The Royals have signed third baseman Maikel Franco to a one-year, $3 million contract, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.The 27-year old has spent the last six years with the Phillies, hitting .249/.302/.431. He was a 1.9 WAR player in his rookie season, but has declined since then, and has been at or below replacement-level in each of the last three seasons. Last year he hit .234/.297/.409 with 17 home runs in 123 games, leading the Phillies to non-tender him earlier this month. He will be eligible for arbitration again after next season, and is eligible for free agency after the 2021 season.
Franco does hit for some power, with 88 home runs over the last four seasons, and he does it without whiffing too much with a decent strikeout rate of 15.3 percent. He doesn’t walk much either, nor does he hit for average, leading to a low on-base percentage. Since 2016, only five players with at least 2,000 plate appearances have a lower on-base percentage than Franco.
What has really dragged Franco’s value down, is his defense. Only Miguel Sano has a lower Defensive Wins Above Replacement among third basemen since 2016 than Franco’s -2.0 WAR. The metrics show Franco improved to be passable at the position last year, although he still has pretty limited range.
Franco did increase his hard-hit rate to 33.2 percent this year. But he struggled at times with the Phillies, who considered sending him to the minors to snap out of a slump.
“The 24-year-old third baseman pulls off many pitches, making himself vulnerable to soft stuff on the outside part of the plate.”
He also drew the ire of then-manager Gabe Kapler, who benched Franco last year for failing to hustle,
He hits the ball reasonably hard, barrels it up a reasonable amount, doesn't hit too many grounders. He's kind of an average at best bat but below average to average everywhere else. It's Chris Owings money, but I'm actually not sure it's really a better signing than Owings was.— David Lesky (@DBLesky) December 19, 2019
The Royals may have been looking for more power, and Franco’s above-average contact rate may lead to more doubles in Kauffman’s deep alleys. The team is planning to move Hunter Dozier to right field and were seeking replacements at third on the free agent market. There were some other cheaper third base options available such as Matt Duffy, Travis Shaw, and Jed Gyorko, but the Royals perhaps went for the highest upside.
Per source, the Royals' 3B search came down to two options: Maikel Franco and Travis Shaw. Franco was younger with more upside (and more cost-efficient). Franco had a down year last year but scouts say change of scenery could make a huge difference.— Jeffrey Flanagan (@FlannyMLB) December 19, 2019