|Franco’s regression helping hold back Phillies progress|
The Philadelphia Phillies are suffering through a fifth consecutive losing season. Once again here in 2017, the club can be found at the bottom of the standings in Major League Baseball.
The team has been making a serious attempt to rebuild with youth over the last three years or so. One of the key pieces in that rebuilding plan is third baseman Maikel Franco.
Franco will turn 25 years old on August 26. He now has roughly 1,500 big league plate appearances on the back of his baseball card. In that time, he has slashed .247/.301/.423, poor numbers by any measure.
It was hoped that this season would mark a step forward for both Franco and the team. In fact, as the season was opening I named him as my Phillies “spotlight hitter”, the biggest key to any improvement by the club.
Not only has Franco failed to improve and deliver on his promise, but instead he has utterly failed. For the first time, the Dominican native will be eligible for arbitration this coming winter. The Phillies are sure to offer it to him. But would they try to sign him to a long-term deal? Should they?
Normally this would be a no-brainer for many organizations. A rebuilding team frequently tries to tie up a young player who they believe will be a key part of their program going forward.
But to offer Franco, who cannot become a free agent until following the 2022 season, any big money would be a mistake at this point.
THE TROUBLE WITH MAIKEL
How can the Phillies offer a player who has shown no improvement at all such a deal? The contract would probably need to approximate the Odubel Herrera deal given last off-season? We’re probably talking five-six years and $60 million, with half of that guaranteed over the next two-three years.
One of Franco’s calling cards is supposed to be his power. Perhaps if he were banging an easy 30 homers per year and driving in 100 runs, and providing strong third base defense, you could look past some of the other numbers.
However, to this point in his career Franco has gone deep 56 times and knocked in 202 runs. Divide his plate appearances by a normal three seasons, and you get approximately 18-20 homers and maybe 70-80 RBI.
Those aren’t the types of numbers that a team trying to build a championship contender needs to see out of a key corner infielder.
David Murphy at Philly.com did a piece recently on Franco’s failure in fastball counts, when a power hitter should normally feast. Murphy made the following ominous observation.
“Franco is hitting just .181/.330/.313 when ahead in the count, and that is nearly 71 percent worse than the league average.”
Defensively, Franco’s ‘Total Zone’ and ‘Defensive Runs Saved’ numbers are below average. For fans of more traditional stats, his Errors are on pace to easily become a career high.
Yes, Franco is still young. He can still improve. Yes, he flashes tremendous talent at times. He can bash prodigious home runs, and make sensational fielding plays. But he simply doesn’t do those things consistently enough.
PHILLIES NEED TO EXPLORE OPTIONS
To this point in his career, Franco has done nothing to show that he can be counted on as a cornerstone of a future Phillies winning ball club. However, there is no prospect coming through the pipeline to challenge him at third base.
Cole Stobbe turns 20 years old at the end of this month, and is the highest-ranked third baseman in the Phillies minor league system. Stobbe is probably still two or three years away from pushing for a big league opportunity.
As the Phillies move forward, they should and will offer Franco a one-year contract for next season. It will be up to Franco to make the improvements necessary if he ever wants to see a truly big payday.
More importantly from a fans perspective, the Phillies need to work with him to get the most out of the player. But they also need to begin considering a long-term contingency plan at the hot corner. Another season like this in 2018, and it will be time to consider going in a different direction.