Slugger Nelson Cruz and the Orioles got together on a last-minute, one-year deal last spring, but the partnership has worked out so well that people close to the situation figure it could turn into a long-lasting relationship.

While there's no definitive immediate word of any early negotiations between Cruz and the Orioles, both sides have expressed an interest in continuing the marriage, if possible. Cruz spoke of his strong interest in staying in an interview with Tom Verducci of MLB Network and Orioles people likewise have suggested they wouldn't mind keeping Cruz around. The team's stance should come as no surprise considering Cruz currently leads the AL with 34 home runs.

Normally free agents of this stature don't do quick deals, but some folks are wondering whether Cruz might consider becoming that rare top free agent to forgo free agency to sign up early. Orioles GM Dan Duquette declined to say whether that was a possibility, citing his preference to keep any possible negotiations in-house, and Cruz's agent Adam Katz also declined comment on that possibility.

While it's almost unheard of for a star posting big numbers in a walk year to re-sign before free agency, consider in this case that Cruz's dream season -- the Orioles lead the AL East by seven games -- comes after his surprisngly rough go at free agency last offseason. Cruz found a shockingly weak market, the result of the double whammy of being the only player with both the qualifying offer and scarlet letter (for steroids) attached to him.

It may be hard to see the Orioles as his salvation since they got the benefit of one of the biggest free-agent bargains in recent years, signing Cruz to a one-year, $8-million deal after a market yielded no offers commensurate with his productivity due to the aforementioned double whammy (a similar-productive Curtis Granderson, at least going into the season, received a $60-million, four-year deal from the Mets). But Cruz may view them as such. Though free-agent stars with only one year on their current team don't often look to stay, Cruz could be that rare exception.