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NASHVILLE—All along, Mike Elias had targeted Craig Kimbrel as the Orioles’ closer for 2024. On the first day the General Managers’ meetings in Scottsdale, Arizona, the Orioles’ executive vice president/general manager spoke with Kimbrel’s agent, David Meter, and decided he would be the guy to replace Félix Bautista for 2024.
“I think it was that obvious that we’ve got this great team, great roster missing its closer because of injury,” Elias said as the Winter Meetings came to an end on Wednesday. “He is one of the best closers in baseball history at this point.
“He’s still got a lot in the tank. He had a really solid season last year and we see a lot of things from a scouting perspective going forward that has us placing a pretty big bet that this guy is going to have a really good season for us.”
Kimbrel who signed for a reported $13 million in 2024 with a $13 million option for 2025, was 8-6 with a 3.26 earned-run average and 23 saves in 2023 with Philadelphia.
“We’ve got a guy that loves pitching leverage innings and closing out games and loves winning,” Elias said. “We had a nice meeting with Craig, with Brandon Hyde. It was pretty clear that we wanted him and he wanted to join this Orioles team. I think it’s a great deal for all sides.”
Elias said the option was important, and that he’s thinking it could be a two-year deal. More important is that it solidifies the bullpen.
“I feel way more structured when we think about our bullpen now,” Elias said. “To have Craig in there. The plan is for him to be the closer and we were very clear about that when we signed him, and that’s what we want him to do. It doesn’t mean that Brandon isn’t going to use him to face the middle of the order in a tie game in the eighth inning.
“He’ll be leading the pack there from the back end of the bullpen … He was a priority for us to figure out a deal with him. We thought it was the right guy at the right time and the right fit for us.”
Elias will continue to search for a starting pitcher, and he used the Winter Meetings to make contact with teams and agents.
“Making progress in talks, not that we’re closer to a deal, but that we have a more refined understanding of what the possibilities of the deals are right now and just kind of moving the football down the field a couple of yards at a time,” he said. “Which sounds mundane, but it’s honestly 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 you’re trying to put together and the Winter Meetings helped with that.”
Elias said that the Orioles could still “bolster our bullpen with trades and free-agent signings, and we’ll be continuing to explore that, but it definitely puts us in a mindset of a little more comfort with what we have there.”
The Orioles’ deal with Kimbrel was completed on Monday night, and the 35-year-old had to complete his physical on Wednesday.
“We’re able to turn our attention to this vast starting pitching market of possibilities and chip away at those conversations,” Elias said.
Not only was the $13 million deal the biggest one that Elias handed out in his five years with the Orioles, it was the largest one of a quiet Winter Meetings.
“I hope everyone had that on their Bingo card,” Elias joked.
No Rule 5 pick: For the first time since 2005, the Orioles did not take a player in the Rule 5 draft. Ten players were selected in the draft, and not only did the Orioles not take a player, but they didn’t lose one, either.
They selected 20-year-old right-hander Nelvis Ochoa from the Dominican Summer League roster of the Colorado Rockies in the Triple-A portion of the draft. Ochoa is 9-3 with a 3.52 ERA with three saves in two seasons in the DSL.
The Orioles lost right-handed pitcher Connor Gillispie, their ninth-round pick in 2019, to Cleveland in the minor league draft. Gillispie was 7-4 with a 3.89 ERA in 27 games for Double-A Bowie.
Wagner hurt: Minor league third baseman Max Wagner had what the Orioles said was “successful surgery today to excise a fractured hook of hamate in his left hand.”
Wagner, the Orioles’ second pick in the 2022 draft hit .239 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs with Bowie and High-A Aberdeen in 2023. He’s rated as the 14th highest prospect by MLB Pipeline.
Note: Longtime Boston Red Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione received the Ford C. Frick award for broadcast excellence. He will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown next July.
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