Phillies anoint a new third baseman, finally shed the old one in Maikel Franco

Phillies anoint a new third baseman, finally shed the old one in Maikel Franco

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.

“Maikey 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 shown 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 Maikey, 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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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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