Maikel Franco walked out of Citizens Bank Park Sunday morning without comment, but manager Gabe Kapler said the team’s third baseman was upset to learn he had been optioned to triple A.
The Phillies bumped Franco to the minors, Kapler said, because the third baseman “just doesn’t profile well as a bench player.”
Last week’s acquisition of outfielder Corey Dickerson and the expected return of Jay Bruce will result in Scott Kingery starting regularly at third base instead of Franco. The Phillies value versatility on their bench, so they opted for Sean Rodriguez and Brad Miller, who returned Sunday from the injured list, over Franco.
“With Mikey, he doesn’t play multiple positions. He plays one position and he hasn’t really hit left-handed pitching well,” Kapler said of Franco, who has hit .198 this season against left-handers. “So we have a left-handed power bat and on-base threat in Brad Miller and we definitely want to have that profile available on our bench, especially when we have a guy like Corey Dickerson and potentially he and Jay Bruce together in the lineup.”
Franco was hitting .231 with a .702 OPS this season in 368 plate appearances. Franco started the season hot but trailed off. He was the team’s opening-day starter for the last four seasons. But Sunday, he was sent to triple A, where he has not been since 2015.
“This felt like an appropriate time to make a very difficult move for our clubhouse because we all care deeply about Maikel Franco,” Kapler said. “He’s an exceptional teammate and person and we all love him. But we felt like the best roster for the Phillies had Sean Rodriguez on it right now because of his versatility and his ability to play all over the diamond.”
The team’s bench is now composed of two left-handed hitters (Miller and Adam Haseley), a switch-hitter (Andrew Knapp), and the right-handed Rodriguez, who pinch hit Sunday and grounded into a double play to halt a sixth-inning rally. The Phillies will have to make another move as soon as this week when the left-handed Bruce returns from the injured list.
“He certainly hasn’t made enough adjustments to be an overall powerful offensive contributor,” Kapler said of Franco. “You don’t need me to say that. You can look at his numbers.”
It is hard to imagine Franco ever reclaiming his role with the Phillies. He started four straight season openers, but Sunday’s move indicates that they prefer Kingery at third base, and that they believe two veterans have more value off the bench than Franco, who turns 27 in August and was once one of the team’s top prospects.
“The way I see it is he could be back as early as an injury or, if it’s on the long side, something like Sept. 1,” Kapler said, referring to the date that rosters expand to a 40-man limit. “That doesn’t sound as permanent at least to us as it might to you.”