Slugger Mark Trumbo hasn't won the major league home run title just yet, but he already has won the respect of everyone in an Orioles organization that must soon decide how much it wants him back after a career season.
Who wouldn't want a popular guy who in his first year in Baltimore is on his way to extending the club's string of major league home run champions to four in a row, and entered Saturday leading the Orioles with 103 RBIs?
The answer would seem obvious, but this is the same team that faced essentially the same scenario with Nelson Cruz in 2014 and chose to let him sign with the Seattle Mariners rather than give him a guaranteed fourth year.
Cruz was the steal of that season. The Orioles signed him during spring training to a bargain-basement free-agent contract ($8 million) and he was voted Most Valuable Oriole after a career year that included 40 homers and 108 RBIs.
The team certainly missed him as it sagged back to .500 in 2015, but baseball operations chief Dan Duquette was able to find another tremendous bargain last winter when the Mariners needed to unload Trumbo's contract.
So, will the Orioles make a greater effort to retain Trumbo, and — for that matter — is Trumbo open to sticking around for a while. It certainly sounds like he would like to stay.
"It's been the most enjoyable season I've had … from the group of guys in the clubhouse to the winning they've done on the field," he said. "I couldn't really ask for anything more. I was coming to a team that I was fairly unfamiliar with and it turned out to be the best spot I've been in."
Duquette never reveals much about potential contract negotiations, but he said Saturday that he couldn't be happier with the way things have turned out.
"He's an excellent veteran player," Duquette said. "I really like what he's done for our team. He's got some really good personal qualities that add to the ballclub."
The question is whether the Orioles are willing to step up again after last winter's free-agent spending spree to extend Trumbo a multiyear offer that's competitive with what he's likely to get on the open market.
Duquette wouldn't go there, but he seemed to be saying that it isn't out of the realm of possibility.
"His performance in terms of hitting the ball out of the ballpark and driving in runs is certainly worth a significant investment," Duquette said.
In the Orioles' perfect world, Trumbo would accept their qualifying offer like Matt Wieters did last November, which would guarantee him an estimated $16.7 million next year. But there is no logical reason for him to do that. Wieters took the qualifying offer because he was coming off an injury and needed a representative season to raise his future value. Trumbo, like Cruz two years ago, already raised it.
Still, it should be encouraging to Orioles fans that Trumbo has unequivocally endorsed Baltimore as a great fit for him.
"I think anytime you can contribute and do some things that not only help the ballclub but help you further your game along, I think it just makes sense that it's a good spot for you," he said.
Manager Buck Showalter wasn't sure exactly what he was getting when the Orioles traded reserve catcher Steve Clevenger to the Mariners for Trumbo. But he knew that Trumbo could hit the ball a country mile and he did enough asking around to determine that the slugger was a solid character guy.
"We thought he was pretty good," Showalter said. "We didn't know how good he was. We thought he would be a good fit in how we have to do things and how the clubhouse has to work, and he's been a real contributor from that standpoint."
Trumbo might not have been quite sure what he was getting into when he headed for Sarasota, Fla., this past spring. But he found an environment that allowed him to bloom again after he followed up three big seasons with the Los Angeles Angels with a pair of less-than-satisfying seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Seattle Mariners.
"There were some seasons when I did drive the ball, but this one in particular I think I've done it more consistently," Trumbo said, "and I think the message that is preached here has been really good for me on that level as far as staying consistent with what I'm trying to do and kind of always keeping that focus."
Trumbo said he doesn't know how it will all play out and he's not ready to spend any time wondering about it.
"I really don't know," he said. "I'd tell you if I did. It's been nothing but a joy to play here and we have a lot of work left to do and the focus right now for me is on doing whatever I can possibly do to give us a chance to get to the playoffs. The business side of things always works itself out. It's generally pretty unproductive to think about it, especially during the season when you're playing. When the time comes to discuss things, we'll put the attention there."