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The Orioles have to balance current reality with future ambition at deadline

The trade deadline is a week away, and all indications are that the Orioles will continue to be savvy rather than aggressive.

Detriot TIgers v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The Orioles are in an envious position. They sit atop both the AL East and the American League at large, they boast one of the best farm systems in baseball, and the trade deadline is only a week away. It’s all working out according to Mike Elias’ plan, and maybe even a bit better.

This will be the first deadline under Elias in which the Orioles are clear “buyers.” The 2022 team was solid, and in contention at this point a season ago. But the front office opted to trade away all-star closer Jorge López and fan favorite Trey Mancini rather than add to a fun but flawed roster.

Things should be different this time around. As of this writing, these O’s are on pace for 100 wins. Their odds of making the playoffs are somewhere around 90%, according to several different publications. And the team has already made one semi-aggressive move in snagging hard-throwing reliever Shintaro Fujinami from the Athletics.

Elias and his crew will need to do more than add Fujinami in order to clear the bar of what can generously be considered a “buyer” at this deadline. More moves can and should be coming, but anyone hoping for a blockbuster move in-season may de disappointed, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney.

The overarching message of this tweet will not come as a revelation to Orioles fans. While many do not always agree with Elias’ ultimate decisions, the GM has been pretty forthcoming about his plans for this organization from the beginning, at times sounding like a broken record. He wants to have his “pipeline” that is constantly pumping out minor league talent, and he wants the club to be sustainable, avoiding those lengthy dips of ineptitude that have plagued this team for nearly 30 years. He’s not about to flush it down the toilet for a single bite at the apple.

But before anyone throws up their hands in frustration at the potential lack of movement, let’s examine everything a bit further.

First, the source of the information is said to be “rival execs.” Of course it is, because this current Orioles front office never says anything of interest to anyone. That’s good for them, not so fun for us. But since this call is coming from outside the house it puts a certain filter on the report as a whole.

These GMs have an agenda to accomplish when they talk to reporters. Assuming these specific executives work for a selling club, the idea here could be that teams have not been overwhelmed by any talks with the O’s to this point, so let’s get the word out and see if public pressure changes things at all. That said, the language used is rather vague.

They are referred to as “measured buyers.” Meaning...they aren’t going to overpay? Seems fine. They are said to be willing to trade from “position player surplus.” That could mean a lot of things, from dealing veterans like Jorge Mateo and Ramón Urías or even some “Top 100” type prospects like Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby. In either scenario that should still be enough to bring them back a difference-maker.

The final point made in the tweet may be the most interesting. Reportedly, they aren’t looking at “big, pricey deals, at this point.” Those last three words are doing a lot of work. It leaves the entire claim open to change at any moment. That may be because the Orioles get a fire lit under their butt, or perhaps because the price comes down.

Of course, what is considered a “big” move is open to interpretation. The name that immediately comes to mind is Shohei Ohtani. He’s got a beefy salary and would be a huge addition to any roster, but he’s also an expiring contract and it’s unclear if the Angels are even selling. Instead, it probably refers more to a Dylan Cease type, a good player with multiple years of team control that could be dealt, but their current team would have to love the return package.

That goes back to the earlier point about being “measured.” The Orioles are the big league equivalent of couponers. They have been unwilling overpay for something that they could get a deal on. That is a strategy that probably needs to change at some point, but if this report is to be believed, that point has not yet arrived in the warehouse.

But the Orioles do need to do...something. Fujinami cannot be the only move in the bullpen, and the rotation is at least one arm light, especially with many in the unit at or near their career high in innings pitched. The September return of John Means will be a nice bonus, and there are indications that Grayson Rodriguez is better now than he was in May, but none of those are the equivalent of adding an established, healthy arm to give you six innings every fifth night.

The Orioles’ lengthy rebuild has been both impressive and infuriating for members of the fanbase. To see where this team is now compared to just a few seasons ago is remarkable, and it would be unwise to abandon the plan at this point. These last two seasons have earned Elias room to make the moves that he and his staff think push the organization forward. And if that means being low-key and calculated this season then so be it.

But staying the course has risks as well. The future isn’t guaranteed. Injuries can derail careers. Prospects can stall in development. Rival organizations can bounce back sooner than you expect. That’s a whole lot of variables for the Orioles of 2024, 2025, and beyond to wrangle with. Whereas adding one or two key veterans to a team already on the immediate path for the playoffs is a whole lot more certain.

It seems these Orioles will attempt to thread the needle by largely holding their top-tier prospects, and searching for affordable depth on the trade market that secures their floor. If they are going to make a World Series run it will again be left up to their homegrown talent to continue on in their development and push the club’s ceiling even higher.