KC Royals must make any Maikel Franco deal short

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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The KC Royals shouldn’t offer third baseman Maikel Franco anything more than a one-year deal.

Maikel Franco had a good year for the KC Royals in 2020. Brought on board last December to play third base and allow Hunter Dozier to move to right field (and also, perhaps, to quell some uneasiness with Dozier’s hot corner defense), Franco swung a good bat and endeared himself to his teammates.

Now, together with several other Royals, Franco is arbitration-eligible. In any other baseball winter, offering him a multi-year contract to avoid arbitration and secure his services for more than another season would be the correct move; Kings of Kauffman writer David Scharff, who knows a thing or two about these things, recently wrote that Franco is worth a longer-term deal. But there are two sides to every baseball coin, and the other side of this one says the time just isn’t right.

Once concern is the uncertain state of club finances: the Royals don’t have Dodger money and took a hard hit in 2020. Signing Franco for more than a year won’t break them but the franchise needs to be careful—Major League Baseball Trade Rumors projects he’ll get $4.5-8 million for one season in arbitration, so signing him to just two years could cost $10-15 million. That’s money the Royals could spend on critical longer-term projects, such as extending Salvador Perez. Limiting Franco to a one-year pact, or risking arbitration, would be best.

Then there’s Bobby Witt Jr., the elephant in Franco’s room. Witt is a supremely talented shortstop who will, sooner rather than later, displace someone from the Kansas City infield because he’s too good not to. Witt presents a near-maddening quandary: who plays where among Witt, Adalberto Mondesi, and Nicky Lopez when he arrives to play every day?

Someone will have to change positions and someone, probably Franco, will be the odd man out.  Mondesi will probably stay at short and Witt will likely take third; only if the Royals give up on Lopez’s bat might Mondesi move to second, in which case Franco may stick because Witt would take shortstop. But if Lopez hits, and Witt is ready sometime in 2021, the club shouldn’t have to worry about multiple years of obligation to Franco, especially if he’s down next season and no trade deadline market for him develops.

Franco’s versatility factor also weighs against a multi-year deal. He’ll survive Witt’s arrival only if Lopez doesn’t hit and the KC Royals move on from him, or if he can play somewhere else. While he might be able to become a backup, Franco’s utility is limited—he’s played 657 of his 716 big league games at third, and only 13 (1.8 percent) at first, the only other place he’s played besides DH.

Finally, the KC Royals need to consider whether Franco’s 2020 performance warrants more than a one-year deal. He was available to the club because the Phillies non-tendered him after the 2019 campaign. Although he’d hit 17 homers in 123 games, and averaged almost 24 the three previous seasons, his .234/.297/.409 slash apparently wasn’t what they wanted from a third baseman. His numbers were good with the Royals: extrapolated to a full 162-game season, he would have hit almost 22 homers with over 100 RBIs to go with a .278/.321/.457 slash.

No one knows whether his actual or extrapolated numbers for a 60-game season mean he’s returned to the form that several seasons ago convinced the Phils he’d be man their hot corner for years. Just the uncertainty should make Kansas City hesitant to commit too many years and too much money to Franco.

That isn’t to say, of course, that the club should immediately move away from him. Next season will probably be Witt’s time to debut; precisely when remains to be seen, and he may (but probably won’t) struggle when he arrives. So, the Royals should secure Franco for a year, then see what 2021 brings.

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Maikel Franco has been good so far for the KC Royals. But finances and the impending arrival of Bobby Witt Jr. mean the club shouldn’t commit to him long-term.