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Maikel Franco Rumors
The Phillies announced this morning that they’ve recalled top prospect Maikel Franco from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, giving the power-hitting third baseman a second crack at the Majors after struggling in a late-season debut in 2014. Franco, 22, rated as Baseball America’s No. 56 prospect this offseason, also ranking 55th on MLB.com’s Top 100 and 96th on the Top 101 of Baseball Prospectus.
The Phillies seem intent on giving Franco a shot to become their everyday third baseman, as Cody Asche has already been sent down to Triple-A to work on transitioning to the outfield. That move, as well as Franco’s hefty .355/.384/.539 batting line in 33 Triple-A games helped pave the way for what seems to be a more serious look than the one he received in 2014. Last September, Franco split time Asche at third and with Ryan Howard at first, ultimately hitting just .179/.190/.214 in 16 contests.
Perhaps most interesting about Franco’s promotion, however, is the service time implication that comes along with it. The Cubs’ handling of Kris Bryant in Spring Training this season spurred a good deal of controversy, but the Phillies have effectively taken the same route with Franco. Last September, Franco accrued 27 days of Major League service time in his September cup of coffee. That service time means that he’d have needed just 145 days of service this season to reach the 172 days necessary to be credited with a full year of service time. The Phillies have, likely not in coincidental fashion, promoted Franco at a time when there are only 144 days of the regular season remaining. That means that he, like Bryant, will fall one day shy of a full year of service. Because of that, the earliest that Franco could be eligible for free agency would be following the 2021 season.
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. and the Phillies, of course, aren’t acknowledge that reasoning — no team would openly do so. In a similar manner to the way in which the Cubs’ front office sidestepped the service time factor, Amaro said of today’s promotion: “This was a baseball decision based on Maikel’s development and performance. We believe he is ready for the next step.”
That the Phillies waited to ensure they could delay Franco’s free agency is telling about their hopes for this promotion, however. Clearly, the Phillies believe that Franco is capable of holding down third base long-term; they’ve moved Asche to another position and, if they weren’t serious about this promotion being a long-term move, the service time considerations likely wouldn’t have factored so heavily into their thinking.
It’ll be interesting to see if Franco’s case generates anywhere near the level of drama that Bryant’s case did in late March/early April. That level of controversy admittedly seems unlikely, but Franco’s case nonetheless serves as another example that this type of service time manipulation is a relatively common practice when it comes to the game’s most highly regarded prospects. Looking at the view through the Phillies’ lens, one can hardly blame the team for being willing to give up 40 games of Franco in a rebuilding season in order to control him for an additional year (2021) when they hope to be in a better spot to contend.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The Phillies announced that Cody Asche will be optioned to Triple-A and converted into an outfielder. That move seems all but certain to herald the return of top prospect Maikel Franco, a third baseman. As Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Daily News tweets, Philadelphia will wait until at least Friday to formally move Franco up, which will ensure that the club will add an additional year of control.
- Meanwhile, Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. says that the club is continuing to talk with other clubs, as Todd Zolecki of MLB.com tweets. “We’ve been in dialogue about a lot of things,” said Amaro. “That really hasn’t stopped since the offseason.” Obviously, with Philadelphia having long been established as a seller, plenty of homework and groundwork has already been accomplished heading into the summer.
- Jung-ho Kang continues to produce at the plate for the Pirates, and Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says that it isn’t too soon to increase his workload. The Pittsburgh front office and field staff is favorably impressed with Kang’s effort to adapt to his new environment, both on and off the field. Colleague Adam Bittner, meanwhile, offers a counterpoint, arguing that both Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer have enough of a track record and promise in their peripherals to warrant continued patience.
- Rockies GM Jeff Bridich addressed his club’s pronounced struggles, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding reports. “We have a good collection of players,” said Bridich. “And at this point, meaning the last two weeks of the season, they’ve added up to a bad team.” Colorado’s head baseball decisionmaker went on to discuss the fundamental problems he sees, such as a failure to move runners and hit when runners do reach scoring position (on the offensive side) and issuing too many walks while failing to attack the strike zone (for the club’s pitchers). While there may be plenty of truth in that assessment, and while it would surely be hard for Bridich to say much else at this stage, the fact remains that a broader roster shake-up looks like an increasingly strong option for the front office to consider.
ESPN.com’s Keith Law ranked the top 25 big leaguers (non-rookies) who have yet to begin playing their age-25 season (Insider piece). I won’t bore you with the obvious top choice, and many of the names are obviously to be expected. Only one pitcher (Gerrit Cole) made it into Law’s top ten, though plenty more appear further down the line. Perhaps the most interesting slot is #6, which features the increasingly hard-to-ignore Nolan Arenado.
