CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Try on these red shoes: You’re 26 years old, you’ve averaged 24 home runs and 23 doubles over the last three seasons, you led your team in hitting last season and you were once considered among the top prospects in baseball, but nobody seems to want you anymore.
Hello Maikel Franco, are you still happy to be here?
Surprisingly, the answer from the Phillies’ third baseman was yes.
“I know they have talked about trading me and things like that, but I’m happy to be here with my guys and that’s a good thing,” Franco said before the Phillies’ second spring-training workout Thursday at Spectrum Field.
The Phillies have entertained trade offers for Franco and they almost certainly will trade him if Manny Machado ends up signing a free-agent deal with the team. A season ago, Franco was benched for nearly two weeks in June as the team gave rookie J.P. Crawford a shot at securing the third-base job. Instead, Crawford fractured his hand, landing on the disabled list until the second week of September while Franco batted .293 with an .847 OPS over his final 69 games.
Even then, however, it was clear that the Phillies were not enthralled with the idea of Franco being their everyday third baseman and manager Gabe Kapler opened spring training Wednesday by revealing that he expects a competition between Franco and Scott Kingery at third base.
“There is some competition at third base and that’s a conversation that I’ll have with (Franco) and I’ll have with Scott,” Kapler said.
The conversation with Franco took place early Thursday morning.
“I got 10 minutes to talk with him,” Franco said. “He explained everything. I understand the situation. When you come in here every day you have to compete, so that’s what this is about. Every year I come here to compete and that’s what is happening right now. I just compete and don’t think about it.”
Franco’s situation is a little complicated. The expectations as he was climbing through the team’s farm system were far greater than what he has accomplished during his time in the big leagues. He was Baseball America’s No. 17 prospect before the 2014 season and showed real promise in 2015 when he hit .280 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in 80 games at the age of 22.
He has not been able to duplicate that success since, but he did have a 53-game stretch last season during which he hit .319 with a .926 OPS last season and, again, he is only 26 years old.
“I think one of the things about Franco … is that he’s still very young,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. “He’s still, from an age perspective, on the ascent of his career. We saw that in flashes last year where he was carrying a .900 OPS for a pretty significant stretch of time.”
The Phillies, however, invested a six-year, $24 million contract in Kingery last year near the end of spring training and they’d like to get him in the lineup as often as possible. With newcomer Jean Segura at shortstop and Cesar Hernandez at second base, the most frequent opening for Kingery is likely to be at third base.
“You know how strongly we feel about Scott Kingery both with the contract we gave him and the reps we gave him last year and what he did this offseason,” Klentak said.
Actually, it was an interesting offseason for both Franco and Kingery. Franco dropped 10 pounds and reported to camp at 225 pounds after playing at 235 last year. He has never looked better. Kingery, on the other hand, put on about 15 pounds of muscle and also looks terrific.
The competition, of course, would end instantly if Machado accepted the Phillies’ free-agent offer.
“I’ve heard a lot about it, but I’m not even thinking about it,” Franco said when asked about Machado. “I just think about what I have to do, how I have to improve. I just try to be positive every day. Last year was tough for me, but I just try to get past that moment and be ready for this year.”
The conversations about and comparisons between Machado and Bryce Harper were endless in Philadelphia during the offseason and they continue now. One of the key questions to ask is which player makes the team better based on how it would impact the remainder of the roster.
If the Phillies get Machado, it is likely to mean that Nick Williams will open the season in right field, Franco will likely be dealt elsewhere and Kingery will be a roving utility player. If they get Harper, it will likely mean that Franco will be the third baseman while at least sharing some time with Kingery and Williams will become an extra outfielder.
The best situation for the Phillies, in my opinion, is the one that has Franco at third base because I still think he’s capable of hitting 30 home runs and driving in 100 runs. I would love to see this lineup on opening day: Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Andrew McCutchen, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez.
And I also think a bench with Kingery, Williams and Roman Quinn would make the Phillies a deep, flexible team.