At this time last year, Nick Franklin was viewed as the Seattle Mariners’ shortstop or second baseman of the future.
But now, after the team went all-in during the offseason and signed Robinson Cano for $240 million, the 22-year-old’s future as a Mariner is up in the air.
According to Larry Stone of The Seattle Times, manager Lloyd McClendon will have Franklin and incumbent shortstop Brad Miller compete in spring training for the Opening Day job, with the loser likely headed down to Triple-A Tacoma or moved elsewhere through a trade.
Unfortunately, all signs point to Franklin being the odd man out.
Franklin was promoted to the major leagues in late May after he batted .324/.440/.472 with 13 extra-base hits and more walks (30) than strikeouts (20) in 39 games at Triple-A Tacoma.
It didn’t take long for the 22-year-old switch-hitter to enjoy success at the highest level.
In his third big league start, Franklin went 2-for-4 with a pair of solo home runs—the first and second of his promising career—at spacious Petco Park in San Diego.
At the All-Star break in mid-July, Franklin was considered a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate in the American League with a .268/.337/.451 batting line, 16 extra-base hits (six home runs), five stolen bases and a 36-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 169 plate appearances.
Yet, Franklin’s second half of the season was essentially a two-and-a-half-month slump during which he pressed at the plate and seemingly swung through everything. As a result, he batted .194/.280/.333 with a 77-26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 243 plate appearances during that span.
Overall, Franklin batted .225/.303/.382 with 33 extra-base hits (12 home runs), 45 RBI and a 113-42 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 412 plate appearances.
As it’s been the case throughout his professional career, Franklin fared much better from the left side of the plate last season in the major leagues, posting a .727 OPS with 25 extra-base hits in 277 plate appearances compared to a .599 OPS with eight extra-base hits in 135 plate appearances from his natural right side.
In spite of his second-half struggles, Franklin, who will turn 23 on March 2, is intriguing trade bait for any team seeking a potential long-term solution at shortstop or second base. And it’s not surprising that the Mariners have been receiving offers for him, per CBS Sports' John Heyman, since they announced the Cano signing in December.
Here's a look at two teams that could attempt to trade for Franklin before the start of the regular season.
The Mets need a long-term answer at shortstop more than any other team, as they’re currently prepared to begin the season employing a tandem of Ruben Tejada and Omar Quintanilla, and possibly even Wilfredo Tovar.
Since Franklin’s ZIPS projection for 2014 is for shortstop, here’s a look at how he might compare against the Mets’ options:
|2014 ZIPS Projections: Franklin + Mets' Shortstops|
In theory, Franklin should be the more productive shortstop of the group next season, as he projects to provide enough offense to offset his defensive shortcoming at the position. In spite of his background at shortstop in the minor leagues, Franklin’s range and arm are a cleaner fit at second base.
Though the Mets’ shortstop situation needs to be addressed, they could conceivably target Franklin for second base too.
If such a trade were to occur, it would likely mean that Daniel Murphy, the team’s current second baseman, shifts to first base, and Ike Davis is traded or relegated to a bench role until he proves to be worthy of more playing time.
So what would be an appropriate trade for Franklin?
Well, with the Mariners seeking a starting pitcher and the Mets highly unlikely to part with notable pitching prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero, the two teams could potentially work out a trade involving Dillon Gee.
The Mets eventually will need to make room for both of their aforementioned prospects, which means at least one of the team’s starters will lose his job. Though Gee has proven to be a solid mid-level starter in the major leagues with a 3.89 career ERA in 502.1 innings, the right-hander turns 28 in April and is under team control through the 2016 season.
The Blue Jays are all set at shortstop with Jose Reyes, but acquiring Franklin from the Mariners would represent a huge upgrade at second base.
Headed into the season, the Blue Jays are prepared to use 26-year-old Ryan Goins at the keystone, with switch-hitter Maicer Izturis, 33, also likely to see playing time.
In 2013, Goins, batted .252/.264/.345 with seven extra-base hits and 28 strikeouts in 121 plate appearances. However, he did manage to save 12 runs with his defense in 262.1 innings (per FanGraphs).
Should the Blue Jays make a run at Franklin this spring, they’ll likely be forced to part with one of the starting pitchers expected to compete for the final spot in the team’s Opening Day rotation.
One option is right-hander Drew Hutchison, who missed most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. However, the 23-year-old looked good in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 3.32 ERA and a 20-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21.2 frames.
To sweeten he deal, Toronto could also throw in outfielder Anthony Gose, who has struggled to carve out a consistent role over the last two years with the Blue Jays, batting a combined .240/.294/.361 with 19 stolen bases and 96 strikeouts in 342 plate appearances. More significantly, Gose, like Hutchinson, is only 23 years old and is under team control through the 2019 season.