Which of the next crop of prospects will similarly make that leap from tearing up the minors to producing at the big league level? That remains to be seen, of course, but some may soon get a chance to begin proving themselves. Here’s the latest on promotion timelines for some of the game’s top prospects:
- The Indians are happy with how young shortstop Francisco Lindor has progressed at Triple-A but are not planning to be aggressive with moving him up, T.J. Zuppe of 92.3 The Fan reported recently. GM Chris Antonetti says that Lindor’s timeline “hasn’t changed from what we talked about in Spring Training,” and also noted that the club still believes in Jose Ramirez. MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince recently advocated for a move up for Lindor, citing the struggles of Ramirez and the club as a whole, but it should be remembered that he is just 21 years old and has yet to dominate (offensively, anyway) at any minor league level.
- Another highly-touted shortstop, Carlos Correa of the Astros, now has a clear path to the big leagues after a significant injury to major league starter Jed Lowrie. But as Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports, the 20-year-old’s incredible start at Double-A is probably not enough to force a promotion at this point. Things may have been different had Correa not missed significant time last season with a broken leg, but GM Jeff Luhnow indicated that the club does not want to rush him through the upper minors. “He’s definitely a special player, so his time will come faster than it would for other guys,” said Luhnow. “But having —he’s got 70 at-bats above Class A, and we feel like he needs some more. But how many more, I don’t know. And it’ll be a different number for him than it would be for someone else.”
- We’ve heard recently that the Phillies are in no rush to move up top prospect Maikel Franco. But the team just began working out incumbent third baseman Cody Asche in the outfield, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reports, which could be an indication that preparations are being made for Franco to slot in at the hot corner. The 22-year-old had a rough introduction to the big leagues last year — which not only showed the need for further development, but means that a promotion before May 15 (per Salisbury’s calculation) would cost the club a season of control. Franco is off to a strong .333/.371/.512 start in his first 89 plate appearances at Triple-A this year.
Phillies tickets sales are at their lowest since the opening of Citizen’s Bank Park, writes Bob Brookover of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Brookover wonders if the fans will return when the team begins to turn the corner in a few years. Philadelphia has a history of punishing noncompetitive teams. Other franchises like the Nationals, Indians, and Braves have seen a much more tepid fan response to winning. For what it’s worth, I’m fairly confident that ticket sales will return to previous levels once the team reaches the postseason.
- The Phillies will remain patient with top prospect Maikel Franco, writes Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Inquirer. With the major league club scuffling and Franco off to a quick start (.343/.389/.537 at Triple-A), there is some pressure to get a look at him in the majors. Service time considerations and the performance of Cody Asche will affect when Franco is activated. Unlike the Kris Bryant situation, Franco appeared to need further development during spring training. It doesn’t look like the Phillies will keep Franco in the minors purely for service time considerations.
- The early returns from the Red Sox rotation have been bad, writes Joel Sherman of the NY Post. Boston starters have a collective 5.46 ERA entering today (and Justin Masterson is off to a poor start). The shaky performances have strained a “dubious” bullpen. Given the deep farm system, the team remains poised to acquire a top trade target like Cole Hamels.
- Boston has placed outfielder Shane Victorino on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, writes Jeff Seidel for MLB.com. The club has recalled Matt Barnes in a corresponding move. For those wondering why Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo wasn’t called upon, he’s currently rehabbing a right shoulder injury. He’s expected to return to the Triple-A lineup next week.
There’s been quite a bit written about the Red Sox‘ lack of an ace, but as Alex Speier of the Boston Globe notes, acquiring an ace-caliber pitcher is harder now than ever before. Speier looks back at the top 20 pitchers in terms of WAR from the 2004 season and notes that not only did pitchers remain elite later in their careers, but they were also more readily available in both free agency and trades. The average age of the top 20 pitchers in WAR has dropped from 29.5 to just under 28 in the year 2014, and none of the top 17 were signed as free agents. One talent evaluator noted to Speier that teams simply aren’t trading established aces anymore. The evaluator continued, “Very few come from free-agent signings given that, traditionally, their age was such that when they signed, they’re aces in age but not in [future] performance.”
Here’s more from the East:
- The Red Sox have continued to field a lineup that stresses “grinding” at-bats, but at present have yet to deliver much power, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal writes. That continues something of a trend from last year, says MacPherson, who notes that unearned runs have propped up the team’s run scoring totals.
- Complaints about the Blue Jays‘ Rogers Centre turf have been hard to ignore, with Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun reporting on Twitter that the Orioles actually considered forfeiting a recent game rather than taking the field. Baltimore has contacted the league, per Encina, though Jeff Blair of Sportsnet.ca tweets that the commissioner’s office has not received any formal complaint.
