questions about how that translates to Camden Yards. Ortiz is the only one on the Orioles 40-man roster, which could make Westburg or Norby more attractive to another organization for roster flexibility purposes.

Separating from any of them would likely require the Orioles to get a senior pitcher back, ideally one under control after 2023. The Milwaukee Brewers have two right-handers Corbin Burners and Brandon Woodruff, but it’s unclear how willing they are to sell them after last year’s best record. 18 teams have missed the postseason. The Cleveland Guardians, the only team in the 2022 game with year-end salaries under $98 million according to Spotrac, are in the same venue, with four starting pitchers eligible for arbitration, including ace Shane Pepper.

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Trades are rare for a pitcher of this quality, especially in the off-season and not at the trade deadline, but the examples show the level of talent Baltimore will have to give up. The Kansas City Royals traded a two-year deal to 26-year-old Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke before the 2011 season for four young players, three of whom have already made their debuts. Baseball America ranked pitchers Jake O’Dorizi and Jeremy Jeffress as Milwaukee’s No. 1 and No. 3 prospect entering the 2011 season, while Alcidez Escobar and outfielder Lorenzo Cain ranked No. 1 and No. 8 in the system the previous year.

Prior to being awarded the sport’s largest contract for a pitcher, Gerrit Cole was a former first overall selection with three above-average seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates, including one of the top five seasons in Cy Young Award voting. The Houston Astros assigned four players two-year deals with Cole prior to the 2018 season: two members of the major league pitching staff starting Joe Musgrove and reliever Michael Feliz and two prospect numbers 9 and 19, outfielder Colin Moran and outfielder Jason Martin.

2018 Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell spent another three years on a team-friendly contract when he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2020 season to the San Diego Padres, again for a four-player group. San Diego’s special, second baseman Luis Patiño, recently high recruits in catcher Blake Hunt and right fielder Cole Wilcox, and catcher Francisco Mejia, a former top 20 overall prospect who’s been in the majors for parts of four seasons.

Each deal requires a group of players who have reached out to the big companies or major clients who were about to do so.

“We have the farm system to do that,” Elias said at the winter meetings. “It’s not that we want to lose these guys or give them away, but I think we have the capital to trade for basically anyone that’s in the market. Just whether or not we’re going to want to cover the acquisition cost of some of those players for alternatives in free agency, so we’ll look at that.” Same time in free agent and trading endeavors when it comes to rotations.”

Right-hander Nathan Ivaldi may be the last remaining free agent who can automatically enter near the top of Baltimore’s rotation, with MLB Trade Rumors expecting him to receive a two-year, $34 million deal. After turning down a qualifying offer from the Boston Red Sox, Ivaldi would cost the Orioles their third pick of 2023 if they signed him, though Elias said it “wouldn’t get us away from anyone.” But like so much about the process of rebuilding the organization, it will be all the more believable once it actually happens.

If Baltimore misses it because they have other options, a trade will be their only way to the starting spot. With Frazier in the barn, the Orioles could have the flexibility to pull one off.

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