Zach Wilt: Seven years later, Markakis has finally found his niche

I certainly can't predict what Dan Duquette will do to improve the Orioles today by the 4 p.m. trade deadline, but I'm confident enough to guarantee you that Nick Markakis will still be playing right field for Baltimore in tonight's match-up against the Yankees. There haven't been any legitimate trade rumors reported with Markakis' name on them, but in the Twitterverse, message boards and sports talk radio world, there are always fans wondering why the Orioles wouldn't try to move their franchise right fielder.

Personally, I think Markakis is an attractive piece to a contender looking for solid defense and a consistent bat. He always finishes the season with a near-.300 average and between 15-20 homers. He's a Gold Glove winner and a guy that usually hits around 45 doubles a season.

He's making $10.25 million this season, $15 million in 2013 and 2014, and has a $17.5 million option in 2015. That's a lot of control and could bring back some big pieces if the Orioles decided to shop him.

So why haven't they?

The thing about Markakis is that he's been in the league for seven years and still hasn't quite found his role. Sure, he's an excellent defender in right field, but where do you put his bat and what kind of hitter is he?

It's difficult to get anything in return for a guy that doesn't have a clearly defined role.

Throughout his career, Markakis has been placed in every spot in the Orioles lineup. The majority of his plate appearances - 2,413, to be exact - have been in the third spot, but he certainly isn't a true No. 3 hitter. The power numbers just aren't there for for the Orioles to justify Markakis in that spot.

In 1,340 plate appearances batting second, Markakis has hit .313/.384/.489 with 40 of his 130 career home runs.

But after Markakis returned from hamate bone surgery after the All-Star break on July 13, skipper Buck Showalter decided to try something completely new with him and bat him leadoff while Brian Roberts dealt with a hip injury. The Birds' other leadoff option, Robert Andino, would later go down with a sprained left shoulder just four days Markakis' return and Markakis has been batting at the top of the order ever since.

In his 18 games since returning from the DL and batting in the leadoff spot, Markakis is batting .363 (28-for-77) with six doubles, 13 runs scored and six walks. Astoundingly, Markakis has struck out just once while hitting at the top of the Orioles lineup.

Last night in the Bronx, he recorded three hits, two RBIs and crossed home once in the Orioles' 5-4 win over the Yankees. Now that's table setting.

Is it crazy to think that Markakis might be the answer for the Orioles at leadoff? What seemed to be a fun experiment by Showalter has turned into some consistency in a lineup that has proven to be unstable throughout their 2012 campaign.

I'm sure the Orioles thought that they would be getting a .300-hitting, 25-homer guy in Markakis when they signed him to a six-year extension back in 2009, but time has proven that he probably won't be that guy. I don't think the Orioles can be disappointed if he turns out to be the lead off hitter they have so desperately needed in Brian Roberts' absence.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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