- Top Phillies prospect Maikel Franco has been on a tear at Triple-A, but the team still does not have immediate plans for a call-up, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki reports. Service time remains a factor despite the fact that he saw action at the MLB level last year; as Zolecki explains, by waiting until approximately mid-May, Philadelphia can earn itself an extra year of control. With the big league club seemingly going nowhere and fellow youngster Cody Asche playing well at third, there is little reason for the team to move quickly on Franco.
- There have been some limited bright spots for the Phillies, of course, and veteran righty Aaron Harang may be chief among them. The 36-year-old righty has tossed 26 1/3 innings of 1.37 ERA baseball, allowing a meager .800 WHIP and striking out 21 batters. Despite an excellent 2014, Harang signed a one-year deal for just $5MM (which he discussed recently with MLBTR’s Zach Links). He is starting to look like a rather appealing summer trade candidate for clubs that need to fill in at the back of their rotation.
The Yankees are making the right moves to build their bullpen by adding inexpensive depth, ESPN’s Keith Law writes (Insider-only). Chasen Shreve, acquired from the Braves in the Manny Banuelos deal, gives the Yankees another hard-throwing lefty to go with Andrew Miller and Justin Wilson, and David Carpenter, the Yankees’ other acquisition in that deal, should be tough on righties. Miller, of course, was very expensive, but he was one of baseball’s best relievers last season. The Braves, meanwhile, got a project in Banuelos, and they could try to continue developing him as a starter, hoping his velocity rebounds after missing most of 2012 and all of 2013 due to injury. Here are more notes from the East divisions.
- The Yankees are comfortable with their current rotation of Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Capuano, but they’re still likely to add pitching before Spring Training, MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes in a Q+A. The team still says it will not add a big contract by signing Max Scherzer or James Shields, however.
- The Phillies have traded Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd, but their rebuild can’t begin in earnest until Ryan Howard departs, Bob Brookover of the Inquirer writes. Howard blocks top prospect Maikel Franco, who played well down the stretch at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and in winter ball in the Dominican. Having Franco at first and Cody Asche at third makes the most sense for the Phillies going forward, Brookover argues.
MLBTR would like to send its deepest condolences to the friends and family of former Major League left-hander Brad Halsey, who died tragically in a climbing accident near his Texas home, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes. Halsey, just 33, spent three seasons in the Majors with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and A’s from 2004-06. He was one of three players traded from the Yankees to Arizona to acquire the legendary Randy Johnson.
As we keep the family and loved ones of Brad in our thoughts, here are a few notes from around the game…
- Hiroki Kuroda has yet to decide whether he wants to return for the 2015 season, tweets Jon Morosi of FOX Sports. At this point, Kuroda is weighing one more season in the Majors, one more season in Nippon Professional Baseball or retirement.
- Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez has recovered from knee surgery and will pitch in a winter league this year as he gears up for a comeback, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Rodriguez, who turns 36 in January, pitched just 26 2/3 innings for the Pirates this season before being released. He underwent knee surgery roughly a month later and said at the time that he had received some interest from other clubs. However, he preferred to correct a lingering issue in his knee that had been hindering him, in an effort to be as best-prepared as possible for the 2015 season.
- The Associated Press reports that Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera was charged with resisting arrest after police stopped him for suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana. While DUI charges are not planned, according to the report, Cabrera was cited for possession of marijuana in the car and could face up to a year in jail if convicted of a misdemeanor.
- The Phillies have no plans to move Cody Asche off of third base at this time, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. While the idea of trying Asche in the outfield has been kicked around within the organization, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team decided at last week’s organizational meetings that Asche will remain at the hot corner. The plan next season is to platoon Asche and Maikel Franco if the team cannot move Ryan Howard this offseason. It seems that at some point, Asche or Franco will have to move off the position, but Amaro told Zolecki the team views both as third basemen right now. “Maikel Franco is a third baseman who plays some first base,” said Amaro.
The September roster expansions mean that some of baseball’s most notable prospects will be called up to the big leagues for the first time. Here are some of the familiar names from various prospect rankings (from MLB.com, Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law) who will soon debut in the Show…
- Blue Jays outfield prospect Dalton Pompey will also get a September call-up, the youngster himself tweeted (hat tip to John Lott, via Twitter). Pompey cracked the top fifty midseason prospect list of Baseball America, while checking in at 91st on MLB.com’s latest listing. The 21-year-old has seen only limited action at the Triple-A level, and started out this season at High A, but has compiled a strong .313/.388/.462 line across 494 plate appearances at three levels on the year. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca tweets the full, and lengthy, list of Toronto’s expanded roster additions.
- The Phillies will promote third baseman Maikel Franco, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Franco, who just turned 22 last week, has a modest .257/.298/.427 slash line and 16 homers over 553 PA at Triple-A this season, though he has hit much better over the last two months. Franco was ranked 50th and 57th, respectively, on Baseball America and MLB.com’s midseason prospect lists and ranked 63rd on Law’s preseason top 100 list.
