Maikel Franco

FIXING THE PHILLIES: THIRD BASE

UPDATE: Hours after we posted this story, Mike Moustakas signed a four-year deal with Cincinnati.

Today is deadline day to offer contracts for the 2020 season to players who are eligible for arbitration. The Phillies have nine players who must be offered contracts and it’s likely that seven of them will be offered deals and/or possibly sign with the team to completely avoid arbitration. The two outliers are second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco. Both could wind up being free agents after the 8 p.m. deadline to offer qualifying deals to arbitration eligible players. Hernandez is expected to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $11-million in arbitration, while Franco is expected to fetch between six and $7-million through the process. It’s possible – but not likely – that one or both could be re-signed at a lower value than projected for the 2020 season or that one or both could be traded by the end of the day.

As for Franco, it’s possible that he and first baseman Rhys Hoskins were victimized the most of any Phillies hitters by an ever-increasing emphasis on analytics and adjusting of mechanics to fit what Gabe Kapler and John Mallee wanted their hitter to achieve; a.k.a. launch angle. Franco hit 20-plus home runs in three straight seasons and likely would have made it four had he not lost his third base job and eventually been demoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley this past season. He finished the year with 17 home runs and near career-lows in RBI (56) and average (.234).

The Phillies are focused on Mike Moustakas as a potential replacement for Franco at third base. The Phillies have coveted Moustakas for a few seasons and considered signing him as a free agent last year, but he opted to re-sign with Milwaukee on a one-year, $10-million deal that included a mutual option for 2020. Now, Moustakas is back on the free agent scene and looking for a new deal. Question is, would he accept another short-term deal? Moustakas is now 31 and represented by Scott Boras. He’s at a point where he should probably be thinking more along the lines of a longer term deal with a team. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with Moustakas’ offense – 35-87-.254/.329/.516 in 143 games last season – and he not only played third base, but played 47 games at second base and can handle either position with solid defensive metrics. The problem comes in the length of the deal.

Keep in mind that the Phillies have Alec Bohm knocking on the door for the third base job in Philadelphia. He’s not ready yet, but could conceivably be ready even by the middle of the 2020 season. The latest ETA would be for the start of the 2021 season. If Moustakas wants a long-term deal, where does that leave Bohm? Conceivably, the Phillies could then move Moustakas to second, where Scott Kingery would be the heir apparent if Hernandez were not re-signed. The Phillies could also shift Bohm to first base at Triple-A and if it works out, consider dealing Hoskins at some point to make room for Bohm.

Instead, the Phillies may be better off re-signing Franco to a one-year deal and seeing what new hitting coach Joe Dillon can do with his swing. If he finds something that clicks with Franco, the Phillies could deal him mid-year and perhaps get something in return, clearing the way for Bohm to take over at third. If Franco again struggles, they could again piece things together at third until Bohm is ready.

Franco had a three-year stretch where he averaged 24-77-.250/.299/.431 with the Phillies. Not huge numbers, but passable and good enough to keep the spot warm until Bohm would be ready.

If the Phillies can get Moustakas on a one-year – two-year max – deal, then by all means, sign him. And if they believe that, then there’s no reason to keep Franco. The Phillies are high on Bohm and to block him long-term would make no sense, but to have Moustakas holding down third base until he’s ready would be an upgrade.

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