Phased-out but not checked-out, Maikel Franco plows on in diminished role

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Phased-out but not checked-out, Maikel Franco plows on in diminished role

Maikel Franco was not in the Phillies’ starting lineup for a fourth straight game Sunday. He was held out of the lineup Friday and Saturday because he has a little head cold, but, frankly, that sounded like a convenient excuse.

Franco said Sunday morning that he comes to the park ready to play every day. He was groomed to be an everyday player, but after two months of inconsistency — and more dating to last season — he now finds himself as a part-time player, picking up reps at third base when J.P. Crawford isn’t getting a look at the position.

Though management has denied it, it feels as if Franco is being phased out. He does not have the on-base skills that manager Gabe Kapler and the front office seeks in the players it wants to build around. He has not made the necessary improvements in that area that would secure his future with the club and it’s no secret that Manny Machado looms out there as a July trade target or free-agent signing possibility.

It’s not an easy time for Franco, who is one of the most likable people in the Phillies clubhouse.

“I understand what's happening right now,” he said Sunday morning. “I understand what the manager is trying to do with everybody. I know the situation.”

With Machado looming and the team looking for a place for Scott Kingery to play, Franco, whose .690 OPS was the lowest among 18 third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances last season, was on a short leash coming into this season. He let the regular third base job slip through his fingers by hitting just .247 with a .704 OPS in his first 190 at-bats. He did have eight homers and 32 RBIs over that span.

Lately, however, Franco’s performance has really slipped. Since May 16, he is hitting .197 (13 for 66) with just two extra-base hits and a .500 OPS, and his defense has been unsteady. With Kingery now getting reps at shortstop, third base became a place for the team to look at Crawford as he came off the disabled list last week.

Both Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak have said that Franco will get time against left-handed pitching and as other matchups warrant, but it’s clear the team has lost some faith in him. If it hadn’t, he’d be out there.

“The only thing that I know is I have faith in me,” Franco said. “That's the only truth. Every single day, I just come in and try to do my best for me, for my team, and try to be a good teammate.”

Franco was groomed to be an everyday guy. There are pluses to his game, such as how hard he hits the ball when he makes good contact. He is still young at 25. He seems like a candidate for a fresh start with a new team. What does Franco think about that?

“I’m not looking at it that way,” he said. “I’m just looking day to day here and seeing what’s going to happen. I don’t want to think about that right now. I just want to think about right here because my moment is right here. That’s where I have to be right now. Whatever happens happens. I’m a grown man. I understand the situation and I totally get it. I want what’s best for me, you know what I mean? But whatever situation and whatever tough moment it is right now, I’ll just take it. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I know I can do better. I know my talent. I’m just trying to be ready.”

That’s all a part-time player can do, try to stay sharp and be ready when the manager calls on you.

“I’ve never been in that situation before,” he said of the challenges of playing part-time. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to work or not. I’m not used to it because all my career, even in the minor leagues, I played every single day. When I came here I played every single day, too. I don’t know if that’s going to work. I don’t know how that’s going to go. But I’ll just try to figure it out. I’ll just do everything that I can do to improve that situation. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel denied of Baseball Hall of Fame election

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Former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel denied of Baseball Hall of Fame election

LAS VEGAS — Longtime closer Lee Smith and smooth-swinging Harold Baines were elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

"Very shocked," Baines said on a conference call.

Former outfielder and manager Lou Piniella fell one vote short.

Results of the 16-member Today's Game Era Committee were announced at the winter meetings. It took 12 votes for election — Smith was unanimous, Baines got 12 and Piniella had 11.

Smith and Baines both debuted in Chicago during the 1980 season. Smith began with the Cubs and went on to post a then-record 478 saves while Baines started out with the White Sox and had 2,866 hits.

George Steinbrenner, Orel Hershiser, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel all received fewer than five votes.

Baines was a .289 hitter with 384 home runs in a 22-year career. He never drew more than 6.1 percent in five elections by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, far from the 75 percent required.

"I wasn't expecting this day to come," the six-time All-Star said.