- The Blue Jays will promote left-hander Daniel Norris, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi reports. Norris, 21, was a second-round pick in the 2011 draft who began this season at high-A ball but pitched well enough to earn promotions to both Double-A and Triple-A. The southpaw has a 2.53 ERA, 11.8 K/9 and 3.79 K/BB rate over a combined 124 2/3 IP at all three farm levels in 2014. Norris, who was ranked 25th by Baseball America and 28th by MLB.com, is expected to begin his Major League career pitching out of the Jays’ bullpen.
Mets right-hander Jeremy Hefner received awful news after experiencing discomfort in his third rehab outing last week. Via Adam Rubin of ESPN New York (Twitter link), Hefner has a fracture in his elbow and will have to undergo his second Tommy John operation of the past year. The 28-year-old has spent the past year recovering from TJ and will now likely miss most, if not all of the 2015 campaign as well. MLBTR wishes Hefner the best of luck and a full recovery in the next round of rehab.
Here are some more links from baseball’s Eastern divisions…
- Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun reports that the Orioles aren’t interested in bringing back longtime second baseman Brian Roberts, who was recently released by the Yankees (Twitter link).
- Joel Sherman of the New York Post examines the Yankees‘ midseason rentals — Stephen Drew, Chase Headley and Brandon McCarthy — and wonders if any of the three will be back with the team in 2015 (and beyond). As Sherman notes, the final months of the season will serve as an audition for each player, and each could have a logical spot on the roster. Drew could replace the retiring Derek Jeter, Headley could handle third base when Alex Rodriguez DHs, and McCarthy can serve as valuable rotation depth given the uncertainty surrounding New York’s internal options.
- Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tells Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com that he’s looking for rotation depth following the trade of Roberto Hernandez and the injury to Cliff Lee. That desire led to the claim of Jerome Williams, but it sounds as if the Phils could be on the lookout for other cheap additions that could help them beyond the 2014 season. Salisbury notes that 2014 first-round pick Aaron Nola is not under consideration for a jump to the Majors.
- Within that same piece, Salisbury also speculates that the Tigers and Phillies could reboot their previous trade talks for Jonathan Papelbon due to Joe Nathan‘s recent struggles and Joakim Soria‘s injury (he is on the DL with an oblique strain). Amaro tells Salisbury that the two sides haven’t talked trade recently, but he does acknowledge that he spoke with the Tigers “particularly about the bullpen.” Antonio Bastardo was thought to be a Tigers target at one point, but as Salisbury notes, Bastardo was placed on waivers earlier this month. While no reports surfaced of him being claimed, it’s highly unlikely that he would clear, given that he had a mere $600K or so of his 2014 salary remaining at the time he was placed on waivers.
- One more note from Salisbury, as he reports that Amaro said it’s “possible” that top prospect Maikel Franco will receive a September call-up. An earlier promotion is unlikely for Franco, per Amaro, but there’s little doubt that he’s impressed as of late. While Franco struggled with the jump to Triple-A to open the season, he’s mashed since July 1, hitting .338/.360/.564 in 139 plate appearances.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. offered a frank assessment of his team’s offense to reporters, including CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury: “I didn’t anticipate our guys being this poor. Because they are. They are this poor. We think that they’re better. But they haven’t shown it. So at some point we’re going to have to make some changes.”
More from Salisbury’s piece, and some other Phillies-related notes…
- Amaro listed Darin Ruf, Grady Sizemore and Freddy Galvis as possible players who could be recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and he wouldn’t rule out top prospect Maikel Franco either. When referring to Franco, he noted that Franco can also play first base, indicating perhaps that the struggling Ryan Howard could see his playing time diminish.
- Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reminds that last season, one of the reasons Amaro gave for not wanting to shop Jonathan Papelbon was a lack of a clear replacement. That excuse is no longer valid, Gelb writes, due to the emergence of Ken Giles. The 23-year-old Giles has dominated Major League hitters in his first 11 2/3 innings, allowing one run on four hits and three walks with 17 strikeouts. Papelbon, who is pitching as well as he ever has in a Phillies uniform, could be moved if the Phils kick in $13MM to cover his potential vesting option, Gelb opines.
- ESPN’s Jim Bowden (Insider subscription required) feels that the Orioles are the most logical landing place for A.J. Burnett in a trade. Bowden writes that while Pittsburgh and Cleveland make some sense, both are long shots. He also speculates on what it would cost each team to acquire Burnett.
- Cliff Lee is now slated to return after the All-Star break because one of his rehab outings was delayed by rain, according to a report from ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Stark has previously reported that rival clubs expect the Phillies to aggressively shop Lee upon his return, though with a July 19 return target, he’d only have roughly three starts to impress.