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GM Mike Elias reiterates plans to increase Orioles’ payroll for 2023: ‘This team is officially in the fight’

Mike Elias didn’t get into specifics in his final media session of the year before Wednesday’s season-ending doubleheader, but the Orioles’ executive vice president and general manager reiterated that he expects the team’s payroll to increase for 2023.

That’s not necessarily saying much, given Baltimore’s $64.8 million payroll ranked 29th of the 30 major league teams in that regard this season, nearly $100 million below the league average and more than $215 million below the New York Mets’, according to Spotrac. Despite those financial limitations, the Orioles finished with their first winning campaign since 2016 as the top American League team to miss the postseason.

“I don’t want to announce a budget to the agent community or the other 29 teams, but I do continue to view this as an offseason where we’re going to have the flexibility to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than I have done since I’ve been here,” Elias said. “… I feel like this team is officially in the fight in the American League East, and that’s a big achievement.”

There are myriad ways for the Orioles to bump payroll in 2023, the obvious being the additions of experienced players through free agency and trades. Elias said the front office has been meeting for about a month to plan for the offseason, with the impression that there is no distinct position of need.

“It’s not something obvious, that I think we’re going to target a certain position,” Elias said. “I think we’re going to look at any and all ways to improve our chances of making the playoffs within the budget that we’re going to be working with, and that’s going to depend on what the market gives us, and I think there are a number of areas where we could supplement this team, so I don’t have a specific prediction about which position any major league acquisitions are going to going to come in.”

Elias noted that the Orioles have “very interesting internal candidates for almost every single job,” complicating their offseason addition-making. They could sign or trade for a starting pitcher, with Elias saying there’s “a very high likelihood” top prospect Grayson Rodriguez is in their opening day rotation. An addition on the infield could block the path for Connor Norby or Jordan Westburg, the top two home run hitters in the minor league system this year. But both Elias and manager Brandon Hyde spoke about the need to blend major league acquisitions with minor league call-ups.

Of course, any number of position player prospects could be traded to add experienced major league talent. Since taking over Baltimore’s baseball operations department in November 2018, Elias has hoarded up-the-middle prospects. Although some, notably top-ranked players in Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson, have reached the majors, others could be used in trade packages.

“I think we’re going to have to [part with prospects] if we’re going to import players for trade,” Elias said. “I don’t know that we’re going to get it done without sending prospects. I really like the players that we’ve been drafting and developing or trading for, but this is part of the business, and that’s why you amass such depth in your organization. There’s a 40-man roster, there’s a Rule 5 draft, you can’t keep everybody, and you also can’t play everybody.

“We just want to keep stacking good players and good drafts and good international development so that we’re able to use our players, because we don’t have the same amount of money as the [New York] Yankees, you know? There’s going to be times when our richness in players is going to be what we have to lean into in order to win out here.”

Payroll could also increase via internal investments. Several key players in this season’s success are due raises through salary arbitration, with shortstop Jorge Mateo, outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, and right-handers Dillon Tate and Austin Voth entering that process for the first time.

There’s also the chance of long-term deals for players not yet in arbitration. An agreement with Rutschman would perhaps be the most significant move the Orioles could make this offseason, locking up a player who has been the face of the organization’s rebuild since he was taken with the first overall pick in the 2019 MLB draft and largely lived up to expectations in a rookie season that earned him Most Valuable Oriole honors.

Speaking broadly about the possibility of those types of deals, Elias declined to say whether discussions with any players had taken place.

“It’s not something that you force, but if it makes sense for both sides, they tend to happen,” Elias said. “Hopefully, we’ll have some of that.”

In terms of active major league payroll, the Orioles don’t figure to shed much this offseason. Pending free agents Robinson Chirinos and Rougned Odor were making less than $1 million each. Veteran right-hander Jordan Lyles has an $11 million team option with a $1 million buyout; Elias said it was too early to say whether the Orioles would pick it up, though both he and Hyde praised Lyles’ contributions to a young pitching staff.

But Elias expects other veterans to be interested in coming to Baltimore after the Orioles’ turnaround season.

“I think that this is a very attractive free agent destination now,” Elias said. “I think we hear great compliments from our players about the clubhouse environment that Brandon’s built, about the way that our players get better here and have really put that on display here. It’s a great town. It’s a great ballpark. It’s now a great place to pitch. And I think we’re going to have a lot of players want to come and join this team.”

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