The Royals agreed to sign third baseman Maikel Franco to a one-year, $2.95 million contract with up to $1.05 million in incentives, according to reports on Thursday afternoon. Franco is expected to be the Royals’ everyday third baseman in 2020 and could remain in Kansas City through 2021, as he has a year of arbitration eligibility remaining.
Now 27, Franco was once one of the Phillies’ top prospects and among the top 100 prospects in baseball — Baseball America ranked him third in the system and 56th overall after the 2014 season. But he never reached his lofty potential in Philadelphia. He hit well out of the gate, posting a 129 wRC+ in 335 PA in 2015, but has been unable to repeat those results in the years since. He hit relatively well in 2018, producing both a 105 wRC+ and one of the best bat flips of the year:
Franco demonstrated just enough promise to retain the starting job heading into 2019, when the Phillies had hoped to seriously contend for their first postseason appearance in eight years.
But rather than continue to take steps forward, Franco regressed, slashing just .234/.297/.409 with 17 home runs and a 70 wRC+ over 428 plate appearances. In 123 games, he was a half-win below replacement level, even in spite of average defense at the hot corner. Franco’s underwhelming 2019 even resulted in a stint at Triple A, after the Phillies optioned him in early-August. Non-tendering Franco seemed a foregone conclusion for Philadelphia; the team decided to move on to other options instead of give him yet another shot to be a positive contributor. He was expected to earn roughly $6.7 million in arbitration.
With the Royals, Franco will have another chance to prove himself. Kansas City’s decision to give him the nod at third base does not come without other effects to the roster, however. Hunter Dozier, who made 99 starts at the position last season, will reportedly shift to right field with Whit Merrifield, meanwhile, moving to center. Though it does seem a bit curious to shuffle the defense in order to make room for a relatively minor free agent signing, this could end up being to the Royals’ benefit. Dozier did not grade out well at third base in the eyes of any defensive metrics, having been more effective in the corner outfield in a small sample there. Merrifield, too, has been solid in a limited sample at his new primary position.
The Royals have been rather quiet this offseason, with Franco representing their first free agent addition on a major league contract this winter. He won’t tip the scales in Kansas City; prior to the signing, the Royals were projected to produce a total of 21.9 WAR next year, the fourth-lowest total of any team. On the flip side, since they can offer him a spot in the starting lineup, the Royals are exactly the type of organization with which Franco can rebuild value. Perhaps a change of scenery is just what he needs to tap into the potential displayed several years ago.
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Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.
Moving Dozier into RF isn’t a terrible idea, he has better than average wheels with decent defense, but it could create a bit of a logjam in the outfield. Soler has the DH spot solid due to his light tower power, but what position would he play in NL parks? Left field? I know Alex Gordon isn’t much of an offensive contributor anymore, but he is one of the best defensive outfielders of the decade. Will they trade Gordon, or trade off Brett Phillips for an infield prospect? Maikel Franco is of course a suitable player for Kansas at the hot corner, but it does make for some roster issues.
Phillips is DFA fodder. He needs to land with a team that will rebuild his swing because obviously he’s not doing well right now; if the Royals aren’t interested in that, I’d love to see another team get a crack at him because the defense is otherworldly. And Gordon, I believe, is a FA, although he may get re-signed for no other reason than he’s a recognizable name.
I agree that Phillips needs another chance because of his defense. But, based on current results, I can see a fan being very pessimistic of that outcome. He may be a better career hitter than Billy Hamilton. With his defense, that seems like it might be just enough to be useful for a team trying to build up some pitching. I believe great defense can really help the confidence of young developing pitchers!
They don’t play enough games in nl parks to worry about where Soler plays they’ll fit him him in there