The Hall board-appointed panel included longtime White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and Baines said he was grateful for his support. Hall members Greg Maddux, Roberto Alomar, Joe Morgan, Bert Blyleven, Pat Gillick, Tony La Russa, John Schuerholz, Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre also were on the panel.

Smith's fastball helped him become a seven-time All-Star in an 18-year-old career. He owned the major league record for saves when he retired during the 1997 season while with Montreal, and Trevor Hoffman and then Mariano Rivera reset the mark.

Smith, who never reached 51 percent in 15 BBWAA elections, became the seventh pitcher who mostly was a reliever to make the Hall. Baines was a designated hitter for much of his career, and DHs have struggled to gain backing from Hall voters.

Both closers and DHs could see the numbers increase again very shortly.

Rivera is eligible for the first time and big-hitting DH Edgar Martinez will be back on the ballot when results of the next BBWAA election are announced Jan. 22.

Induction ceremonies are scheduled for July 21 at Cooperstown, New York.

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Phillies officials arrive at MLB winter meetings expecting an 'exhausting week'

Phillies officials arrive at MLB winter meetings expecting an 'exhausting week'

LAS VEGAS — Phillies general manager Matt Klentak and his top lieutenants arrived at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino for baseball’s winter meetings Sunday afternoon.

Klentak acquired shortstop Jean Segura in a trade with Seattle last week. The move, which sent Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford to the Mariners, improved the Phillies’ offense (greatly) and defense at the position and cleared a path for Rhys Hoskins to move back to first base.

Klentak is looking to turn an 80-win team into a playoff club and there is much work left to do this offseason. He will spend the next few days in Las Vegas looking for more improvements to the offense as well as the pitching staff.

“We need to get into that 90-plus win area and there are a lot of ways we can do that,” Klentak said before leaving Philadelphia.

“We’re open-minded to a lot of different things. We’re going to look in a lot of different directions. It could be in the form of a big-ticket free agent. It could be in the form of trades or other areas. The name of the game is trying to get better and that’s what we’re trying to do. I’m expecting an exhausting week.”

The Phillies’ search for more offense still seems to hinge on Manny Machado. The Phils have long liked him and have an interest in signing him to play third base, where he grades out as an elite defender. Phillies officials have been in contact with Machado’s representative, Dan Lozano, and they will surely speak again at the meetings. The question remains: Will Machado back off his desire to play shortstop — some believe he would for the right money — and his desire to play for the New York Yankees, who do have interest in him? Time will tell.

Free agent Bryce Harper will cast a large shadow over the meetings. The slugging outfielder hails from Las Vegas and there will surely be speculation that he could sign in his hometown. That seems unlikely, however, because Harper is seeking the richest contract ever — more than Giancarlo Stanton's $325 million — and a deal like that will take some time. Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, is always patient and willing to go deep into the winter to get his price.

The Phillies remain interested in Harper — who wouldn’t be? — and will surely meet with Boras this week. But at the moment, Harper appears to rank below Machado on the Phillies’ wish list. Of course, things can change in a hurry at this time of the year.

Michael Brantley is another free agent in the Phillies’ focus. The 31-year-old leftfielder, a three-time All-Star, hit .309 with an .832 OPS for Cleveland last season. It would not be surprising at all to see the Phillies end up with Brantley.

“I like the guys we have in the outfield,” Klentak said of Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Aaron Altherr. “We can mix and match with what we have. Having said that, we’re always looking for the areas on the roster where we can upgrade and make an improvement and I do think the outfield lends itself to that.”

As for pitching, the Phils would still like to add a lefty starter to balance out a righty-dominant rotation. The team is interested in free agent J.A. Happ and Arizona trade candidate Robbie Ray. The Phils would also like to add a lefty like Zach Britton or Andrew Miller to the bullpen. Both are free agents.

Klentak and his aides headed right off to the Phillies’ hotel suite (war room) upon arriving at the winter meetings Sunday afternoon. No wasting time. There’s a lot of work to do looking for those 10 more wins that could make the Phils a contender.

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