The Nationals have signed third baseman Maikel Franco to a minor league deal, reports Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post. Franco is a client of Octagon. Although transactions involving the 40-man roster are frozen during the ongoing lockout, minor league deals are still permitted.
This is the second minor league deal the Nats have given to a veteran infielder in as many days, as they signed Dee Strange-Gordon yesterday. The club has a fairly open infield for 2022, after trading away Trea Turner and Josh Harrison during last year’s deadline fire sale. They’ve since re-signed Alcides Escobar and Cesar Hernandez on major league deals, before adding Strange-Gordon into the mix, to compete with youngsters Luis Garcia and Lucius Fox for middle infield playing time.
Franco, however, should be considered as an option at third base, given that’s where he’s spent the vast majority of his big league time. (He’s also played 15 games at first base in his career, but never more than five in a single season.) Youngster Carter Kieboom seems likely to be Plan A for the Nats at third, despite his struggles at the MLB level thus far. In 106 big league games over the past three seasons, Kieboom has hit .197/.304/.285. However, his Triple-A line is much more impressive, coming in at .286/.400/.464. Given his youth, 24, and prospect pedigree, he’s likely to get an extended run at the hot corner, especially when considering that Washington is likely to spend at least a year retooling after their big selloff. Franco’s presence in the system can offer a veteran fallback plan, should Kieboom continue experiencing growing pains.
Franco has had an inconsistent stretch of late, oscillating wildly from year to year. According to FanGraphs’ wins above replacement, he was worth at least 1.1 fWAR in the past three even-numbered seasons, but was in negative territory during the odd-numbered years. After some of those up-and-down years in Philadelphia, he was non-tendered following the 2019 season and latched on with the Royals. He had a solid showing in the shortened 2020 campaign, hitting .278/.321/.457 for a wRC+ of 106 and 1.3 fWAR in just 60 games. Despite that, the Royals decided not to tender him a contract for 2021, which led to Franco signing with the Orioles. Unfortunately, his yo-yoing continued, as he slumped to a line of .210/.253/.355 in 104 games for Baltimore.
Franco was released in August and signed a minor league deal with Atlanta, but didn’t get another shot at the big leagues. For the Nationals, there’s no harm in having him around to see if he can turn the tide once again. He’s only 29 years old and has shown himself capable of solid production in the past. Even if Kieboom and Franco both get hot at the same time, there’s the likelihood of the National League using the designated hitter in 2022, giving the team some more plate appearances to spread around.