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Elias welcomes expectations fueled by Orioles' potential

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Orioles general manager Mike Elias is happy to accept some of the blame if expectations are a little harder to manage this season.

"I believe our rebuild is behind us and we've got an incredible chance now to be a very, very competitive team for years," Elias said. "I think that the front office and the manager, when we talk to the media, we feed those expectations."

The Orioles went 83-79 last year, a 31-win improvement that nearly landed Baltimore in the playoffs. Even after a relatively quiet offseason, there's still a lot to like in 2023. The Orioles have eight of the game's top 100 prospects in MLB Pipeline's latest ranking, including infielder Gunnar Henderson, who is No. 1 on the list after reaching the big leagues at the end of last season.

And that group doesn't include catcher Adley Rutschman, who began last year as a top prospect and finished it by earning a handful of down-ballot MVP votes in the American League.

Elias and manager Brandon Hyde took questions from reporters Friday as part of the team's Birdland Caravan. At the end of the 2022 season, Elias said he thought the team would have a chance to invest in the major league payroll in a different way than previously — but the Orioles weren't particularly aggressive.

They added Kyle Gibson and Cole Irvin to the rotation and signed second baseman Adam Frazier, but there wasn't the type of big splash that was in theory possible given the team's low payroll — and the number of inexpensive young contributors under team control. Elias said Friday the Orioles still "live in the reality of our business"

"We approach things very carefully," Elias said. "We have a lot of really smart and experienced people in our front office working on our plan, and that includes growing the team over the next few years, managing our payroll, trying to get into contracts that make sense for the long haul."

The lack of spending — and a lease at Camden Yards that expires at the end of this year — has brought more scrutiny on ownership, but Orioles fans have a lot of reasons to be happy with Elias and Hyde. Elias said the team remains open to exploring more acquisitions via free agency or the trade market. There are certainly fewer glaring weaknesses than in the past.

The starting rotation may be the biggest area of uncertainty, but Elias says there are a dozen players who can compete for a spot. The next big debut for Baltimore could be from Grayson Rodriguez, a 6-foot-5 right-hander ranked as baseball's No. 7 prospect — and No. 2 pitcher — by MLB Pipeline.

The bullpen was a surprising strength last year, and now the Orioles will hope to avoid a significant regression there.

"We'll see. This time last year, if you had asked me who our bullpen was, I would have no idea," Hyde said. "We had a lot of great stories in our bullpen last year. ... Those guys were so inexperienced that I hope that they can build off it, and not try to repeat what they did last year — just continue to be consistent."

Baltimore's non-roster invitees for spring training include shortstop Jackson Holliday, the No. 1 pick in last year's amateur draft and son of seven-time All-Star Matt. It's easy to look at a future with Rutschman, Henderson, Rodriguez and Holliday — plus established major leaguers like Cedric Mullins, Anthony Santander, Ryan Mountcastle and Austin Hays — and see all sorts of potential.

If that puts more pressure on the Orioles going forward, that's a nice problem to have.

"This is honestly the first spring training I've been standing here openly talking about the playoffs," Elias said. "I think that's a big deal."

(© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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