The Phillies Let Maikel Franco Stick Around a Little Too Long
Sunday's announcement from the Phillies that third baseman Maikel Franco was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley was one many found shocking. "Wow", Tweeted Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. The same sentiment was echoed by Matt Gelb of the Athletic. But a day later, the more shocking response is, "What took so long?"
Coming up from the Phillies system, the expectations were high for Franco. Part of it was because he was at one time ranked the 17th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. But the other part of the equation was that Franco appeared in the middle of the Phillies rebuild, at a time that the club was starving for offense.
When Franco was summoned from Triple-A on May 15, 2015, he immediately was placed in a position in which he was expected to produce on a large scale. In the lineup that night, Franco batted fifth behind first baseman Ryan Howard, who had Chase Utley ahead of him.
Franco batted fifth in that order until August 18, when he broke his wrist and was out for the season. August 19, Utley was traded. The first game Franco would play without Utley in the lineup, Opening Day 2016, Franco was the club's number three hitter.
Franco would never show he should be batting in such a spot.
That first full season Franco did hit 25 home runs, a number he never matched again. Franco batted .255, with an OPS of .733. That OPS mark was shy of the league average. But it was Franco's first full season, so there would be room to grow.
In 2017, Franco was even more underwhelming. Franco batted just .230, and while hitting 24 home runs, he compiled an OPS of .690. But of course, the Phillies were in full rebuild mode, so what's one more year? 2018 should have been the final book on Maikel Franco.
Overall, Franco would bat .270, the highest mark for a full season in his career. But the final numbers were very deceptive. 2018 included some real lows, even to the point where he lost his starting job to J.P. Crawford in June, which left the Phillies with a shortstop at third base and a second baseman (Scott Kingery) at shortstop.
The month of July, after a Crawford injury gave Franco third base again, Franco batted .330 with seven home runs and an OPS of .941. Franco batted at the very minimum 52 points lower in every other month, and September was particularly bad; Franco compiled an OPS of .593.
Franco could have been non-tendered. But the Phillies decided to bring Franco back at a cost of $5.2 million.
Maybe they thought, Franco batting eighth after the lineup added the likes of Bryce Harper and Jean Segura, his impact would be minimal. But thanks to injuries, days off for catcher J.T. Realmuto, it was not as simple as letting Franco simply be mediocre in the eight-hole.
The Phillies need real, consistent play from third base, particularly as the offense struggles.
Kingery will get that opportunity now. It is a mis-match, as it could be argued that third base is his worst position defensively. But with Corey Dickerson added to the outfield and Adam Haseley showing he belongs in the major leagues, Kingery will get his shot to provide offense at third base.
Franco is at third base. Some hint that he could return in September, but the Phillies only get three additional roster spots this year, and one will be a third catcher and probably one beyond that would be a pitcher. So we may realistically have seen the last of Maikel Franco in a Phillies uniform.
Unfortunately, it is a year too late. The signs were all there, but the Phillies did not look elsewhere. They are paying for that now, in their pocketbook and on the diamond.