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Orioles' Adam Jones won't lead off next year, but best solution could come from within

There's not a lot of certainty surrounding the 2017 Orioles lineup, but manager Buck Showalter has one thing he hopes won't be featured in it again: center fielder Adam Jones batting leadoff.

"Adam did well there for a while and I think to take better advantage of his skills, in a perfect world, he'd hit somewhere else in the order," Showalter said Thursday at the team's season-ending news conference. "That's something that I'm hoping and I plan making happen between now [and then]."

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Jones assumed the leadoff role on May 27 in the middle of a terrible early season slump, when he was batting .223 with five home runs after dealing with back problems and failing to get into a groove. That changed almost immediately when he was the team's leadoff batter. He ended the season batting .265 with a .746 OPS and 29 home runs.

He slumped toward the end of the season, posting a .223 average in September and October, but Showalter said he did a more than adequate job in the leadoff spot.

"It's actually quite a good reflection on Adam," Showalter said. "He knows the club needed him to try to do that, and he did it very well for an extended period of time. It's certainly not the prototype. It's certainly not something we wanted to do, but we just didn't have it fit in a lot of different ways. But I was real proud of the way Adam — and it doesn't surprise me — embraced it and said whatever the club needs and what have you. …

"But he did something for the club. I'm not so sure we would have been where we were if he hadn't did what he did for us for an extended period of time. I understand it. It was tough doing it. It got so much to be, if not him, then who? We tried a little bit when Michael [Bourn] got here, but I gave him a special thank you about it because a lot of guys with his status and his background would not have embraced it."

Given Jones might move back to the middle of the order, Showalter and the Orioles will have to look either internally or externally for candidates.

There are two primary candidates currently on the roster, neither of which Showalter seemed very interested in putting atop the lineup this year. Under the idea that a team's best hitter should hit first, thus getting more at-bats, that would mean a return to the leadoff spot for third baseman Manny Machado. He led the Orioles in every advanced category last year, including a 129 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) and a .366 weighted on base average (wOBA).

The first stat, wRC+, is a rate stat that gives a batter the value of each outcome instead of treating them equally as batting average or on-base percentage would, with the league-average being 100. The second, wOBA, does the same for what would be on-base percentage. All stats in this piece are courtesy of FanGraphs.

The only player on the team who played regularly and got on base more often was left fielder Hyun Soo Kim, who ranked third behind Machado and pending free agent Mark Trumbo with a .352 wOBA and a 119 wRC+.

Machado settled into the heart of the Orioles order and had a career year, but didn't bat leadoff nearly as much as he did in 2015. Kim led off a handful of times, but his platoon status probably impacted his standing for such a role in Showalter's mind.

Outside the organization, the free-agent market for a leadoff hitter isn't robust. Someone like Ian Desmond, currently of the Texas Rangers, could fit the bill as a top-of-the-lineup bat who can take over in right field in Trumbo departs. But he'll likely command far more than he might have last offseason. There might not be this cure-all "on-base type" that everyone will spend another offseason clamoring for, but Showalter made it clear the Orioles are in the market for someone to lead the lineup every day, whether that person is currently on the club or not.

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