Phillies

Phillies pick a convenient time to sit Maikel Franco for not hustling

Phillies pick a convenient time to sit Maikel Franco for not hustling

The Phillies' benching Tuesday of Maikel Franco is a pretty good example of players being treated differently based on how integral they are to winning.

Franco was out of Tuesday's lineup after not running full-speed down the line on a groundball to third base with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning Monday. It was the second time in three innings the Phillies stranded the bases loaded against Clayton Kershaw. Justin Turner's throw was wide of first, and if Franco was running hard, he may have beaten the play. He wasn't running hard, and the inning ended.

Kapler did not call it a "benching" by name but it's clear that it was. Franco is also experiencing some groin tightness but not significant enough to keep him out. 

"Maikey took responsibility immediately," Kapler said. "He said he had a hard time sleeping last night over it. He did mention that his groin was tight and that was the reason he wasn't able to get down the line. And I said look, I can't put you in the lineup today. He said he was ready to play today. I said I still can't put you in the lineup today because if you're not able to give us that 100 percent effort down the line in that situation last night, it's not right for me to start you today. 

"He understood that and accepted full responsibility for it."

It's interesting that the Phillies chose this player, this instance to send a message. It's easier when it's a player like Franco, isn't it? A player the Phillies have benched multiple times over the last two seasons. At different points, Franco has been benched in favor of J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Sean Rodriguez, Brad Miller and Scott Kingery. 

Hustle has been an ongoing issue for the 2019 Phillies. Jean Segura had the two most egregious offenses, not hustling on the play that led to Andrew McCutchen's torn ACL, and then again on a bloop to left field to lead off a game against Max Scherzer. It was an issue with Cesar Hernandez. It came up for Rhys Hoskins and Bryce Harper, too.

In none of those instances was the player benched. Kapler said after the two Segura incidents that he did not believe benching Segura was the right way to get through to him. Which may be true. Different guys respond differently to punishment. (Segura, by the way, was out of Tuesday's lineup with a heel bruise.)

It's still pretty convenient that Franco was the only one to be benched the next game.

"I had a conversation with our club about how important it is to bust our asses down the line," Kapler said. "The one thing we can control all the time is our effort level. I just thought the time was right to address it with Maikel.

"I think you guys know that these decisions or me taking a player out of the lineup in a punitive way is not my natural way of handling these type of situations. In this particular situation, I felt it was critical to address right after some of the other incidents we've had. I had a conversation with the club. I shared with them that it's not an acceptable level of effort. We have to do a better job so I thought this was the right time to make a change in this situation."

That's all well and good. This response to a lack of hustle just might have been more effective when the topic came up six weeks ago.

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Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday and it included six former Phillies of varying degrees of popularity. In fact, it's hard to even say which of the six is the most beloved in Philly. 

Bobby Abreu
Raul Ibanez
Cliff Lee
Scott Rolen
Curt Schilling
Billy Wagner

• At first glance, you might say Lee. He had great moments with the Phillies, memorable playoff games, and that low-key swag that drew fans to him. But things ended in a clunky way when he came back the second time. An elbow injury caused Lee to miss the final 1½ years of his contract and he was pretty much invisible during that time. He was also noticeably absent when the 2009 NL Championship team got together at Citizens Bank Park this past summer. The answer is still probably Lee, but it was a sour end for plenty of folks.

• Abreu is very well-respected around the game for being an ahead-of-his-time player with gaudy, well-rounded stats, but he was and still is polarizing around here. A portion of the fan base will always look at Abreu as an overrated compiler who was scared of walls. The other portion — it may be an even 50-50 split these days — appreciates the player Abreu was and realizes he'd be worth $200 million today.

• Phillies fans haven't forgotten Rolen's elite defense. Rolen was truly one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. But he orchestrated his way out of here and that is remembered equally, if not more so. 

• Schilling ... not delving into that one beyond an acknowledgment that his playoff performances were legendary, he had four excellent seasons and his post-playing career has been very strange.

• Ibañez was well-liked here and everywhere else he played. He may manage in the majors some day soon. He had an incredible first half in 2009, his first year with the Phillies, then was just slightly above average the rest of his three-year career with them.

• Phillies fans don't feel especially attached to Wagner, who was great here but lasted only two seasons. Unlike the other five on the list, Wagner should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. Wagner was a more dominant reliever than Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith. He had six seasons with an ERA under 2.00. He saved 422 games. He could have hung around for three more seasons to hit the arbitrary number of 500, which would have made him a Hall of Famer. Instead, Wagner retired on his terms after posting a 1.43 ERA for the Braves in 2010.

It will be interesting to see whether Abreu, a first-time candidate, gets the groundswell of support we've seen in recent years with players like Tim Raines.

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Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on Zack Wheeler, a right-hander who is seen as having much untapped potential.

The vitals

The very talented Wheeler has a big fastball — his career-high 96.8-mph average velocity was fourth-best in the majors among starting pitchers in 2019 — and excellent breaking stuff, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from blossoming into a star. He is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA lifetime. He was the No. 6 overall pick by San Francisco in the 2009 draft. He was traded to the Mets two years later for Carlos Beltran, who is now the Mets' manager. Wheeler will turn 30 in May.

Why he fits

His career is trending upward and a team might be getting him just as he’s about to put it all together. Wheeler has been mostly healthy the last two seasons, going 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA in 60 starts. He has pitched 182⅓ and 195⅓ innings, respectively, the last two seasons, a good sign after struggling with injuries early in his career. In both 2018 and 2019, he was one of the best in baseball after the All-Star break, going a combined 14-3 with a 2.26 ERA.

Wheeler also reached a career high by throwing a first-pitch strike 65.8 percent of the time, a top-10 mark that placed him ahead of Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

Given the supply and demand for starting pitching in the majors, Wheeler is headed for a big payday, but not as big as the top arms in this market. That might allow the Phils to spread around their dollars and fill multiple holes.

Why he doesn’t fit

From Charlie Morton in the starting rotation to David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter in the bullpen, the Phillies have been burned by injuries to free-agent pitchers. Wheeler missed significant time recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and 2016. He spent time on the injured list in 2017 and was briefly sidelined in 2019 with what was called shoulder fatigue. He rebounded quickly and was able to make 31 starts, but his health history can't be ignored.

The Phillies need to be protective of their high draft picks. They would surrender a second-round pick for the right guy. The question remains: Is the inconsistent Wheeler the right guy? When push comes to shove, the Phils would probably do it.

The price tag

Some team is going to bet on Wheeler being ready to reel off several years of good health and effectiveness. The industry feel is that Wheeler could come in somewhere between the four-year, $68 million deal that Nathan Eovaldi got from Boston last year and the six-year, $140 million that Patrick Corbin got from Washington. In other words, he could be looking at a $100 million payday. 

Scout’s take

“The velocity is intriguing. My concern is he gets hit too hard for the kind of stuff he has. He’s had some health glitches so that makes it a risk for the kind of money he’s going to get. But the raw stuff and potential are definitely there. It just depends on a team’s willingness to risk.”

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