CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Maikel Franco can stop holding his breath.
Franco was taking batting practice on a back field here Tuesday when he overheard someone say that Manny Machado agreed to a contract with the San Diego Padres. And with that, Franco finally had some certainty that he will begin the season as the Phillies’ third baseman.
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“I know now I’m here,” Franco said. “The only thing that I have to do now, man, is go out there and have fun and enjoy and play my game the right way.”
The Phillies were linked to Machado for more than a year. They tried to acquire him last season in a midseason trade with the Baltimore Orioles and courted him throughout the winter before he agreed to a 10-year, $300 million deal with the Padres.
Acquiring Machado likely would’ve meant the end of Franco’s tenure with the Phillies. But with Machado off the board and fellow free-agent third baseman Mike Moustakas having re-signed with the Milwaukee Brewers on a one-year, $10 million contract, the Phillies are prepared to move forward with Franco competing with utilityman Scott Kingery for at-bats at third base.
“We saw the kind of work he put in during the offseason,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He came into camp in much better condition. We told him that he’s competing for the third-base job. He’s taken that challenge. We’re continuing to say that that challenge is great for him and his development.”
Franco lost playing time at various points last season but got hot over the summer and wound up batting .270 with 22 homers and a .780 on-base plus slugging percentage. He’s also 26 years old, the same age as Machado and Bryce Harper, and there’s a chance he has not yet reached his peak.
“I know I listened to the rumors and that kind of stuff, but I just try to focus on my job, what I have to do to get better, and at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens,” Franco said. “It’s something that I can control now. I understand I’m here, and I just want to do my best.”
With Machado heading to San Diego, the Phillies’ attention turns exclusively to Harper, the other megastar on the free-agent market.
“Why not? Yes,” Franco said when asked if he hopes the team signs Harper. “He hits, over the years, 30 or more home runs and 100 or more RBI. If he’s coming, it’s good to have him.”
When veteran infielder Sean Rodriguez signed a minor-league contract with the Phillies, he intended to compete in spring training for a bench job as a utility player.
Instead, he might need surgery.
Rodriguez has a torn meniscus and medial sprain in his right knee, according to Kapler. If the swelling doesn’t subside via treatment within the next few days, the 33-year-old will decide whether to undergo a procedure to fix the tear.