Maikel Franco Gets a Reprieve, Would Welcome Bryce Harper as Teammate

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Anyone know a good real estate agent? Maikel Franco is sticking around Philadelphia for a while.

Franco's uncertainty over where he'd be playing this season has come to an end. The San Diego Padres reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Manny Machado on Tuesday. A day earlier, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Mike Moustakas.

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Machado had been the apple of the Phillies' eye this winter (see story) and Moustakas was considered a potential fallback option.

Two third basemen off the market in two days.

Franco stays.

Relieved?

"Yeah," he said. "I know now I'm here. I know that the organization is giving me an opportunity to be here and just do what I do better, and that's pretty much what I think about it right now.

"I want to be part of the organization with Philadelphia. I don't want to live anywhere else. I want to stay here, have fun and have fun with my guys. I just want to come in and do my job."

Franco, 26, gets another chance to do what he's been unable to do the last few seasons: Convince the front office he is their man at third base. Twice last season, the team appeared to be phasing Franco out of the picture. An injury to J.P. Crawford put Franco back in the lineup in late June and he went on a two-month tear and ended up leading the team in hitting (.270) while finishing second in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22) in 2018.

Though manager Gabe Kapler has said Scott Kingery will compete with Franco for the third base job, it's difficult to envision Franco not being the starter at the position simply because he does not profile as a utility man. Franco has talent. He just needs to show consistency.

"I think what's happened has been interesting with Maikel Franco," Kapler said. "We saw the kind of work he put in during the offseason. He came in to camp in much better condition. We told him that he's competing for the third-base job. He's taken that challenge. We're continuing to say that that challenge is great for him and his development. I'm not sure that this changes his approach at all."

Machado's signing with San Diego puts the pressure on the Phillies to sign Bryce Harper and the two sides have been in discussions.

Kapler has been part of the recruitment process of both players. He was part of the welcoming party that visited with Machado in Philadelphia in December and also a member of the group that visited with Harper in Las Vegas in January.

Kapler was asked if it was disappointing not to land Machado after being so involved in the recruiting effort. 

"I'm totally focused on our camp," he said. "My goal is to help our players get better every single day. We've spent an extraordinary amount of time committing to that. If I tell our players, don't think about getting traded, don't think about the free agents that we might acquire, think about this group as the most important part of your focus and if you take your eyes off that, you're not going to be as good. What if I don't practice that same mentality? My job is to show our players that my focus is on this camp."

The Phillies can still land Harper. In fact, they are now under pressure to do so.

"I've said this from Day 1, any team that acquires Manny Machado or Bryce Harper gets immediately better," Kapler said. "I wouldn't come off that for a moment. Any team that acquires Bryce Harper will get immediately better."

Now that he knows he's staying, Franco wouldn't mind seeing Harper become a Phillie.

"Why not?" he said. "He's a good player. He hits over the years, 30 or more home runs and 100 or more RBIs. If he's coming, it's good to have him. Let's see what happens."

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