KANSAS CITY, MO. — After the Orioles' season-ending 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday, outfielder Nelson Cruz realized he might have played his final game in an Orioles uniform.
The pending free agent has repeatedly said that he'd like to remain with the Orioles, but he undoubtedly will be pursued in the offseason by other teams offering a multiyear deal after leading the major leagues with 40 home runs in the regular season.
Cruz's postseason only increased his stock. In seven postseason games, Cruz was 10-for-28, hitting .357 with two home runs and seven RBIs. He opened the postseason with multiple hits in his first five games.
"No doubt it's there," Cruz said about his desire to return. "I want to come back, no doubt. Just wait and see what happens."
Inside the Orioles clubhouse Wednesday, Cruz hugged his teammates and exchanged phone numbers. It wasn't necessarily goodbye, because that was being done by many players after the loss.
But the Orioles definitely received a bargain with Cruz. They signed him to a one-year, $8 million contract in February when a multiyear deal he coveted last offseason wasn't offered as he looked to continue playing after a 50-game suspension last year for involvement in the Biogenesis scandal.
Cruz has made it clear how welcomed he felt from the first day he entered the Orioles clubhouse during spring training. Several veteran players even attended his introductory news conference in Sarasota, Fla., to support him.
Although brief, Cruz said his experience in Baltimore — and getting to the ALCS with his teammates — would play a role in determining his next step.
"Yeah, I love the clubhouse," Cruz said. "I love all my teammates. The whole organization is great from top to bottom, even the guys you don't see every day. They are amazing. They treat us the right way. … It makes every game more easy for you. They find a way to get it done. I appreciate that."
The Orioles' three-year extension with shortstop J.J. Hardy last week was a message that the club is willing to try to keep its key players. But Cruz is not the Orioles' only remaining free agent. Right fielder Nick Markakis and left-handed reliever Andrew Miller both also could become free agents.
The club is expected to offer Cruz a qualifying offer, a one-year deal for about $15.3 million. If Cruz declines it, the Orioles would receive a draft pick as compensation.