Free agent third baseman Maikel Franco is likely to choose his next club either today or tomorrow, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The former Phillies and Royals slugger has been connected to both the Mets and the Orioles over the past week, and Heyman now adds that the Braves are among the teams “in the mix” for Franco.
While Franco has been connected to three clubs over the past week now, there have been indicators that not every rumored club is a serious player for his services. The Athletic’s Tim Britton reported that although the Mets indeed checked in on Franco at one point, they also don’t believe a deal will come together at this time. Meanwhile, in the days since the Orioles were first tied to Franco, Baltimore general manager Mike Elias has publicly stated that he does not foresee any free-agent additions for his team (link via MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko).
“I don’t feel that there are any imminent additions at this time coming from the free agent market.” Elias said as recently as Wednesday. “That could change, but I don’t see anything kind of barreling down the pike here right this second.” Certainly, that doesn’t rule out the possibility that Franco could land there, but it does throw some cold water on the possibility.
Turning to the latest rumored fit, the Braves make some sense as a potential landing spot for Franco, although they’ve already added veteran corner infielder Jake Lamb to the third base competition. Lamb signed a one-year, $1MM contract earlier in the spring, and while the deal isn’t fully guaranteed, it did place him on Atlanta’s 40-man roster. That gives the Braves three possible options already, as Lamb joins holdovers Austin Riley and Johan Camargo in the mix for playing time.
Riley excited fans and the organization alike with a huge first month in the big leagues back in 2019, he’s struggled since that point. Over his past 380 Major League plate appearances, Riley has posted a .211/.274/.387 slash with a 31.1 percent strikeout rate. Add in last year’s postseason numbers, and the overall line dips to .207/.270/.371 in a sample of 429 trips to the plate. Camargo, meanwhile, turned in an impressive 2018 effort but has posted a dismal .222/.267/.378 slash in 375 plate appearances since. As for Lamb, his 2018-19 seasons were ruined by shoulder injuries, and he got out to a miserable start in 2020 as well. After being cut loose in Arizona and landing in Oakland, however, he looked like the Lamb of old in 13 games down the stretch with the A’s.
Riley is a former top prospect who won’t turn 24 until next month, so there’s still quite a bit of upside in the former No. 41 overall draft pick. Lamb gives the Braves upside as well. He belted 59 home runs from 2016-17 in Arizona and made the 2017 All-Star team. Camargo, at the very least, is a strong defender at the hot corner and a switch-hitter at the plate.
Franco could still fit into the mix, particularly if he’s open to a minor league pact. It’s also possible that the Braves aren’t thrilled with Lamb’s slow start this spring — he’s 1-for-12 with a walk and a HBP — and could look to pivot. Lamb could be cut from his non-guaranteed deal prior to Opening Day for $161K or $242K, depending on the point at which the club makes the move, although 14 plate appearances would be an extraordinarily brief audition.
Baltimore represents the cleanest and most obvious fit of the three teams rumored to be in the mix for Franco. Incumbent Rio Ruiz hasn’t hit much over the past two seasons and is out to a slow start in camp. He also has a pair of minor league options remaining. Prospect Rylan Bannon figures to eventually get a look in 2021, but he’s only played 20 games of Triple-A ball and could potentially benefit from some additional development time.
Franco was at least a mildly surprising non-tender by the Royals back in December, as he’d turned in a solid 2020 season and drawn public praise from both his manager and general manager. Appearing in all 60 games for Kansas City, the former top prospect posted a .278/.321/.457 batting line with eight homers, 16 doubles and improved defensive marks at the hot corner. The Royals, however, cut him loose and moved Hunter Dozier back to third base, opting instead to add several players to their outfield mix.