WASHINGTON — It doesn't seem like a coincidence that Ken Rosenthal's report of the Padres' interest in Maikel Franco came after Franco's best game of the season Saturday.
Franco has been available for quite a while and no team has bit. Saturday, a few hours after Franco went 4 for 4 with three key hits and scored twice (see story), Rosenthal reported San Diego's interest.
While one 4-for-4 game won't sway a front office, the Padres do make sense as a Franco destination. They won't be competing for a little while, they don't run high payrolls and they have an unsettled 3B situation.
Second-year third baseman Christian Villanueva has hit 16 home runs in 230 plate appearances for San Diego this season (including a major-league-best 11 vs. lefties) but he's batting .230 with a .300 OBP and has hit .173 since May 2.
Power, .230 batting average, .300 OBP ... sounds like Franco, doesn't it?
Gabe Kapler talked on Friday about the "fixes" the Phils need to see from Franco (see story), namely putting the ball in the air more. It's strange, but for a player who swings and misses and chases bad pitches as much as Franco, he does not strike out much. Since the start of 2016, 92 percent of major-leaguers have a higher strikeout rate.
Yet when Franco makes contact, it's often been weak contact. Groundballs to the left side. Pop flies to the shallow outfield. The Phillies want him to get away from that and focus on driving the ball more. Perhaps that will mean a few more K's as a result, but they'll take it if it's accompanied by more consistent pop.
The Phillies right now wouldn't trade Franco without first having a ready-made replacement. Maybe that's Adrian Beltre, maybe it's Royals rental 3B Mike Moustakas.
But if the Phils don't first acquire a third baseman, it would make no sense for a team in contention to trade away its starting third baseman while J.P. Crawford is on the DL.
They're not going to move Franco only to replace him with Mitch Walding.
Potential return from Padres
In Rosenthal's report, he mentions San Diego relievers Brad Hand, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen.
First things first, you're not getting Brad Hand straight up for Maikel Franco. That's crazy talk. Hand, a lefty, has been one of baseball's best relievers the last three seasons, posting a 2.53 ERA in 189 appearances with 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He led MLB in games pitched in 2016, made the All-Star team in 2017 and leads the NL in saves this season.
Hand is one of San Diego's best trade assets, if not its best. The Padres would be looking for more in return than a third baseman with a .300 career OBP who is an average-at-best defender.
Yates, a righty, is having by far the best season of his five-year career. He has a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings with 36 strikeouts. Prior to 2018, he had a 4.78 career ERA and was extremely homer-prone.
Stammen, who Phillies fans will remember from his days with the Nationals (2009-15), has reestablished himself as a setup man in San Diego. He has a 2.02 ERA this season with impressive strikeout and walk rates. Last season, he did it over a full year, posting a 3.14 ERA in 80⅓ innings.
Hand is too much for the Padres to give up for Franco, but from a Phillies perspective, neither Yates nor Stammen should be enough. Neither setup man would change the complexion of the Phils' bullpen. Neither Yates nor Stammen would come here and be viewed as more reliable than a Tommy Hunter, for example, or higher than fourth or fifth on the Phils' bullpen pecking order. The fact that both are under control past this season helps, but the Phils have talent in the bullpen, even if it's struggled in June.
Perhaps one of those relievers and a minor-leaguer of intrigue would get a deal done, but it seems unlikely the Phils would part with Franco straight up for a successful reliever with a brief track record.
And lastly, as trustworthy as Rosenthal is, this could be an example of wishful thinking on the part of someone in the Phillies' front office, leaking a little info to a well-known reporter to drum up interest in Franco after his best game of the season.