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Finding room for Franchy

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The Royals added potential and maintained their roster flexibility.

San Diego Padres v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Since the lockdown started in mid-March, there haven’t been many roster moves for any club. The transaction logs have been dry and boring. That changed on Thursday night when the Royals and Padres announced a good old-fashioned baseball trade. The Royals sent left-handed reliever Tim Hill to San Diego in exchange for outfielder Franchy Cordero and reliever Ronald Bolaños. Now we’re cooking.

You have to imagine they weren’t looking to add a player like Cordero at this point. But when a rebuilding club like the Royals has an opportunity to enhance the roster with a player who carries all kinds of potential and the cost is a LOOGY, it’s difficult to turn away. However, that creates something of a domino effect on the starting nine.

Cordero can play all three outfield positions, but with his speed and instincts, he’s a great fit in center at The K. The Royals don’t expect to open the season with Cordero on the expanded 30-man roster. Perhaps not quite a surprise given the lateness of the acquisition and the fact the Royals have a bit of a glut at the outfield position.

Here’s a quick glance at how the Royals will likely align to open the season later this week.

C - Salvador Perez

1B - Ryan McBroom

2B - Nicky Lopez

3B - Maikel Franco

SS - Adalberto Mondesi

LF - Alex Gordon

CF - Whit Merrifield

RF - Hunter Dozier

DH - Jorge Soler

For a club that lost 207 games over the previous two seasons, that’s quite a bit of lineup stability from the previous year. But we’ve known this was the Royals’ plan all along. They simply didn’t have the wiggle room to add components outside of Franco. Of course you remember Franco arrived in Kansas City last winter after he was non-tendered after over four years in Philadelphia. And at this point Franco, unlike Cordero, has a voluminous track record in the big leagues. It’s just not an exciting track record. In his career, Franco has hit .249/.302/.431 in over 2,500 plate appearances. His career wRC+ is 89 and his OPS+ is 93, so he’s been a decidedly below average offensive performer, no matter your metric of choice. And he’s been doing this while playing below average defense at the hot corner.

While Cordero and Franco are at different stages in their careers, both carry enough of the “potential” tag that both players can make sense on the Royals roster. But Franco, with two years of control left on his contract, is more of a known commodity that the Royals appear to be more comfortable with. While a change of scenery could jump-start his career, the odds aren’t favorable of that happening.

Still, with the defensive flexibility the Royals have assembled, and with the Royals not exactly expected to contend, even in a truncated season, there should be plenty of opportunity to get Cordero plate appearances. At some point, it’s not difficult to imagine a defensive alignment that looks like this

C - Salvador Perez

1B - Ryan O’Hearn/Ryan McBroom (soft platoon!)

2B - Nicky Lopez

3B - Hunter Dozier

SS - Adalberto Mondesi

LF - Alex Gordon

CF - Franchy Cordero

RF - Whit Merrifield

DH - Jorge Soler

If the Royals are intent on easing Cordero into the lineup, and don’t want to quickly pull the plug on Franco at third, perhaps they could look at a platoon—a combination of the two defensive alignments presented above. Again, we’re dealing with just a half overall season of MLB data, but Cordero has some extreme splits. He’s hit .253/.330/.452 against right-handers and just .200/.226/.367 against southpaws. Nineteen of his 23 extra base hits have come against righties. Franco’s splits aren’t as extreme, but again… we have a lot more data on him than Cordero. Franco actually slugs lower when he owns the platoon advantage by about 15 points.

The Royals have constructed a roster that still has plenty of defensive flexibility. Merrifield and Dozier are two key bats who can play multiple positions in both the infield and outfield. They can provide cover while Cordero and Franco get enough reps to stay fresh in a short season. Cordero, as mentioned above, can play all three positions in the outfield, which gives the Royals even more options.

The fallout continues further down the roster. This almost eventually seals the fate of Bubba Starling and/or Brett Phillips. Not immediately, and certainly not with an expanded roster out of the chute, but they have to be on the roster chopping block. It’s difficult to see where they fit. Phillips, of course, is a fan favorite, but strikes me as a victim of Backup QB Syndrome. You think you want him to play everyday, but when it actually happens, you wonder what ever made you believe that. Phillips is out of options and after a nice big league debut in 2017, he’s struggled to find success in the majors. Of course, he hasn’t exactly gotten what could be considered a fair shake of extended time to show what he’s capable of, but you have to think there’s a reason for that. Starling, like Phillips is out of options, and likewise has failed to impress in the majors. He had a nice Summer Camp to stake an initial claim to a roster spot, but can he carry it through to games that count? Cordero represents an upgrade over both. And again, for a team like the Royals at this stage of their rebuild, they can’t turn from the opportunity to improve a spot on the roster.

Of course, the roster question could work itself out on its own. Cordero has had an extremely difficult time staying on the field. Over the last two years, he’s been placed on the 10-day injured list three times with an assortment of injuries and subsequently moved to the 60-day list twice.

3/26/18 - Suffered left abductor strain. Placed on 10-day DL.

5/28/18 - Suffered right forearm strain. Placed on 10-day DL.

6/20/18 - Diagnosed with bone spur in right elbow during rehab assignment. Moved to 60-day DL

4/6/19 - Suffered right elbow strain. Placed on 10-day IL.

6/13/19 - Left rehab game with left quad strain. Moved to 60-day IL.

The forearm and elbow strains are a little concerning, especially for a player who has already lost a large chunk of time to injuries. But the trade doesn’t get made if the Royals aren’t happy with the physicals. And the Padres can’t really afford to be anything but completely forthcoming on the subject.

The true wild card in the roster and lineup machinations is the manager, Mike Matheny. How will the new skipper utilize his lineup and his bench? Will he be more open to platoons and rotations to keep players fresh in a 60-game sprint, or will he settle on a starting nine and ride them all the way to the finish?

The word “potential” can carry a little too much weight and end up being quite a curse. Three years after his major league debut, that’s the tag that still hangs around Cordero. But the Royals are a team that can afford to stock up on those types of players in hopes good health and new scenery can unlock those talents. With a tantalizing blend of speed and power, Cordero still deserves a chance to show what he can do. The Royals are the right team at the right time to provide him an opportunity.