Maikel Franco is in the midst of a disappointing 2017 season. (Frank Klose/SportsTalkPhilly)
At least publicly, the Philadelphia Phillies continue to show great confidence in Maikel Franco, despite what has been an extremely disappointing 2017 season.
General manager Matt Klentak spoke to the collective media over the weekend, which included Meghan Montemurro of The News Journal, and said that the Phillies still believe in the 25-year-old:
"I absolutely believe in Maikel Franco's future," Klentak said. "I think there's too much talent there. He has the bat speed, the strength, his defense has taken a step forward. All the components are there for Maikel to still be a really good player.
"I know his numbers right now aren't what a lot of people expected or hoped, but we still believe strongly in his future. ... By no means have we given up on Maikel Franco or lost confidence in him."
Franco does have good bat speed and strength, but those almost feel like platitudes at this point, because they haven't translated to him being a consistently good offensive weapon. He gets on base at a very low clip (he has a .283 on-base percentage in 2017) and hasn't been able to make the adjustment to hit to all fields.
Beyond already established flaws, Franco has regressed from what he was even last year - which Pete Mackanin didn't seem impressed by - as he's gone from hitting .255 to hitting .229 and is going to see regression in terms of slugging percentage, home runs and RBIs, among other numbers.
Citing Franco as a defender is kind of a hollow argument as well. He's actually having a worse year in the field than 2016, per FanGraphs, who ranked him as the 12th best fielding third baseman with a positive dWAR last year, and now have him ranked as the 15th best fielder with a -1.9 dWAR in 2017. He has improved as a fielder since entering the league in 2015, but when you consider how much he's regressed as a hitter, a slight improvement to being a just below replacement level fielder isn't inspiring.
Klentak, of course, knows of all of this. He also knows that Franco is less than a year older than Rhys Hoskins, and making rather drastic adjustments to your hitting approach is a very inexact science. At this point, he's got nothing to gain by doing anything but publicly showing confidence in Franco.
Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported in late June that Franco was 'more than available.' However, in early July Jim Salisbury of Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia reported that the price to land Franco was 'high.' And just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com reported that the Phillies weren't shopping Franco.
So a trade this offseason, following Franco's worst season, feels unlikely. Klentak likely hopes that continuing to show confidence in Franco will help him to figure things out.
As Montemurro wrote in her piece, just because Franco is with the Phillies in 2018 doesn't mean he'll be guaranteed another 500-at-bat season. With J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery likely to be in the picture for most (if not all) of the 2018 season, the Phillies infield is likely to be crowded. The team may trade Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez this offseason, though it seems unlikely that one of the two won't still be here. And Rhys Hoskins will presumably have first base locked down in 2018, meaning that position won't be an option to regularly put anyone else at.
I wrote last week that I do expect Franco to be the team's Opening Day starter in 2018, but he'll have a much shorter leash than he has to this point. Klentak and the Phillies may still believe in Franco's potential, but it won't block someone more productive from playing in 2018 if Franco doesn't begin to figure things out.