It's unclear how (or if) Maikel Franco fits into the Phillies long-term plans. (Frank Klose/SportsTalkPhilly)
This week, the Philadelphia Phillies traded 2017 starting shortstop Freddy Galvis to the San Diego Padres, listened to offers on starting second baseman Cesar Hernandez and signed a new starting first baseman in Carlos Santana, likely pushing Rhys Hoskins to left field for the foreseeable future. The only member of the infield that the Phillies finished the 2017 season with that if felt like wasn't heavily discussed was third baseman Maikel Franco.
But perhaps something is brewing involving the 25-year-old.
According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the San Francisco Giants appear to have some level of interest in Franco:
We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved?
The Giants "gathering intel" on Franco makes quite a bit of sense. The Giants are in a strange position, because they had the worst record in the National League in 2017, but also possess one of the worst farm systems in the league. They are capable of spending with most teams in the league, but missed out on Giancarlo Stanton, who was probably a uniquely good fit for them given the current state of their organization. So they could look to buy low, or at least relatively low, on someone like Franco, hoping that he breaks out and helps them make up for the lack of young players in their organization. They could acquire Franco to play first base and trade Brandon Belt for prospects. They could acquire Franco to play third base, push Christian Arroyo to second base and then trade Joe Panik. This feels unlikely, but they could even play Franco at third base, move Arroyo to shortstop and gauge the market for three-time Gold Glove Award Winner Brandon Crawford. In any event, the Giants at least doing their homework on Franco makes sense.
From the Phillies perspective, there still does seem to be a desire to give Franco one more season to figure things out. His 2016 season - a year in which he slashed .230/.281/.409 and posted a -22.4 oWAR - showed that he probably has a low floor. His 80-game stint in 2015 when he slashed .280/.343/.497 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs is a reminder that his ceiling is high, though. It's possible that Franco will ultimately perform closer to his floor than his ceiling, but considering he doesn't turn 26 until next August, the Phillies may be hesitant to pull the plug.
As SportsTalkPhilly.com's Jason Ferrie pointed out in May, Franco struggled mightily against breaking pitches in 2017 and put too many of those pitches on the ground, rather than in the air. As Matt Breen of The Philadelphia Inquirer recently noted, the Phillies have made it a point of emphasis with Franco to elevate the ball when he makes contact. With an offseason of him focusing on that and a new coaching staff, perhaps things will click for Franco in 2018.
If the Phillies are blown away by an offer for Franco, of course, they will seriously consider it. But they had that same approach last summer, didn't get any offers that piqued their interest and ultimately retained him. Not a ton has changed since then.
Santana playing at third base for any significant amount of time in his early 30s, especially given how good of a fielder he is at first, feels unlikely. As Salisbury alluded to, trading Franco could give the Phillies a place to get Hernandez regular at-bats once Scott Kingery is called up. Heck, given how good of a fielder Hernandez is at second, the team could consider having Kingery play third base, a position he played for times for Triple-A Lehigh Valley in 2017.
The guess here, however, is that Franco will be with the Phillies in 2018. Even after the Galvis trade, first-year manager Gabe Kapler may have to navigate an infield that has more than four capable starters.