Sometimes, the best trades are the ones that don’t get made.
By all accounts, the Philadelphia Phillies could have dealt Maikel Franco this winter. They didn’t, in part because they were waiting for free-agent superstar Manny Machado to choose a team. Once Machado agreed to a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres, the Phillies turned their focus to Bryce Harper and effectively took Franco off the trade block.
And so, against all odds, Franco is in line to be the opening-day third baseman for a fourth season in a row. The Phillies haven’t had so much continuity at the position since Scott Rolen started six consecutive openers from 1997 to 2002.
But unlike past years, when Franco was a middle-of-the-order focal point, he figures to be a seven- or eight-hole afterthought. There isn’t a hitter who stands to benefit more from the Phillies’ bulked-up offense, either. As opposing pitchers catch their breath from going through the Andrew McCutchen-Jean Segura-Harper-Rhys Hoskins-J.T. Realmuto gauntlet, Franco could feast on more fastballs.
“He’s my pick to click in that lineup,” one National League scout said last week.
It isn’t a crazy thought. Although it seems as if he’s been around forever, Franco is only 26 and probably hasn’t reached his peak. The Phillies recognize there’s room for growth, but haven’t figured out how to tap the potential. Hitting coach John Mallee worked with him last year on adjusting his swing to create a greater launch angle, but Franco’s ground-ball rate actually rose from 45.8 percent in 2017 to 49.5 percent.
The result: Hot streaks interspersed with cold spells, reduced playing time, a .270 average and .780 on-base plus slugging percentage, and 22 homers in 465 plate appearances.
Those numbers don’t work if Franco is batting third or fourth, but the Phillies will take them from their No. 7 or 8 hitter. And if batting lower in the order means that Franco sees more hittable pitches, there’s reason to believe his production might be about to spike.