In a bold but not completely surprising move, the Phillies on Sunday sent third baseman Maikel Franco to Triple A.
Scott Kingery will now become the team's primary third baseman.
The move was bold because Franco debuted at third base in May 2015 and had started four straight opening days. In 2018, he led the team in hitting (.270), was second in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22). He is one of the team's longest tenured players, is very popular with teammates and is making $5.2 million this season.
The move was not completely surprising because, let's face it, Franco was never popular with management because he is a free-swinger, doesn't hit the ball in the air consistently, and has suspect range in the field. Over the past couple of seasons, Franco has been sent to the bench for stretches and he has been dangled in trade talks. He would have been replaced over the winter if Manny Machado had signed with the Phillies -- or last summer had the team been able to trade for Machado.
Franco's place in the lineup was safe when he was hitting. He opened this season with a bang, hitting .262 with 7 homers, 25 RBIs and an .858 OPS in the first 30 games of the season. Since then, he'd batted .217 with 8 homers, 22 RBIs and a .626 OPS.
Recent developments in the outfield such as the addition of Corey Dickerson in a trade, the promotion of Adam Haseley and the improved play of Roman Quinn have allowed the Phillies to move Kingery from center field to third base. Though Franco could provide late-game pop with his bat, he lacks the versatility and foot speed to be an ideal reserve.
"Mikey just doesn't profile well as a bench player," manager Gabe Kapler said.
Franco was sent out to make room for infielder/outfielder Brad Miller as he came off the IL on Sunday. The Phils decided to keep Sean Rodriguez, like Franco a righty bat, on their bench over Franco. Rodriguez can play infield and outfield. Soon, the Phillies will have to make another roster move as outfielder Jay Bruce could come off the IL this week.
Franco, who turns 27 later this month, learned of the news about two hours before the Phillies played the White Sox on Sunday afternoon. He had showed up to the ballpark ready to travel with the team to Phoenix after the game. Franco declined to speak with reporters as he exited the ballpark about 30 minutes before first pitch.
Kapler further explained the move.
"We have quite a few outfielders at this point," he said. "With that comes Scott most likely moving to the dirt. The most logical way for us to get Scott reps right now is at third base. That means we have to be very cognizant of our bench roles. Sean Rodriguez plays shortstop, he plays center field, he plays left field, he plays right field, he hits left-handed pitching, so he profiles in that role.
"With Mikey, he doesn't play multiple positions. He plays one position and he hasn't really hit left-handed pitching well. So we have a left-handed power bat and on-base threat in Brad Miller and we definitely want to have that profile available on our bench, especially when we have a guy like Corey Dickerson and potentially he and Jay Bruce together in the lineup.
"This felt like an appropriate time to make a very difficult move for our clubhouse because we all care deeply about Maikel Franco. He's an exceptional teammate and person and we all love him. But we felt like the best roster for the Phillies had Sean Rodriguez on it right now because of his versatility and his ability to play all over the diamond."
Kapler said Franco was "upset" by the news.
"He wants to be on our major-league roster and that's completely understandable," Kapler said.
Franco has 72 hours to report to Triple A. He will likely be back in September when rosters expand, or sooner if there's an injury. But given the shaky ground he's walked upon the last couple of seasons, it sure seems like the end for the likable native of the Dominican Republic who first signed with the Phillies almost a decade ago.
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